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How does UK election purdah work and what does it mean for businesses?

Out-Law Analysis | 06 Nov 2019 | 2:58 pm | 1 min. read

The UK parliament has been dissolved ahead of a general election on 12 December. This triggers a period known as purdah, when restrictions are imposed on the use of public resources and the activities of civil servants.

Purdah exists to ensure that the political impartiality of the civil service is upheld during election periods, and to avoid the use of public resources for party political purposes. It applies until a new government is formed and is governed by conventions based largely on the Civil Service Code.

Under purdah rules ministers remain in charge of their departments and the essential business of government carries on, up to and including election day. However, during this time ministers are advised to "observe discretion" and defer major decisions on policy, commercial contracts or senior public appointments on which a new government might take a different view from the present administration

Henderson Andrew

Andrew Henderson

Director of Public Policy

Purdah can have an impact on business, as pre-planned promotional or campaign activity which presumes the involvement of government might prove difficult to deliver

While the rules apply only to the work of government and its agencies, and place no obligations on the behaviour of private sector organisations, purdah can have an impact on business, as pre-planned promotional or campaign activity which presumes the involvement of government might prove difficult to deliver, given the highly-cautious approach taken by civil servants to any business engagement in a public setting.

Moreover, significant spending decisions are likely to face delay under purdah if decisions are closely aligned to the political agenda of the present administration, as they may not be delivered as planned should the general election deliver a change of government.

Notwithstanding the impact of purdah on business, practical steps can be taken to help organisations effectively navigate the pre-election period, such as reviewing near-term planned announcements and postponing any which require government involvement until after the election when there's more clarity and certainty. We would also recommend that businesses resist providing political stakeholders with a platform to make party political announcements unless this offer is reciprocated for other political parties.

Purdah can be a challenging period for business, however it also offers some political respite to enable business to audit their public affairs and political engagement activity; monitor and assess party policy announcements that may impact their interests, and lay the foundations for an effective engagement strategy following the return of a new parliament.