The Pay Gap Crescendo: A Year in the Headlines


The Pay Gap Crescendo: A Year in the Headlines

The Gender Pay Gap filled the headlines in the lead up to April 5th, with barely a day going by without the media putting a company and their data in the spotlight. Whilst it was impossible to avoid in that final run up, we’ve been reading, tweeting and obsessing about what good looks like, who’s got it wrong, and what we can do to help for a lot longer than a month or two. Here’s our look back at the inaugural year of the Gender Pay Gap, how it went down, and what we’ve seen.



Whilst over 10,000 companies revealed their pay gap data this year, there is one that seemed to get more criticism than any other - the BBC. The ONS puts the UK’s average pay gap as 18.4%, so the BBC’s median gap of 9.7% is significantly below that, and better than the majority of media companies. Despite that, they have received more criticism than any other organisation with a significant Pay Gap. Why is that?

One factor is the high profile nature of their employees, with Gary Lineker, John Humphrys and Chris Evans all topping the highest paid roster. Recognisable names and faces mean it is easier to criticise them and create a story that will grab the public’s attention. When Victoria Derbyshire, Clare Balding and Mishal Husain spoke up in September, their names helped maintain the scrutiny. In our experience, the reaction of staff was the number one concern of companies reporting – whether they were positive or not.

The BBC has always received criticism from all angles, whether left or right. Justified or not, the rest of the media were happy to put the organisation in their scopes as soon as the differences in pay for men and women became apparent. Most of the media left their own revelations until the final month, so whilst the results from ITV, The FT, The Telegraph and The Guardian all created discussion and debate, it never matched the intensity of criticism the BBC received.

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There were some real clangers throughout the year, such as John Humphrys being recorded disparaging Carrie Gracie after she stepped down, and the Presidents Club Dinner, which led to revelations of shocking behaviour at an annual charity event. Both events caused media storms and reminded people of the problematic behaviours and challenging attitudes that women still face in their careers, and how this effects the pay gap.

But women were front and centre of just as many headlines. Throughout the year celebrities drove the news agenda. Stars such as Emma Stone, Oprah, Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain all opened up about being underpaid in Hollywood and what needed to change. Despite people frequently conflating equal pay issues and the gender pay gap, it was encouraging to see the message break through that more needed to be done to support women across all industries. By April 2018 positive stories and calls to action, such as EasyJet’s efforts to improve their pay gap, were gaining as much attention as the scandals and outrage.

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Big stories on the Pay Gap broke consistently throughout the last 12 months, but only in 2018 did the peaks became more frequent. Furthermore, discussion of the pay gap outside of these peaks increased in the early months of 2018. Our graph below shows that for the month before the deadline, Pay Gap news dominated the headlines far more often than not, reaching a fever pitch on the final day. The numbers themselves tell the story. In March, 7,375 UK stories ran with “Pay Gap” in their title, over five times more than in February. And the numbers for April reveal a 40 percent drop in pay gap reporting. What this shows, however, is that Gender Pay Gap reporting has persisted following the deadline, hopefully suggesting a lasting shift in the prevalence of the pay gap conversation. 

So interest in the gender pay gap has grown over the last year. The language of the pay gap debate has also spread, becoming part of some journalist’s everyday scrutiny of companies. Consistent reporting on the issue from all the major newspapers, accompanied by useful guides such as this one, are helping to build understanding. Whilst we know that 78% of organisations pay men more, year one saw most organisations and articles at pains to clarify that a pay gap did not mean an equal pay issue. To a degree that was inevitable, and at least it means we can hopefully put the ‘Gender Pay Gap is a myth’ arguments to bed.

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If year one was the start of the conversation, what does the future look like for pay gap reporting? Year two will undoubtedly peel the next layer of the onion. Organisations will be tested against their own rhetoric. Worsening numbers will drive the biggest headlines. In terms of plans – once a women’s network is set up and there’s been unconscious bias training for all – where will companies go?

This isn’t a ‘girls jobs’ to fix, and it is illusionary to think that the argument should only be concerned with women’s choice over their lifestyles. As men become more aware of the problem, having to collect and address the stark facts, they too can help.

Part of the future of Pay Gap reporting needs to be concerned with the workplace stereotypes that remain frustratingly persistent. The same unhelpful gender stereotypes that teach girls to be polite and helpful, not pushy or bossy, also teach boys not to cry. These dangerous stereotypes should not be overlooked when searching for solutions, meaning a focus on mental health support at work and shared parental leave for male managers are just as important as affordable childcare and negotiable skills for women in the executive pipeline.

If you need help planning for gender pay gap 2019 – get in touch now.


What to look out for in the local elections


What to look out for in the local elections

Regardless of who wins, an election should be a time for optimism and fresh approaches
— Libertarian leader Gary Johnson, prior to losing two Presidential elections.

As voters head to the polling booths on 3rd May for the latest round of local elections, they will have much to think about as they decide on which party gets a cross next to their name. Currently, the national political scene is being dominated by the Windrush crisis, potential military intervention in Syria, and an ongoing anti-Semitism row in the Labour party. Despite these major issues, it will most likely be local concerns that will influence the results. Atlas intern Sam Hogg looks at some of the factors at play.



These local elections will see contests up and down the country with over 4,300 seats up for grabs - including all councils and councillors in London.

In 2014 when these seats were last contested, Labour gained control of six additional councils and 300 councillors. This means the party will have more seats to defend on this occasion and in theory Labour may find it difficult to make significant in-roads. In contrast, the Conservatives start from a lower base having lost 236 councillors in 2014 although early predictions suggest they're in for another long night. The Lib Dems also suffered a disappointing night in 2014, losing over 300 councillors - resentment across 'Remain' areas of London may offer them a chance to win back seats with their anti-Brexit message. 



Wandsworth and Westminster

Pundits across the political spectrum will be keeping a close eye on two boroughs in particular: Wandsworth and Westminster. Both are traditionally Conservative strongholds – the former was rumoured to be Margaret Thatcher’s favourite borough, whilst the latter has been in Tory hands for the last 54 years. Now, with local elections imminent, there is a palpable sense of worry among the Conservative party. Theresa May used Prime Minister's Questions to remind voters that Conservative councils cost residents less in council tax than their Labour counterparts. Citing two London boroughs (naturally), May highlighted that residents in the Tory Wandsworth pay about £700 a year, whereas in Labour Lambeth they pay about £1,400. “No clearer example can there be that Conservative councils cost you less," concluded the Prime Minister. Winning either or both would be a significant and symbolic result for Corbyn’s Labour – with this in mind, we predict a Tory hold in Westminster, and a Labour gain in Wandsworth.

Kensington and Chelsea

There are a selection of other boroughs worth keeping a close eye on. Firstly, the Conservative stronghold of Kensington and Chelsea. Currently, the Conservative party have a 24-seat majority, holding 37 out of a possible 50 seats across 18 wards. However, with the Grenfell Tower disaster fresh in voters’ minds, Tory councillors are likely to come under intense pressure to hold onto their seats. Labour also tasted success at the 2017 General Election when Emma Dent Coad MP seized the seat from Victoria Borwick. 

What about new entrants? Advance has put forward 14 candidates for selection and are running on the promise of bringing local interests back to the forefront of the borough. Can they breakthrough, possibly even holding the balance of power? The odds are against them but everyone loves an outsider...

However, on balance, this borough is unlikely to change hands. On the theme of balancing power, Renew and the Women's Equality Party will be looking to make minor gains in their chosen boroughs. Although both parties campaign actively across the capital; we don't anticipate any major breakthroughs for either.


Let's move north to Barnet. The borough boasts one of the largest Jewish communities in London and until last month was governed by a narrow Conservative majority until a Tory councillor resigned his seat. For Labour, this borough may prove an interesting measure of how, if at all, the ongoing anti-Semitism scandal has affected the party; a clear change from being favourites to win the Council only last month.

With London Labour mayor Sadiq Khan claiming he had spoken to Jewish Londoners who “genuinely believe” the party is not for them, could Labour actually go backwards in Barnet? It’s too close to call, but Labour’s recent problems point to a narrow Conservative hold.   


Let’s go to the South-West London and sunny Kingston-upon-Thames. This is Lib Dem territory - or used to be at least - until the Tories seized control in 2014. Energised by Ed Davey’s general election win last year and running on an ‘Exit from Brexit’ theme, the party will be hoping to pick up disenfranchised ‘Remain’ Conservative and Labour voters. Tentatively we suggest a Lib Dem gain.


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Across England, four metropolitan boroughs have council seats up for grab: Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Labour historically perform well in metropolitan areas north of the Watford gap and will be looking for gains. A further 30 urban boroughs have a third of their seats up for election, so we expect to see a solid, if unspectacular, Labour performance.

Outside of the cities, the picture looks a little brighter for the Tories. Thirteen boroughs have at least half their seats up for grabs, with seven having all their seats available. The Tories and Labour will battle to win seats from the ailing UKIP, who pollsters believe will be all but wiped out. Expect to see (former) UKIP strongholds like Dudley and North East Lincolnshire being hard fought over by both parties, with the Tories more likely to make gains.



