Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Out-Law Analysis 2 min. read

How does UK pre-election period work and what does it mean for businesses?

The UK prime minister has called a general election on 4 July, and parliament will be dissolved on 30 May. This triggers a formal pre-election period, formerly known as purdah, when guidance is in place limiting the use of public resources and the activities of the government and civil servants.

Activities of the government

The pre-election period 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 guidance issued by the Cabinet Office to all civil servants in government departments and other public bodies.

Under pre-election period guidance, ministers remain in charge of their departments and the essential business of government and public bodies carries on, up to and including election day. However, during this time ministers are advised to 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. In practice, ministers will only deal with urgent government matters in this period, whilst much of their time is focussed on campaigning.

During this period, civil servants may also engage in discussions with opposition parties, so that the civil service can undertake preparations for post-election work, whichever party should form the next government.

The government’s legislation programme

Legislation going through the UK’s parliament that has not completed all its stages of scrutiny will automatically fall when parliament is dissolved.

When a general election is announced, negotiations known as the ‘wash-up’, take place between the parties about legislation that has not yet completed its parliamentary stages. For a small number of bills close to completing their stages, the parties may agree to rush them through their final stages in the final days before parliament is dissolved so that they become law before the election.

For bills that fell on dissolution, the government that takes office after an election may choose to reintroduce the same bills into parliament after the election. Of course, a new government, whether of the same party or a different one, may have new priorities for legislation following an election, and there is a limit on the number of bills that can go through parliament in any given year, so some may drop down its list of priorities or vanish entirely.

Impact on private sector organisations

While the pre-election period guidance applies only to the work of government and public bodies, and places no obligations on the behaviour of private sector organisations, it can and often will have an impact on business. Pre-planned promotional or campaign activity which presumes the involvement of government might prove difficult to deliver, given the cautious approach taken by civil servants to any business engagement in a public setting.

Moreover, significant non-urgent spending decisions may face delay 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.

Political engagement and political activities for companies

Companies may be considering their political engagement activities in this period, such as hosting client events involving political parties. It is important for companies to consider these activities carefully through the lens of the law on political activities, donations, and expenditure of UK companies. In some cases, providing free services or hosting political events free of charge may amount to a political donation, for which a UK company requires prior shareholder approval.

Practical steps

Notwithstanding the impact of the pre-election period on business, practical steps can be taken to help organisations effectively navigate the terrain at this time, such as reviewing near-term planned announcements and postponing any which require government involvement until after the election, when greater clarity and certainty may be expected. Some businesses may also want to resist providing political stakeholders with a platform to make party political announcements unless this offer is reciprocated for all political parties.

The pre-election period can be a challenging time for business, however it also offers an ideal opportunity for a organisations to audit and refresh their public affairs and political engagement activity; monitor and analyse the implications of party manifestos and policy announcements of all the major parties that may impact their interests, and lay the foundations for an effective engagement strategy following the return of a new parliament.

We are processing your request. \n Thank you for your patience. An error occurred. This could be due to inactivity on the page - please try again.