Focus: Policy and Politics - Devolution - Adapt the campaign to the country

The intricacies of UK government present a real challenge, writes Nathalie Thomas.

Devolution has emerged as one of the major challenges confronting charities and voluntary bodies as they prepare for the resumption of Parliament on 10 October.

"I don't think people realise how complex government is in the UK," says Colin Reid, policy adviser for the NSPCC in Northern Ireland.

Charities are having to adapt not only to different policies in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but also to separate decision-making processes.

For organisations that operate UK-wide, such as the NSPCC, this can present a number of hurdles when launching national campaigns, responding to government consultations and pushing for change at parliamentary level.

The NSPCC's forthcoming postcard campaign, which asks supporters to bombard MPs' postboxes with anonymous demands that the UK enforce UN recommendations to launch public education campaigns about child protection issues, serves as an example. The campaign has been pulled from Northern Ireland.

"In Northern Ireland, everyone knows everyone," Reid says. When charities speak to or see officials as often as once a week, initiatives such as anonymous postcard campaigns can be inappropriate, he argues.

Recently, Breast Cancer Care's public affairs team took steps to ensure it copes better with devolution by hiring a policy officer with specialist knowledge of Scotland and Wales.

"It's important to tailor campaigns to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly," says Anna Wood, policy and campaigns manager at Breast Cancer Care, "particularly when responding to consultations."

Breast Cancer Care is considering employing separate policy advisers in its regional offices to cope with the different health structures that have developed in Scotland and Wales.

Although some charities, such as Macmillan Cancer Relief, are resisting the temptation to devolve themselves, others, including Age Concern, have long existed as separate organisations that work in co-operation.

"You can't underestimate the importance of talking within the context of the part of the country you're in," says Michelle Matheron, policy officer at Age Concern Cymru.

The charity's knowledge of Welsh legislation is a huge advantage, Matheron believes, but proximity - the ability of staff to attend meetings at the Welsh Assembly whenever they need to - also plays a part.

However, Reid points out that devolution is not significant only for public affairs campaigns. Charities must also be aware of regional sensitivities when it comes to matters as simple as publications.

Statistics relevant to each country are one way of getting around this, he suggests. Photographs that reflect the country's ethnic make-up - which can vary considerably - are also important.

nathalie.thomas@haynet.com.

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