What about the other parties? There will be various areas that will be the focus of their attention. Sunderland is a good example; although a Labour stronghold, the local council has been plagued with scandal, resulting in an arrest and a Facebook group springing up in protest calling voters to “Vote Anything But Labour.” Likewise, the Green Party often perform well in university cities, currently holding seats in Leeds, Brighton and Liverpool. Monitoring the Green’s performance in these wards will provide an insight into whether the party still holds any clout on the local stage. 



In the hysteria of the moment, while the votes are being counted and the tension builds on social media, expect to see doom and gloom forecasts for the future of the Conservative party, and scenes of elation for Labour. Should the results be poor for the Tories, some pundits will call this the end of Theresa May. Likewise, a strong Labour sweep will be heralded in some circles as definitive proof that Jeremy Corbyn is on the march to No10.

The reality is, as ever, more complex. For a variety of reasons, the governing party tend to perform poorly at local elections. A moderate loss for Theresa May’s party would not be reflective of the national voting intention. Likewise, a strong sweep for Corybn’s Labour will boost his credibility and standing but is not representative of how the population would vote should a snap election be called tomorrow.

Political commentators are near universal in their belief this will be Labour’s night – they have never been wrong before, have they? Our recommendation: keep your eyes on the marginal seats we have flagged. They will prove indicative of how recent national news has affected politics at a local level, but don't bet that it will be a true reflection of national sentinment. We mustn;t forget that last year the Tories 'won' the local elections one-month prior to the General Election. And we all know how that turned out...


What can we learn from Facebook's last two weeks?


What can we learn from Facebook's last two weeks?

A month on, and Facebook seems to have weathered the worst of the storm – their share price is recovering and the shareholders somewhat pacified. The twenty-four-hour news cycle has allowed the company to slip out of the limelight, with fewer voices now calling for Mark Zuckerberg to resign from his position as CEO.

Yet Facebook appears to still be struggling to grasp the implications of the Cambridge Analytica scandal on their reputation. Although he faced a congressional grilling, Mark Zuckerberg has refused to present himself before a committee looking into fake news and disinformation in the UK. Instead he sent his CTO who managed to not answer 40 questions. 

Yesterday, the chair of the committee Damian Collins MP issued an ultimatum; Zuckerberg can either present himself voluntarily to answer questions about Facebook’s role in the Brexit campaign, or he may face a summons next time he enters British territory (a rarely used parliamentary threat). Although the share price is recovering, it is still short of its pre-scandal value. Little has changed in the way Facebook handled the chain of events from a crisis communication perspective. The lessons are still valid and provide ample learning experiences.

When the news report dropped on March 17th that intelligence firm Cambridge Analytica had harvested and abused the data of 50 million Facebook users, you may have been forgiven for thinking that the announcement had hit Facebook almost out of the blue. This was not the case. The company had been warned as far back as 2014 that data gathered on their website was being manipulated – in this case, a Cambridge University researcher collected the personal information of 30 million users using an app, which he then sold to Cambridge Analytica. The leading journalist on the case, Carole Cadwalladr, had been writing on the issue for over 18 months.

Both The Observer and The New York Times warned Facebook on March 16th that they were preparing the report to go live the next day. The company was given twenty-four hours to prepare statements and get their story together. They responded by sending out legal letters and posting a blog explaining that this data leak did not technically constitute a “breach”, whilst kicking Cambridge Analytica off the site. It would be five days before Facebook leadership issued a response, by which point there had been numerous lawsuits, governmental inquiries, a #DeleteFacebook user boycott campaign, and a drop in share price that’s erased nearly $60 billion off the company’s market cap.


The first 120 hours

In the absence of a statement from Facebook, traditional and online media across the world continued to pile on the pressure. In the United Kingdom, The Financial Times published a hostile Long Read, whilst The Guardian created a special folder to scrutinise the ongoing fallout, titled The Cambridge Analytica Files. Online behemoths in the tech world such as WIRED and The Verge published critical pieces which were met with silence from the Facebook leadership team.

Zuckerberg then began a flurry of interviews with American media organizations, including CNNWiredThe New York Times, and Recode. Facebook also took out full page ads in the Sunday editions of the UK newspapers: The Observer, The Sunday Times, Mail on Sunday, Sunday Mirror, Sunday Express and Sunday Telegraph. In the US, the ads appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. The chief executive then had an interview with CNN that same Wednesday during which he publicly apologised for Facebook’s role in the scandal: “This was a major breach of trust, and I’m really sorry this happened,” he said in an interview on CNN. “Our responsibility now is to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

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What lessons can we take away from this situation? 

Hindsight is 20:20. It was always going to be difficult to handle the immediate aftermath of having to tell your users that their private data had been used by shady intelligence firms after they signed up to play Farmville when they were fourteen. However, it didn’t have to be this difficult. A proportion of the blame sits with Facebook founder and leader Mark Zuckerberg. His first response took the form of a Facebook post, nearly a thousand words long, which did not include the word ‘sorry’.


Front up to it

Everyone makes mistakes. We are all human. Sometimes we break a wine glass, other times we swear in front of children, occasionally we misplace fifty million peoples’ confidential data. It took Facebook five days to field a senior spokesperson, which left a vacuum ripe for press speculation to build. Again, we will never know what events are going on internally at a company, but five days is too long. Get someone up there and make a statement – be empathetic even if you don’t have all the facts yet. This reassures customers and users that you acknowledge the issue and that you are proactively working on fixing it. Just make sure that statement is not a…



This new entrant in lexicology is becoming something of an art form – particularly for male celebrities. A sort of apology just doesn’t cut it. As we highlighted earlier, Mark Zuckerberg’s first response was a Facebook status of 937 words, none of which was the word ‘sorry’. The comment section on the post should tell you all you need to know about how this was received by the public, let alone shareholders and the media. When he did get around to apologising during a CNN interview and with full page adverts in the press, the impact was lost and it felt forced, as if he was doing it purely to protect his commercial interests. And finally..


Be prepared

Boy Scouts and Brownies learn this aged 10. Who knew this news was not new news at all? Facebook did. Journalists had been asking them for comment on these issues as long ago as 2010 yet Facebook was seemingly unprepared when the issue raised its head again. This should have triggered internal action to both renew the operational systems AND prepare for the next round of media enquiries. They were given a full twenty-four hours to scramble together some sort of statement before the news was broken, and they settled on an obtusely worded blog post. Worse, they seemed to imply they did not know about the breach until they were alerted to its existence by the press. This suggested Facebook did not have a grasp of its own security – a revelation almost as damaging as the leak itself. Whether any of that personal data was actually of any real use – let alone facilitated electoral success for Trump & Leave.EU is questionable. But the damage the story has done to Facebook’s reputation is undeniable.


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So what can you do?

Every organisation should have a risk register that covers everything and an escalation process in place for managing media inquiries. If you operate in a highly regulated market you should test those processes with regular training. The psychological impact of these drills for all your team – and especially your top spokespeople – can be huge. If you want help ensuring you are ready to face whatever reputation challenges come your way, do get in touch.

Find out how to view your Facebook data here, and how to alter your privacy settings here.


Not another one!


Not another one!

Another week and another discussion about another centrist party. Renew and The Centrist Party are just two of the latest concoctions. Groundhog Day or history in the making? A political inevitability or a 'third-way' fantasy?

The recent spike has been driven by reports of a new campaign group which has access of up to £50 million in funding. But beyond money, what does it take to make a new political party that would work, and why is this happening now? As you may have guessed from our previous blog on this subject, we’ve got a bucket of cold water ready and we’re not afraid to use it…


Where’s the demand?

Let’s start by asking where the demand comes from both within and outside politics.

31% of people didn’t vote in the 2017 election and only 19% (according to the latest IPSOS Mori poll) say they trust politicians. So faith in mainstream political parties is on the decline, but does that indicate desire for 'more of the same' or are the majority disenchanted with the entire political system?

Is the 48% of disappointed Remain voters more fertile territory? Many of these describe feeling a new political awakening and are looking to engage in politics more as a result of the Brexit vote.  But the evidence is far from conclusive. The most overtly pro-European party, the Liberal Democrats failed to gain traction at the last General Election despite offering an ‘Exit from Brexit.’ So we would caution would-be leaders of a new party against putting all their eggs into the anti-Brexit basket. 

So what other evidence of demand for a new party is there? A survey conducted during the 2017 General Election by NatCen suggests there is potential grassroots opportunity. It reported 56% of people feel no political party represents them, which - in theory - means they could be interested in something new. But amongst this majority there will be many different elements, who want different things.

Despite these caveats and for argument’s sake however, let’s suggest there is a particular group of voters. Voters who have supported Labour or the Conservatives, but have done so holding their nose. Voters uncomfortable with Theresa May’s ‘citizens of nowhere’ rhetoric, but perplexed by the Corbyn project and who - for one reason or another - cannot bring themselves to vote for the Lib Dems. Voters who would largely identify themselves as centrist, internationalist, optimistic yet pragmatic. Voters who perhaps would have backed Blair in 1997 and in 2001 and Cameron in 2010.

