In a report, published today, the National Audit Office (NAO) has found that the government’s Get ready for Brexit campaign made the public better aware of some of the things they might need to do ahead of the UK leaving the EU on 31 October 2019. However, it is not clear that the campaign led to the public being significantly better prepared.

The campaign was launched on 1 September 2019 and was stopped on 28 October 2019 after the government and the EU agreed an extension to the UK’s membership of the EU to 31 January 2020. Its objective was to ensure that everyone was prepared for leaving the EU on 31 October.

The Cabinet Office had overall responsibility for the campaign. The need to communicate multiple messages to multiple audiences, amid great political uncertainty, made this a complex campaign to deliver. It quickly assembled a dedicated team to work closely with departments to integrate messages from across government, and appointed contractors to help design, develop and deliver the cross-government campaign. The campaign was launched within six weeks of the start of the planning stage – the Cabinet Office’s own guidance expects government TV campaigns to be worked-up five months before launch.

In its business case, the Cabinet Office presented four campaign options of increasing scale from “do nothing” to spends of £15 million, £60 million or £100 million. The £100 million option was selected but the Cabinet Office’s business case did not demonstrate increased impact for the proposed spending on the air campaign compared to the lower-cost alternatives. This option comprised two components1:

  • An ‘air campaign’ to encourage people to identify what steps they might need to take to prepare. It included advertising through TV, radio, digital and other outlets.
  • A ‘ground campaign’ to encourage people to take specific actions in 26 priority areas. It included non-digital activity such as roadshows and stakeholder events.

Most of the spending was allocated to the air campaign despite the business case identifying that it was the “on the ground activity” that would get people to act. Only the £100 million option included spending on an extensive ground campaign.

At the point the campaign was stopped, £46 million of the £100 million budget had been spent. The Cabinet Office estimates that the campaign reached 99.8% of the population and that each member of the public had the opportunity to see the adverts 55 times. According to a survey commissioned by the Cabinet Office, 58% of people could recall the campaign and 73% recalled it when shown an advert.

However, the proportion of UK citizens who reported that they have looked or have started to look for information, did not notably change. It ranged between 32% and 37% during the campaign and was 34% when the campaign stopped.

There was a plan for measuring achievement of just two out of the 26 priority actions that departments wanted citizens and businesses to take and performance reports referred to some but not all of the 26 actions. There were signs that action was being taken on some priority areas such as passport renewal applications and international driving permits issued, which increased during the campaign, though the Cabinet Office did not assess this against what was likely to be needed.

“At short notice, the Cabinet Office successfully corralled multiple government departments to work together effectively and launched this complex campaign at great speed. However, it is not clear that the campaign resulted in the public being significantly better prepared.

“If the Cabinet Office faces a similar challenge in the future, it should, from the start, focus much more on what impact is needed and how best to deliver the behaviour change required by government, targeting spending on the activities that are likely to add the greatest value.”

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO

Read the full report

EU Exit: the Get ready for Brexit campaign

Notes for editors

Key facts £100m The budget for the Get Ready for Brexit communications campaign (August 2019 to March 2020) £53m Planned campaign expenditure to end of October 2019 £46m Actual campaign expenditure to end of October 2019 1 September 2019 The launch date of the Get ready for Brexit campaign 28 October 2019 The date the campaign was stopped following agreement to extend UK membership of the EU to 31 January 2020. 6 weeks The time taken to design and develop the communication campaign, between the appointment of the new Prime Minister and the campaign launch on 1 September 34% The percentage of UK citizens, based on a weekly survey, who have looked or have started to look for information, at the time the campaign was stopped, broadly unchanged from the beginning of the campaign 73% The percentage of people that recalled the campaign when shown an advert, based on a weekly survey  

  1. The business case prepared by the Cabinet Office to cover the campaign was approved by the Cabinet Office’s Investment and Portfolio Committee on 13 August, ministerial approval was given on 23 August and by HM Treasury on 27 August 2019. The overall campaign budget was £100 million, including £57 million for the air campaign, £26 million for the ground campaign and a further £17 million for activity to support both campaigns (which included £3m for central staffing and £11m for developing GOV.UK). At the point the campaign was stopped, £46 million had been spent against an expected spend of £53m by that point.
  2. The NAO’s EU exit hub draws together all our work on the EU exit, including published reports and information about upcoming studies.
  3. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website. Hard copies can be obtained by using the relevant links on our website.
  4. The National Audit Office (NAO) helps Parliament hold government to account for the way it spends public money. It is independent of government and the civil service. The Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), Gareth Davies, is an Officer of the House of Commons and leads the NAO. The C&AG certifies the accounts of all government departments and many other public sector bodies. He has statutory authority to examine and report to Parliament on whether government is delivering value for money on behalf of the public, concluding on whether resources have been used efficiently, effectively and with economy. The NAO identifies ways that government can make better use of public money to improve people's lives. It measures this impact annually. In 2018 the NAO's work led to a positive financial impact through reduced costs, improved service delivery, or other benefits to citizens, of £539 million.