Appeal to these voters and the new party may just be in business.

There goes my people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.
— Mahatma Gandhi

And who will lead these people?

To be successful, a movement needs leaders.

Both Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party and Phil Collins, former adviser to Tony Blair, have rightly questioned whether a new party led by political names from the past could succeed. Collins argued If a new party looks and sounds like an attempt to get the old band back together it will be stillborn”.

En Marche had Macron - the political insider turned outsider. The Republicans had an outsider in Trump, although his rebellious credentials were more spin than substance given his money and connections. Who is there in the UK? We cannot tell you this known-unknown. The as yet undiscovered charismatic political outsider who will lead this new party is yet to be found.

So does a new centrist moment need leading current figures from across the political sphere? You don’t have to search hard or attend too many dinners (often with the aid of free alcohol) to find MPs disapproving of their current leaderships. Are these MPs really looking for a new tribe? In their collective misery, could they be persuaded to join a viable new party?

“Moderate” Labour MPs are the most obviously unhappy, having publicly and privately bemoaned their leadership’s left turn. For political nerds and historians this brings about memories of the early ‘80s. Unhappy with Labour’s direction under Michael Foot, the “gang of four” who were big political beasts in their day, split away to form the Social Democrat Party (SDP). Expecting to sweep all before them, they came second in 313 constituencies in the 1983 General Election. Unable to top that, they merged with the Liberal party, creating the Liberal Democrats in 1988. In Labour circles, even today, this story is an apocryphal tale of the inevitable misery that shall be heaped upon traitors to the cause.

Not all is rosy in the Tory camp either. Many MPs of the Cameron and Osborne vintage are far from convinced by the direction of the party under Theresa May. These MPs are even more concerned about the potential of a Jacob Rees-Mogg takeover. Yet, their current status as the party of government and their ability to control who will be on the ballot in any future Tory leadership race, makes a split from a Tory perspective far less likely.


So back to that bucket of cold water

Talk about ‘something happening’ has not been in short supply. Former political heavyweights such as David Miliband, Tony Blair, Sir Nick Clegg and Sir John Major have all hinted at a major change to come. Yet, no-one seems to know what that change is and what the trigger will be. The most likely trigger (if there is one) could be the moment when Momentum, the grassroots pro-Corbyn Labour group, goes up a gear with its efforts to complete the hard-left takeover – by de-selecting sitting Labour MPs who are too moderate for their tastes.

Momentum will probably push their luck, but the barriers to de-selection are high and large-scale success for them is likely to elude them. Therefore, most moderate Labour MPs will largely be safe in their seats from internal critics, riding out the Corbyn storm whilst looking for opportunities to undermine his leadership, knowing it will take at least one more general election before significant change happens.

A Tory party run by Jacob Rees-Mogg? Well, stranger things have happened. But, probably not on this occasion. There are too many sensible Tory MPs who will ensure Mr Rees-Mogg’s path to the leadership is blocked.

So is it going to happen? Are we on the precipice of a major new political party? We beg to differ. 

No matter how much some of the liberal moneyed elite in London may want this to happen: history, tribalism, realism and spinelessness make the odds of a successful ‘centrist’ party with political clout extremely long. But then, we could always be wrong, three years ago few would have predicted electoral success for Brexit, Trump and Corbyn.


Less than a week to go to the gender pay gap deadline…


Less than a week to go to the gender pay gap deadline…

I’m sitting in a client meeting feeling decidedly uncomfortable. Their reputation is at risk. The Chief Executive and Head of Marketing are having a difficult conversation about how to manage an issue and it’s, partially, my fault. Naturally I apologise, but inside I’m cheering because this is a discussion they need to be having. They are talking about having to publish their gender pay gap numbers and they are not happy about the picture those numbers paint. They already worry their staff will be pissed off, and they suspect it won’t go down well with customers, shareholders or the wider world either.


Celebrating our Grandmothers on #IWD2018

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Celebrating our Grandmothers on #IWD2018

We often talk about who influences target audiences when we plan campaigns. As PR and PA professionals we then turn our focus on media and political channels, but we never forget that friends and family are the most important and trusted source of inspiration for most of us.

To mark #IWD2018 and the hundred years since (some) women got the vote, we are sharing some stories about those who experienced first-hand the changes since and helped shape our views of the world. Debutants, pilots, race-car drivers, chemists, teachers, wives and mothers, we feel we have a lot to learn and live up to still from our grandmothers. Happy International Women’s Day and happy reading…


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Isabelle Napier (nee Surtees)

Born in 1906, my grandmother was a remarkable woman who lived a long and fascinating life. She left home at 18 to travel the world, ending up in South America. On returning to England she entered the swirl of the 1920’s debutant party life eventually meeting my grandfather and marrying him in 1930. She also found time to become one of the UK's first women qualified pilots paving the way for women to join the Air Transport Auxillary.

Following the birth of my father and uncle, at the outbreak of WW2 she got involved with the Polish military forces based in Britain. She served as the Vice President of Poland’s Armed Forces Comforts Fund undertaking roles as a canteen organiser, wholesale supply administrator and from 1944 onwards running a rehabilitation centre for wounded Polish servicemen. After the war, she continued her links to the Polish army and in 1945 presented new colours to the 1st Polish Anti-tank regiment. In 1989, to mark her services to Poland she was decorated by the Polish Ambassador in London.

In her spare time, she loved fishing and golf and is featured on the honours board at the Berkshire Golf Club a number of times. She died aged 99 and would have been very miffed not to have got to 100 and receive her telegram from the Queen.


Paddy Pine

Paddy Pine (nee Trant)

Born in Devon in 1914, my grandmother was a curious book-worm and who believed deeply in service to others and her community. With long red hair, she was beautiful apart for one eye which “refused to look in the right direction”. Many operations during her childhood taught her to bear pain bravely and to love roman history. She wasn’t allowed into the grammar school in Kingsbridge because they only took boys, but did get enough of an education to be accepted to University College Exeter, completing her a teaching qualification in 1933. Whilst teaching in Birmingham, she met a handsome Welshman William ‘Bill’ Pine from the valleys, who had previously worked in the coal industry but left during the depression and ran the local YMCA.

Married in 1940 just before his call up papers arrived, she gave up teaching to be near where Bill was posted in Chester with the Royal Artillery and they had four children in eight years. When he was demobbed the family moved back to Devon, so Bill could work in the flour mill and Paddy returned to teaching to supplement their income when her youngest son Anthony was big enough to sit on the back of the bike for the precarious ride across town down the hill to the school. Reflecting the liberal-minded tolerance and internationalism of her local and Methodist community, the family hosted many of their german cousins in the immediate aftermath of the war to promote reconciliation.

Widowed in 1961, she embarked on a new adventure, moving across the country to Cambridge, becoming an assistant librarian at the University and teaching herself Russian in order to file some of the foreign periodicals.  She read and cycled almost every day, sometimes up to 150 miles a day well into her 80s and did 200 lengths in the local pool once a week. Always open minded, her compassion for and interest in all people and her ability to set aside judgement or complaint continue to inspire me today.


Pamela Heijbroek (nee Harding, formerly Howard)

Born in 1917, my grandmother started her life in the midst of war. At the age of 22, on the outbreak of WWII, she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, tasked with the maintenance of radar systems. During this time, she met and fell in love with a young paratrooper, John Howard. After a whirlwind romance they married, but John was soon called out to participate in Operation Market Garden, an airborne operation attempting to liberate occupied Holland. When dropped over Holland, John found himself separated from his fellow soldiers and took refuge in a nearby Dutch house.

As this was German territory, the family took him in, hiding him in the basement alongside two other soldiers they had found. Unfortunately, German forces took over the house, leaving the Dutch family and soldiers hiding in the basement. This situation was volatile and after months of hiding, the Englishmen found their chance to escape. With the help of the eldest son, they left one night to cross the Rhine. Tragically, one of the soldiers couldn’t swim, and John, attempting to help his fellow countryman died trying to help him cross the river. A year later, in 1945 my grandmother received a letter from Holland, explaining the fate of her husband, with an invitation to visit the house where he’d spent his last months. She accepted and travelled to Arnhem, where she met the letter writer, and eldest son, Henri. It was love at first sight, and just 5 months later, they married.

Optimism, hope and strength through adversity were my grandmother’s great traits, as a working woman in the WAAF and in her personal life. Without such strength of character, she would have never taken the journey that changed her life.


Irene Morley (nee Stock)

My grandmother was a fan of chemistry and unfortunately for her, the school she went to only taught the subject to boys. Her mother took it upon herself and complained to the school and campaigned for the subject to be opened up to girls as well. Fortunately, (after a number of strongly-worded letters!) her mother was successful and my grandmother was able to pursue her scientific studies, a huge triumph for her in the early 30s. This opportunity meant she was able to pursue a chemistry degree from Aberystwyth University – almost certainly a rarity in her time!

A short while later and, no doubt after connecting over their love of science, my grandmother married and had to give up her chemistry career. Her priorities went from labs and periodic tables to looking after and caring for eight children! As money tightened and mouths needed to be fed, my grandmother had to go back to work (much to the displeasure of my grandfather), and this time she trained to be a teacher. She was one of the first people to take part in the on the job training scheme at the time, and was given the opportunity to talk about it on the national radio! Despite not always being able to pursue her own career ambitions, my grandmother was always there to encourage and support my mum in her career.


Mary Otoole

Mary O’Toole (nee Frost), 1919- 2014

Born in Wolverhampton in 1919, my grandmother led a sheltered, relatively privileged childhood as the baby of the family. She went to boarding school in North Wales and endured “character building’ swims in the sea. Her father would not allow her to go out and get a job when she left school, because he said she would be “taking work from someone who needed it more.” She was twenty when WW2 broke out and joined the Staffordshire 96th Detachment of the British Red Cross, experienced eye-opening culture shock when tending to wounded soldiers and making friends for life amongst her fellow nurses.

Mary fell for John (a fellow member of the Lawn Tennis and Squash Club) in the early 1940’s. Her father thought him “a bit wild” because he worked in the coal industry, but she got her own way and they were married in 1942 and went on to have four daughters.  She never worked, save for her roles as hostess, entertaining her husband’s business associates, and mother, teaching her daughters to cook, sew, swim and ride. She encouraged them to go to secretarial college so they could have “a bit of a job” before getting married, a piece of advice they universally ignored. Never actively political, she always voted because she firmly believed it was her civic duty.


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Jean MacMillan (1930-2010)

At the age of 19, my grandmother built her own car and went on to race and rally cars, which was quite unusual for the time. She married Paul Vasey after he lost a bet with her that she would not be able to beat him in a race. Men and women weren't allowed to race each other at the time, so to beat him she raced in her male friend's car and came out on top. She only stopped racing when she had her third of four children.

She always, always voted and did the 'telling' at the Village Hall for the Conservative Party from 7am-10pm on polling day. She said, often, that it was the best way of making sure she caught up with everyone in the village. She also kept a record of every dish she prepared for every dinner party, to make sure she never served the her guests the same thing twice. I love the balance she held between being a race car driver and the perfect host, it reminds me that you shouldn't make assumptions about people based on only one thing you know about them. 


Phyllis Sharpe (nee Mossman)

My grandmother was born in Cornwall on the 17th February 1934. Upon growing up in the Second World War, her school in Bude was home to a number of evacuees who had been forced to move as a result of the conflict. Phyllis then went on to work as a midwife and a nurse in Bristol in the 1950s, often riding a bike to arrive at different locations to help women in labour. Phyllis went on to have three daughters with her husband Ronald, becoming a full time Mum and housewife. Additionally, Phyllis would help Ronald who had become a doctor when on call with answering the phone and other tasks and also travelled across the globe to assist him with his work including spending some time in the Caribbean.

There are many traits which I admire about my grandmother. Her ability to accommodate and host, to ensure all people she met and visited the house were always made to feel welcome and her desire to help in all situations are just some of these traits. But above all, what I admire most is the fun and joyful atmosphere that my Grandmother and Grandfather have always gone out of their way to create.  For all these reasons, my grandmother will always serve as an inspirational figure to me.


Angela Harris (nee Withers)

My grandmother was born in the early 1930s and grew up in Wolverhampton, until was evacuated during World War II. My Grandpa worked abroad for British Airways, and after they were married she had to constantly move with him for his job. From Trinidad to Senegal, Bogota to the United States, there's hardly a corner of the world that she hasn't lived in.

She's a fantastic painter, wonderful mother and grandmother, a master of macaroni cheese and a devoted Christian. What inspires me most about her is her ability to encompass a full range of characteristics, from quiet and caring to devastatingly witty, and switch between them in a matter of seconds.

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If only Brexit wasn't so, you know, Brexity...


If only Brexit wasn't so, you know, Brexity...

Let’s exercise our imagination for a second. 

In an alternate universe, Theresa May is the champion of the consumer, defender of JAMs, and lynchpin of Conservative majority rule following a landslide victory in the 2017 General Election, where her “nothing has changed” campaign won advertising awards for its cut through, simplicity, and honesty. In this timeline, May’s agenda is in full swing: house building is on the up, tax avoidance is decreasing, and the UK is the fastest growing economy in the G7. Oh and, of course, Brexit hasn’t occurred (let’s skip over the fact Cameron and Osborne might still be around). 

Sounds like utopia?

Back to reality and the Prime Minister's initiatives to defend consumers from broken markets are side-lined, the JAMs (Just About Managing families) are forgotten – along with her dream team of Nick and Fiona – and her majority rule is dependent on thirteen unruly Northern Irish DUP MPs who seem to be the only people in Parliament enjoying themselves…

As the news and parliamentary agendas constantly remind us, Brexit is all consuming. It is not simply an innocent bystander in the log jam that is Government policy. It is the roadblock, stretching from Trafalgar Square to the end of Victoria Street, from Holyrood to the Senedd and over the sea to Stormont. No elected official or civil servant can escape it.



May and her Cabinet are desperate for alternative news stories. Their agenda (I’ll let you know when I actually find out what it is) is being lost in the day-to-day in-fighting of what type of Brexit we might negotiate. Will it be hard, will it be soft? Will we be in the customs union, a customs union, or none at all. Never has the indefinite article carried more meaning. 

But amidst all this non-debate, a serious issue is growing. Domestic policy is languishing. The NHS is still experiencing its worst ever winter crisis; the number of homeless has reached 275,000, with over 4,500 rough sleepers nationwide (a 175% rise since 2010); and the standard of social care has reached critical levels as Councils fail to balance the books after 8-years of austerity. One Council had their budget deemed “unlawful” by their auditors earlier this year. 

Major infrastructure decisions such as on Crossrail 2, Heathrow, HS3 and the urgent repair work on the Houses of Parliament are kicked down the road (again). Emergency services reaction times have grown as pressure on their limited resources increases. Rural public transport routes continue to be disbanded, leaving elderly citizens cut off from vital links to their communities – exasperated even further by the recent ‘Beast of the East’ weather surge. 

In Whitehall, over 600 civil servants are feverishly working within DexEU (Department for Exiting the European Union) and DIT (Department for International Trade) – although what the latter is actually doing at the moment is anyone’s guess (air miles are great if you can get them). This doesn’t even include the teams working within other Government Departments on how Brexit affects separate sectors: from farming, to air travel, to immigration, down to manufacturing standards. 

600 people who could be, and IMHO would love to be, working on any number of the issues mentioned above, rather than dealing with the consequences of Brexit.



So how can the Government find the time to focus on other priorities? In short, only with great difficulty.

Last Friday’s keynote speech by the Prime Minister on (you guessed it) Brexit provided some breathing space and allowed the media team, led by Robbie Gibb, to control the news cycle for the first time in months. May’s homebuilding initiative launched smoothly, and the choreographed State Visit of Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia would have led headlines if it weren’t for the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Salisbury. 

But this is the problem, only a landmark Brexit speech by the Prime Minister herself can push Brexit off the news cycle long enough for one announcement to sneak in, then, like an angrier version of Boris, Brexit screeches back into the limelight. 

The respite is just not long enough.

MPs want to help their constituents and focus on the issues they care about most. Our job as communications and public affairs professionals is to get that cut through. To ensure the issues are debated, challenged, and now more than ever, pushed forward. If you want help getting round the all consuming dementor that is Brexit to get your issue on the political agenda, we are here to help you conjure your patronus.


Comcast reaches for the Sky


Comcast reaches for the Sky

A new twist in the ongoing tussle for ownership of Sky has seen shares of the company soar as media titan Comcast placed a £22 billion bid for the company. Last week’s surprise news triggered a takeover battle with Murdoch owned 21st Century Fox that looks likely to rival only Nedal vs Federer in length, complexity and sheer resilience. Yet with gold and silver medals at the Jewish Olympics, does the CEO of Comcast Brian Roberts hold the advantage point across the pond?

Comcast's offer has firmly placed a cat amongst the proverbial pigeons, coming after 2 years of merger talks between Fox and Sky that have been plagued by the red tape of political consent. Only last month, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) found the Murdoch bid “incompatible with public interest due to a lack of media plurality,” following intervention from (then) Culture Secretary, Karen Bradley. 


What calls for such intervention? 

The Murdoch empire already owns a third of British media under News Corp and 39% of Sky. Regulatory forces are set against further expansion; suggesting a full take-over of Sky could threaten the diversity of media opinion and leave an ever-increasing portion of the British media subject to the Murdoch agenda. 

Anne Lambert, chair of the CMA highlighted that "media plurality goes to the heart of our democratic process. It is very important that no group or individual should have too much control of our news media or too much power to affect the political agenda." Dare we mention Brexit, Trump or #fakenews? What appears in the headlines of our leading media outlets has always had the power to sway hearts and minds, of both voters and those who they elect to represent them. Potential for increased corporate involvement behind the scenes should inspire no truly democratic society. 

Enter Comcast, the NBC and Dreamworks owner, which is hoping to “use Sky as a platform for growth.” Shrek and Kung Fu Panda are planning their takeover of Europe, and this fairy-tale idea is being well received. On Tuesday 27th February Sky’s share price rose from £2.10 to £13.10, overtaking the Comcast bid of £12.50. The exact share prices matter less than what this reaction indicates, a clear excitement in the market over the deal. Heavy investment in NBC also signals support for its potential to retain and invest in Sky - Comcast is scoring points over Murdoch.

Fox’s 39% ownership of Sky adds complexity to this ongoing saga. Excluding Fox shareholders, the threshold is set at 81% for Comcast to gain the controlling interest in the firm. With Murdoch’s bid raising political risks and threats to media plurality it could well be game, set and match to Comcast. 


But why does media plurality matter? 

Media plurality hardly sets pulses racing down the pub, so why should PRs or politicians care? Ownership itself shouldn’t cause concern, provided editorial integrity and diversity of voices in our media sources is kept intact… so what else could be going on? 

Last Thursday, under a blanket of snow, Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport confirmed that the Leveson inquiry would go no further. The second stage of the process was set to consider the extent of unlawful or improper conduct within News International and other media outlets, and assess police conduct in investigations. 

Labour’s shadow culture secretary Tom Watson called the move “a disappointment, a breach of trust and a bitter blow to the victims of press intrusion.” Matt Hancock stressed that enough had been done, referring to the establishment of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) and reform to policing practices. 

Cynics might argue that the current focus on media plurality serves as a convenient distraction from failing to go further on Leveson. What is clear though, is that this new episode in the series confirms the status of the British media as a world leading asset, though Murdoch's expansion hopes may remain simply pie in the sky. 


Snapchat: where's it going and should you follow?


Snapchat: where's it going and should you follow?

Snapchat, the image messaging / social media platform with over 180 million daily users, is arguably the defining generation dividing app. There are millions using it as their default for communicating and sharing, but most parents barely understand it beyond the warnings of drug dealers and inappropriate exchanges. Snapchat remains a wilderness for many "grown-ups." 60% of its users are under 25, compared to 40% for Instagram and 29% for Facebook. But if Kylie Jenner is tweeting that she’s ditched the app, should your brand or campaign even bother trying to get their heads round it?



Snapchat was an instant hit. Within a year of its September 2011 release date, over 2 million images were being sent per day. First known as the sexting app with the sole function of sending auto-deleting images, a few years on and the app has (mostly) shed that reputation, whilst receiving a design facelift. Now there are ‘stories’ that stay up for 24 hours; a map where you can track your friends (which has unsurprisingly created a few privacy issues and caught out a few cheaters); and a ‘discover’ tab occupied by celebrity gossip, sports news, media companies and adverts. This is where you’d turn to for updates on the Kardashians, footballers and anyone that falls under the category of rich and famous.



Last month, Snapchat unleashed a redesign (we'll spare you the details incase the ins and outs already confuse you) which has been criticised for confusing and obscuring some of its user’s favourite features. The backlash has included a million-strong petition (enough to earn 10 debates in Parliament), celebrity stamps of disapproval and dropping share prices. The “all publicity…” line rings true here as the controversy has helped drive a 55% increase in downloads. Whilst some are predicting Snapchat’s decline, increased downloads and a loyal, young and traditionally hard to reach audience mean there are still opportunities for campaigns and brands to take advantage of.



Smart, funny and weird content on Snapchat can still go viral, as proven by the bizarre popularity of the ‘Dancing Hot Dog’ filter last summer. Cadbury’s released a filter that turned your eyes into Creme Eggs, which, whilst expensive to produce and promote will be front and centre and people will share it.

Shrewd and savvy companies are now trying to make short clips that are funny and natural, matching the lo-fi look of user-made content. The way Snapchat adverts blend into other news and user content means that while the 10 second videos used for Instagram may work, they’re often too slick and stand out as advertising.

For the 2017 general election, Snapchat teamed up with the Electoral Commission to add a filter that encouraged people to register to vote. The Vote Leave Campaign and Donald Trump’s team both claimed the platform was important in their electoral victories. How vital they were is up for debate, but clearly Snapchat is the best place to go if you want to target under 25s and get your message or product in front of them.


What do journalists want?


What do journalists want?

*4pm on a Friday afternoon – press office phone rings*

Journalist: “Hello, is this the press office? I’m writing a story about XX and would love to hear from YY about this – do you think I could get a comment from them or speak to someone about it?”

Me: “Possibly! I can see if there’s someone around. What’s your deadline?”

Journalist: “5pm this afternoon”

Me: “…”


The news never stops, which means there’s always a journalist, out there somewhere, frantically typing away trying to get their copy submitted in time. Journalists have urgent deadlines they must meet, and while this has always been the case, it’s no secret that social media and its need for instant reaction has put a further strain on their timescales. The same information is still needed to write a good story, but there’s less time to gather it.



If a journalist is in the middle of writing a story and gets in touch looking for a comment to include in their article, you need to be clear what they want from you, while also getting your point across.

No one likes to be left hanging, so we need to be quick to respond. The more responsive you are, the more likely journalists are to get in touch. Our journalists friends have told us first hand they like reliability, and they want trusted sources who will say something engaging and get a reaction from their audience – because that’s what helps make a good story. So, take the time to consider:

  • What worked well in the past, and what didn’t. Keep track of comments or statements made, feedback received and what was actually used in the final copy.

  • What you want to get out of an interview, as well as what they will want to get out of it. What are the three key things you want them to understand? What are the most likely questions - both naughty and nice - that they will ask?

  • What's your overall positioning in this story? Who else are they speaking to? Everyone thinks they are the hero of their own story but, in the battle between good and evil, sometimes you might be painted as the pantomime villain!

The above is true too, if you’re trying to jump on a story by wading in with a reactive comment - something we like to call "news-jacking". If this is the case you'll need to be doubly clear on your role and why the journalist should be listening to what you have to say.



First and foremost, journos need a good hook – and preferably one that no one else has. I’ve lost count of the number of times a journalist has said “great, can you hold that story and give it to me as an exclusive?”

How solid is the information to support what you’re saying? Is it a survey with just 500 respondents, or one with 3,000 – because you’ll need credible evidence to be taken seriously. Journalists have to convince their editor that a story deserves space in the paper over the work of their colleagues; it’s a tough industry to work in and can be highly competitive - not just between the different news outlets, but within the individual news and editorial teams as well.

When you’re limited to just 30 pages or so in print, or a 30 minute news broadcast, you need to be able to fight your corner. This is why the pitch is so important. Before picking up the phone or writing that pitch email, you need to be sure why your story is the winner, why your story is worth their time. That means doing your research on their audience and their editorial agenda so make sure its a good fit. 

You only need to take to twitter to see what happens when you don't... #PRfail



Print news is limited to physical space, and broadcast journalists are also competing for time. Interviews on radio and TV can last from anything from two minutes to 10 minutes, but a lot can happen in that time. 

Spokespeople are key to making a good story. Journalists want someone that’s punchy, controversial, personal or emotive. If possible, take the opportunity to call for change or illustrate your argument with empathy. This might not always be possible, but there are a couple of things you can do to help make the most of the exposure:

  • Giving a real-life example, or personal reference that might resonate with the audience.

  • Reiterate to the listeners, or audience directly why this issue might affect them.

  • Make a connection to something else that’s happening in the news that day, reaffirming that the debate is relevant and newsworthy.

Interesting copy, or punchy remarks, will undoubtedly be gratefully received and will be more likely to ask you to comment again on other stories.

Remember that journalists aren’t the enemy. They’re not all out to get you and destroy your reputation in a heartbeat. They see themselves as tellers of truth in the public interest. Their number one priority is their audience. They want content that will appeal to their readers, viewers or listeners and keep them engaged. You need to be confident that you are the person that can help them do that. And (*plug alert*) if you're struggling - with five front pages and counting in the last year - we reckon we might be able to help.


The New Cabinet - 1 Month On


The New Cabinet - 1 Month On

Yes, it has now been over a month since Theresa May’s reshuffle. Doesn’t time fly? Here, we present some of our new Ministers with a report card from their first month.




There can only be one place to start. New DCMS Secretary, Matt Hancock, and the now famous (or infamous?) Matt Hancock App. The app (with over 1,000 downloads), the first of its kind, updates users on Mr Hancock’s activities and allows members of the public to sign up as friends and chat with other users of the app.

To date, the app appears to have drawn an eclectic variety of users with one user (as shown below) particularly engaged if not entirely serious!

It is easy to poke fun at the Matt Hancock app. If this seems familiar you may be remembering a Thick of It episode and a hapless Minister, but by not taking it too seriously, Hancock is getting good interaction at a time when the wider party has been having somewhat of a crisis of confidence when it comes to social media.



A blog post written in 2012 by new Tory Vice-Chairman Ben Bradley has recently resurfaced following some media digging after his promotion. The blog post suggested benefit claimants should have vasectomies. Rightly, Mr Bradley has apologised.

Alas, Mr Bradley’s problems do not end there. He has also been forced to apologise for posting a tweet saying Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn passed British secrets to a Czechoslovakian spy. However, as one of our recent blogs has suggested he isn’t the only one to have said something on a public forum he later regretted. Still, Must Do Better!



Which Secretary of State has the toughest new gig - it's a close run contest? New Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley has not enjoyed the easiest of starts. Inheriting a row over "regulatory alignment", stalled power-sharing arrangements in Belfast and managing the DUP Ms Bradley has quite a challenge on her hands.

The Northern Ireland post has never been the easiest role in Government. Despite the success of the Good Friday agreement, tensions have persisted. In addition, she loses key SpAd Peter Cardwell to the Home Secretary at Easter. Ms Bradley could be forgiven for wishing all she had to worry about was an appropriate black dress for the BAFTAs.

Onto our second candidate. In January, David Gauke became the fifth Justice Secretary in three years. However, any hopes of a quiet introduction were quickly swept aside. Gauke, a solicitor by trade, was immediately faced with the decision over whether to pursue a judicial review to stop the release of sex attacker John Worboys. He declined this opportunity. In response, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, announced he would launch a legal challenge, as did some of Worboys victims. Expect this story to run and run and pressure to increase on Gauke to find a way to stop Worboys being released.



With many junior Tory MPs positioning themselves for what follows May, this is a crowded field. However, there is one clear choice; new Transport Minister Nusrat Ghani. Ms Ghani in answering Transport Questions became the first Muslim women Minister to speak at the Despatch Box. A notable first and one to watch.



Ministers; both new and old continue to grapple with ongoing political headaches such as pressure on living wages, a house building crisis, the NHS and of course Brexit. Theresa May clings on, Labour continue trying to keep their head down. UKIP have a new leader (again) and another new anti-Brexit party has been created.

This conclusion could give the indication that our politics is entirely bleak and predictable. But that would be wrong.

As we all battle through the daily negative political headlines, taking a longer view reminds us politics can be transformational and inspirational. As this photo of over 100 female parliamentarians from across the political spectrum joining together to celebrate the anniversary of female suffrage, not all politics is inconsequential. And as Polly MacKenzie has recently written in the Evening Standard, maybe it is time for us all to give up despair in politics and focus on the good we can do. Perhaps, that is something to reflect on.



New party Chairman Brandon Lewis has also identified social media as a prominent battleground. He has written of how many Tory voters are too shy to fight Labour online. A coordinated social media strategy had seen many Tory MPs bombard social media with pro-environmental messages after Blue Planet 2.

It is not merely Blue Planet 2 which has been causing excitement on the Tory backbenches. According to an article from Iain Martin in The Times, Hollywood blockbuster Darkest Hour focusing on the life of Winston Churchill is leading Tory MPs to consider “action this day” and removing Theresa May.

Watch this space!


How the media covered the centenary of suffrage


How the media covered the centenary of suffrage

As we hope most people who read our blogs would have noticed, this week marked the centenary of women first gaining the right to vote. At Atlas we were happy to see the media, rightly, make a big deal of this important anniversary, although the contrast in approach told us a lot about media priorities.

The event featured heavily on the front pages, with features from The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Sun and The i, all focusing on different aspects of what it means 100 years on. The Telegraph displayed a historic photo of Christabel Pankhurst and Annie Kenney next to a headline saying that Suffragette’s should be pardoned posthumously. The Sun advertised their 8-page special, celebrating 100 years of the women’s vote, with a photo of a women in lingerie. We weren’t quite sure of the relevance, but given The Sun’s reputation, it’s almost a surprise that they didn’t bring back Page 3 nipples for the day.

In stark contrast, Time Out put thank you messages at the front and centre of their issue, with an article on 63 women helping to change perceptions today, who thanked the heroines that led the way before them. Amongst those expressing their gratitude were Diane Abbott, Sophie Walker, Laura Bates and Gemma Arterton. Stylist went one further and dedicated their whole issue to ‘Celebrating 100 years of Women’s Suffrage’, brandishing the phrase “let's finish what they started” on the front of the magazine – in an issue that for some will be a collector’s item. They linked the past of the Suffragette movement to current issues of the pay gap and online abuse and showed that the best way of honouring those women is to look to the future.


With a focus on looking forwards, The Guardian had five writers share their views on whether they think we will have gender parity 100 years from now. Margaret Atwood and Lola Okolosie argued that equality will rely on progress in the workplace, such as when becoming a mother does not set back a person's earnings or career. Polly Toynbee wasn’t confident about equality being easy to achieve. She said recent events such as the #MeToo movement and the end of grid girls in Formula One were important but were just small steps of which there need to be many more.

Para 5 Swinson Humphrys.jpg

One of these steps was noticed in our office, when Tuesday’s Today Programme had an all female show to commemorate the centenary. It’s currently noteworthy when female voices take centre stage, but this will change as we deal with the issues of mistreatment and lack of representation of women in the media. Many people found it a refreshing change, much to the annoyance of Ross Clark who complained in The Spectator that the programme “has become Woman’s Hour”. The next day Jo Swinson, spurred on by this display of sisterhood, asked John Humphrys if he had apologised to Carrie Gracie following his leaked conversation about her. Humphrys’ grumpy reaction had most commentators praising Swinson for her boldness.

Theresa May told aspiring female politicians they do not need to be “a stereotype of a man” as she talked about the increased abuse that particularly women politicians face. Unfortunately, as we have bemoaned before, the increasing number of female MPs has been matched by an uptick in threats, particularly due to the rise of social media. On Tuesday, many commentators responded to this, saying we need to make women feel comfortable “sticking their heads above the parapets” as the Suffragette’s once did. Hopefully before we reach bicentenary, women putting themselves in the public eye won’t need to be described with a metaphor about war!


An energy price cap will work, but…


An energy price cap will work, but…

Back in the heady days of 2013, pre-Brexit, before “nothing has changed”, THAT exit poll, and the promise of a strong and stable government, the former Leader (now lead comedian) of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, introduced the idea of a cap on energy bills. It was instantly labelled as a “lurch to the left” (The Sun), “flawed in practically every way” (Times), and a move “back to the bad old days” (Daily Mail).

Theresa May’s energy price cap (currently winding itself through pre-legislative scrutiny) in contrast is “a crackdown on energy rip-offs” (Daily Mail) and “attempt to capture the political centre ground” (Sunday Times). Backed up by the excoriating Competition and Market Authority (CMA) Energy Market Investigation, published in 2016 following a two-year review of the industry, May secured political and media backing for a policy which goes against natural conservative values.

The fundamentals are simple, to save consumers from rip-off energy bills, but the overall impact on the market is only now becoming clear.


Will a price cap work?

In essence, yes.

The much-quoted £1.4bn detriment in the market is the key figure to be aware of. This is the margin the CMA stated consumers were overpaying for their bills. The government, and Ofgem by extension, aim to substantially decrease this, or eliminate it entirely, by 2020 at best, or 2023 at worst.

The majority of this £1.4bn is sourced through customers on Standard Variable Tariffs (SVTs). Currently over 13 million customers are on non-price protected SVT contracts. These consumers are on average charged £292 (Ofgem) more than a comparative fixed price tariff available on the market. The legislation in its current form tackles these SVTs directly. By capping what suppliers can charge for their basic rate – not including fixed price tariffs or separate deals – the government is aiming to save consumers an average £100 off their bills.

Much of the evidence from the recent BEIS Select Committee pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill concurs with this synopsis. Essentially, a price cap will decrease energy bills for the 13 million consumers on SVTs by mandating the methodology from which it is calculated.



… the sharp eyed amongst you will notice that there is a big discrepancy between the £100 savings quoted by government, and the £292 savings currently available on the competitive market.

The key figure to be aware of here is 5.5 million. This is the number of consumers who switched energy deals in 2017 – a 15% increase on 2016 figures (Energy UK). The potential to switch supplier has increased hugely in the last few years, made possible by the entrance of small and medium players who can offer highly competitive deals to new customers through either direct advertising or price comparison websites (PCWs), such as MoneySuperMarket.

The 13 million consumers languishing on SVTs are those who are utterly disengaged from the market. If even half of these consumers were to switch supplier or engage with their current operator to gain a better deal, they could save £1.9bn in bills. Compared to £650 million using the current £100 saving offered by the government price cap – it is clear which is the better solution. If switching rates were to double by 2020, the £1.4bn detriment will have disappeared, with interest.

So why isn’t the aim to “put a booster rocket behind [switching]” as Mark Pawsey MP stated so bluntly in the most recent oral evidence session? Not even the new Minister, Claire Perry, was clear on this point, suggesting that 83% of households have yet to switch, and likely never will.

Depending on your viewpoint, the price cap is either a necessity in order to benefit the 13 million on SVTs, or the wrong solution to the question of how to increase engagement in the market. Fundamentally, a price cap will almost certainly decrease the estimated £1.4bn consumers have been overcharged, but this creates losers as well as winners. Those currently on the cheapest tariffs will most likely see their bills rise as tariffs bundle around the cap – which has occurred on the only comparative policy, the Pre-Payment Meter Cap enacted earlier in 2017. Likewise, those who are on SVTs and do see their bills decrease through the cap (the supposed winners), will see a lower gain than they would have found had they switched prior to the Bill coming into force in a competitive market.


Will the price cap come into effect?

This is the source of a current bet in the Atlas office, with one Director convinced it will not, or will be amended in such a way as to make it a non-entity upon completion. This Consultant however is less sure.

It was in both Labour and Conservative Manifestos, is backed by both leaders (however shaky their tenure may be) and is one of the very few policy initiatives that voters are aware of outside of Brexit. If it goes through, Labour will claim it was their policy all along. Likewise, the Conservatives will claim they are intervening in broken markets and crony capitalism. This is almost too big to fall.

The government is determined to see this gain Royal Assent by Summer recess so that Ofgem can implement it in time for Christmas 2018. We’ll look forward to seeing how this progresses over the coming months.


Atlas Partners is currently working with clients on the potential impact the price cap may have on their core business. If you’d like advice on how it could affect your day-to-day operations, get in contact with the team.


Gender Pay Gap: mistakes you won't want to make


Gender Pay Gap: mistakes you won't want to make

It’s now been almost two years since the Government made it a legal requirement that large firms (i.e. those with more than 250 employees) would need to report on their gender pay gaps in April 2018. Despite this, people are continuing to make mistakes and failing to understand what it's about, what people want to hear, and most critically, what you shouldn’t be caught saying. Here we highlight some of these very public mistakes people have made.


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This month, Radio 4s John Humphrys was recorded off air with Jon Sopel, the BBC’s North America Editor, saying: “She’s actually suggested that you should lose money; you know that don’t you?”. He was of course referring to Carrie Gracie’s move to step down as BBC China Editor and published an open letter explaining her decision. This was a blatant misrepresentation of Grace’s reasonable request that the BBC “set in place an equal, fair and transparent pay structure”, not that she would ride in like a feminist Robin Hood and redistribute Jon Sopel’s salary.

Humphrys made the mistake of failing to listen to what women in the BBC had to say about the pay gap, and the backlash against his comments shows how careful individuals must be to think before saying something that doesn’t reflect the true facts; especially people as high profile as John Humphrys. Continued calls for him to lose his job should give ample warning that organisations need to understand the issue properly and be prepared to provide answers on what they are doing to address the pay gap.



Tom Chambers, Casualty actor and novice on the gender pay gap, came out with a few choice quotes last summer on the topic. He managed to explain away the pay gap with commentary right out of the 1950’s, saying “Many men's salaries aren't just for them, it's for their wife and children, too”.

Clearly he was unaware that in modern Britain women are often the breadwinners and his explanation proved to be unpopular with the countless women whose salaries aren't “just for them” yet still suffer from a significant pay gap of 9.1%.

If companies want to avoid having to backtrack on comments like Tom’s, it is important that concerns aren’t addressed with outdated myths. Organisations need to be able to do better than our actors and presenters, and provide a good reason when explaining any gender pay gap.



Search the phrases ‘gender pay gap’ or ‘equal pay’ on Twitter and it doesn’t take long to find a handful of tweets full of incorrect information, missing the point by a mile. Sweeping statements describing the pay gap as a “discredited nonsense theory” or a “made up lie” aren’t a compelling argument against what is a clear worldwide trend.

Another frequently made point is that the pay gap isn’t significant because “Men earn more on average, but this is because they chose higher paying professions”, ignores that even within specific careers, such as medicine, pay gaps as high as 30% exist. The mistakes these tweets highlight is that it’s not just about equal pay for equal work (which is already illegal), but that there are concerns that senior leadership positions are still overwhelmingly male and this raises questions around the limitations of career progression for women.



With less than 10 weeks to go until the report deadline on the 5th April 2018, communications professionals need to be asking HR and legal colleagues for their company’s gender pay gap figures. There may be a need for external support to create a suitable internal and external communications campaign and avoid the aforementioned pitfalls.

As you might expect from a company who were there when the regulations were passed, we hope the obligation to release pay gap figures will be treated not as a challenge, but as an opportunity. Whilst we’ve highlighted what people have done wrong, there are plenty who have got it right – and we’d love to help you get it right too. It's important you say the right thing and show what you’ve been doing to address the pay gap. By doing this you can present your brand as forward thinking and compassionate, and you could reap positive headlines from staff and consumers alike.


New Year, new beginning? Well not in Scottish politics.


New Year, new beginning? Well not in Scottish politics.

This article was first published on the 18th January by Pagoda Porter Novelli

Viewers of the Andrew Marr show will have seen the First Minister defiantly keep alive her hopes of calling a second referendum before the 2021 Scottish elections saying she will make her decision – based on her assessment of the Brexit outcome – in the autumn.

The most recent YouGov opinion poll (conducted between January 12 and 16) gives little succour to the First Minister’s hopes. It reveals that not only has support for independence fallen to 43%, with the No vote rising to 57%, but those who thought that a further poll should take place in the next five years has fallen to 36%.

And, more worryingly for the First Minister, the poll shows that at the 2021 Holyrood election, the SNP could lose 10 seats; even with a projected 10 seats for the Greens that total falls 2 votes short of a pro-independence majority.

The news for Labour is not much better. Support for Labour has fallen by 2% in both the constituency and regional list. And its new leader, Richard Leonard, has a negative rating of 15 when respondents were asked if he was doing well or badly. To be fair he was elected in early December and most folk pay little attention to politics over the festive period so he has little time to make his mark.

But Leonard’s perceived alignment with Jeremy Corbyn has also proven to be a negative factor. Corbyn has an approval rating of minus 3 compared to plus 20 just three months ago. Factors which may have affected Leonard and Labour’s popularity include Corbyn’s indecision on how the UK should leave the EU; Labour’s position on tax increases; the party’s ongoing promotion of federalism at a time when the electorate want to talk about services; and his loyalty to London giving the impression that Labour no longer has a distinctive Scottish voice and is back to being a “branch office”.

The Scottish Conservatives have marginally increased their support at Holyrood in the constituency and list vote. They may have benefitted from their position of not wishing to increase income tax, while all their opponents wish to agree some level of increase. The taxation issue will continue to be a dividing line right up to 2021.   Depending on the nature of Brexit and its effect on the Scottish Conservative Party, tax increases may well be at the top of the political agenda when the election rolls around. And if the Conservatives remain the only party wedded to leaving income tax levels where they are, they should benefit.

So what will 2018 bring? Ongoing criticism of the SNP’s failures in education, the NHS and Police Scotland in particular; a continued growth in support for the Scottish Conservatives and the ongoing marginalisation of Labour, at least in Scotland. Oh and no second Scottish referendum.


Social media: reflections of a middle-aged luddite 


Social media: reflections of a middle-aged luddite 

by Atlas Director, Charlie Napier
As by far the eldest in our company I am frequently mocked for my lack of appreciation of the delights of social media. My youthful colleagues delight in my grinch-like attitude to Facebook and Instagram in particular and although I do tweet occasionally and certainly enjoy flicking through it, my attempts at making sure that I tag the right organisations/subject or don’t send out a boring blurry photo from the back of a room are looked at with ill-disguised pity. 

At least Charlie hasn’t done this…yet

Needless to say I enjoy playing up to it and when I suggested the title of this piece there was universal agreement that coming from me, that sounded about right. The same goes for life at home. Although my children are not at that full-on social media stage yet, the early signs are there and currently I think am ahead of the game with them although that won’t last long.

Their current obsession are emojis and although I do really enjoy a good emoji conversation with them, when I have not dissimilar emoji conversations with senior political contacts who in one case is running a multi-billion pound government department, I do wonder….. Still, the reversion to what are essentially updated Egyptian hieroglyphics is rather brilliant, and like hashtags the ability to say in a picture or a phrase a whole heap of meaning is a welcome development so long as it is well directed and understood.

Perhaps Charlie could follow this example: 23,000 Instagram followers and counting..

I am perhaps a little more ambivalent about Instagram. Someone once described it as the ‘Narnia of narcissim’ and having flicked through my wife’s feed I do have sympathy with that view. It is like a personal version of the sidebar of shame in the Daily Mail and dangerously addictive to boot. That said, I do appreciate the endless communication opportunities it can bring and I have enjoyed watching a friend of mine build a profile which now means she is starting to make money from it; fascinating and somewhat horrifying to see in equal measure.

The recent Toby Young, Jo Marney and Jared O’Mara Twitter issues got me thinking about the pitfalls of social media again. It caused me to scroll back through my tiny amount of tweets to check if there was anything that I would regret if I should ever re-enter public life. I don’t believe there is but then I have always been super-careful about what I put on my social media channels, preferring to err on the side of caution. Boring I know and probably 90% of my tweets are pretty anodyne but as Mr Young has shown there is no room for ill-advised comment. 

Off the back of the Toby Young story, I asked my work colleagues to look back through their social media history and tell me if there was anything there they either regret or, if they were to seek public office, they would delete. Interestingly, all but one (the second eldest in the company) admitted that they had at least one tweet or Facebook post that they would delete if they were in the limelight. Most were youthful indiscretion and I certainly have sympathy with the attempts to bring in a law to allow people to delete their pre-adult social media history. Obviously the trick is not to post anything in the first place but of course you can’t help what other people may post.

Talking of which, the younger members of our team have been teaching me some further social media terms. I was a bit taken aback by the term being ‘fraped’ (i.e. Facebook raped), with its flippant use of a very serious crime, although the phrase ‘sliding into her (or his) DM’ was amusingly creepy. The conversation got us onto social media etiquette and ended up with a discussion about the problems of trying to get someone to leave a WhatsApp group. How long do you wait until you take a former colleague off a work WhatsApp group for instance? We all (including me) had stories to tell of not realising who was on groups and saying the wrong thing. Mine involved family mistaken identity. I tried to dig hard when I realised my mistake but eventually threw my spade away, held up my hands and exited myself from the group #onelessxmaspresent.

You may be reading this and thinking, these are slightly odd things to be admitting to for a comms person and you are probably right. However, the glory of setting up your own company and staffing it with bright young things, is that you are constantly learning the latest trends which means that even this old dog can learn new tricks.

I have often whinged about public affairs being too same-old, same-old but in recent years the marvel of social media has meant that campaigns can communicate far more effectively with even the stuffiest of politicians. After all, 89% of MPs are on Twitter and 87% have a Facebook page. Although there are clearly pitfalls and no doubt, massive sensory overload, cleverly done, funny and interesting social media campaigns, combined with the traditional communication arts more familiar to my generation, mean that the impact and interest can be so much greater than before.


Back to business as usual


Back to business as usual

Welcome to the New Year. Nothing has changed! Or at least this is what it felt like to studied watchers during last week’s Conservative reshuffle. A heavily trailed reshuffle designed to reassert the authority of the Prime Minister was instead characterised by mismanagement and mishap.

Those in the top positions remained unchanged; some through choice and some through stubbornness. The vast majority of changes occurred at junior level, although some moves were made at Cabinet level.

The reshuffle began with a successful, if somewhat short reign as Conservative Party chairman for Chris Grayling (27 seconds). This announcement was quickly retracted with intended recipient Brandon Lewis quickly confirmed. Not the ideal start! Mr Lewis’ undaunting job will be to revive a flagging membership and compete with Labour’s growing online social media operation. As Atlas Associate and former Digital Director for the CCHQ wrote this week, no small task.

Further changes at CCHQ saw nine Tory MPs become Vice-Chairman of the party and a tenth, James Cleverly, appointed Deputy Chairman. After a lacklustre General Election campaign, the addition of new faces and new ideas was widely seen as a necessity. As we all know, MPs are hardly busy people who will have plenty of time for these important tasks beyond their day jobs – so future campaigns may, or may not, rise to the challenge.

Leading Osborne acolyte Matt Hancock moved back into Cabinet as DCMS Secretary. He takes over from Karen Bradley who was given the Northern Ireland brief. This followed James Brokenshire resignation for medical reasons. We wish Mr Brokenshire well as he fights his health concerns.

The controversial Esther McVey takes on the problematic Work and Pensions position. Her role will be nice and straightforward; namely to sort out Universal Credit. This was not a task Justine Greening felt obliged to take on. She decided to leave Cabinet rather than move from Education to DWP. Watch out for Greening, given her fragile majority in a heavily Remain London seat becoming another Brexit rebel in the coming weeks and months. She’s already been spotted cosying up to  Dominic Grieve, leader of previous Brexit rebellions.

David Gauke, previously holder of the DWP post, has moved to the Ministry of Justice. Gauke, a lawyer by trade (not always a given in this post!) has faced an interesting start. The decision to free convicted sex offender John Worboys on parole has given him a headache he would have liked to avoid. Within a few short weeks.  Mr Gauke’s reputation in the role could already be made or broken.

Rising stars such as Alok Sharma, Caroline Dinenage, Margot James, Sam Gyimah, Kemi Badenoch and Ben Bradley all received promotions at the junior level. Look out for these names as murmurings of the next Conservative leadership race continue to bubble away at Westminster.

Damian Hinds, the new Education Secretary is another who has been talked about in terms of leadership. Although gaining the support of Michael Gove isn’t always beneficial to your future job prospects. Just ask Boris!

So what does this reshuffle tell us about this Prime Minister and Government? We know Theresa May is a politician often reluctant to change for changes sake. This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, this reshuffle was a failure in expectation management. The problem was not the failure to move ministers, but the pre-briefings that they would be. Her inability to deliver then makes the Prime Minister seem weak.

The reshuffle has not changed the political climate. This is a Prime Minister reliant on the DUP and hopeful her backbenchers don’t pull the plug. She is hamstrung by parliamentary arithmetic and political reality. The reshuffle will be barely noticed by many and quickly forgotten by the rest of us as focus inevitably returns to Brexit. It could, however reinforce the idea of a Government that outside of Brexit has no clear vision.

Nothing has changed!


Atlas Partners' Twelve Days of Christmas


Atlas Partners' Twelve Days of Christmas

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me...
12 Months of Tweeting
11 Tories Rebelling
10 DUPs Dealing
9 Runs a-Winning
8 British Bake-offs
7 Blue Planets
6 Priti meetings
5 “Oh Jeremy Corbyn’s!”
4 Big Gaffes
3-Line Whips
2 New Royals
And a Greg Clark Industrial Strategy.


12 months of tweeting

This year Twitter has again confirmed its place as the very public battleground of American politics. #MAGA and #ImpeachTrump were two of the most frequent political hashtags of the year. Obama’s Nelson Mandela Quote was retweeted 1.7 million times (the only tweet to receive more this year - or ever - was this less poignant request for free chicken nuggets-turned advert). Trump continued his fine form from 2016. Arguably this year’s most inglorious diplomatic highlight was the President calling Kim Jong-Un “short and fat”.


11 Tory Rebels

Theresa May suffered her first Commons defeat as Prime Minister on the 13th December. 11 Conservative MPs voted for an amendment giving Parliament a final say on the Brexit Bill against the wishes of Government. Following the vote, the Daily Mail printed one of the most controversial front pages of the year, branding the rebels as “malcontents.” The torrent of abusive treatment many MPs, (especially women), receive online makes you wonder how we can possibly encourage the best and the brighted to choose politics as a career, and should worry us all.


10 DUPs dealing

After failing to secure enough seats to form a majority government after calling a snap election, Theresa May looked to the 10 DUP MPs to form  a minority government. Then leader of twelve MPs, Tim Farron, ruled the Lib Dems out of the only possible alternative deal on policy grounds, but perhaps also reflecting the scars and lessons learned from a previously bruising coalition. Instead he called on May to resign the morning after the election. Unsurprisingly she ignored him, which was a sign of things to come for the Lib Dems, still languishing below 10% in the polls. The controversial pact with the DUP involved £1 billion in extra funding for Northern Ireland over the next two years, demonstrating just how effective their punchy negotiating tactics were. With the Irish border top of the agenda in Brexit talks, this will continue to challenge the Government’s political management skills in the new year.


9 runs a-winning

England won the 2017 Cricket World Cup, beating India by 9 runs at Lords. They were joined by the the England women’s football team, who defied expectations reaching the semi finals of the Euros, outperforming their male counterparts! The success of the cricket team was brought back into the spotlight this December after they won Sports Personality Team of the Year. After a miserable Ashes tour to date, this gave English Cricket fans a much needed reminder of what winning feels like.


8 British Bakeoffs

The Great British Bake Off returned for its 8th series, following its controversial move from the BBC to Channel 4. Many swore to never watch it again, with viewing figures for the premiere 4 million lower than 2016. Despite the lower numbers, many people apparently enjoyed it more in its new guise. Whether Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig lived up to Mel and Sue’s legacy is debatable, but it’s hard to deny the brilliance of their shirts.


7 Blue Planets

Blue Planet returned to our screens for a second series this winter.  Across seven instalments, David Attenborough once again captivated living rooms across the country, narrating the the weird and wonderful world of the deep seas. The David vs Goliath battle between an octopus and a shark was our favourite of the dramatic highlights! A serious message about the ways in which humanity is damaging ocean life also resonated. This years unexpected environmentalist, Michael Gove was one of the viewers affected. He said the images of harm caused by plastics “haunted” him and has since vowed to take action.


6 Priti meetings

Priti Patel was the second Cabinet Minister forced to resign this November. The revelation of a  number of secret meetings with business and political figures in Israel was a scandal impossible to survive. The PM’s decision to call her back from overseas to face the sack, led to a significant spike in the flight tracker Flightradar’s 24 website as thousands of political obsessives monitored her imminent departure. She joined Michael Fallon, who quit as Defence Secretary a mere 2-weeks earlier following allegations of inappropriate behaviour.


5 “Oh Jeremy Corbyn’s”

As celebrated in our Moments that Mattered exhibition, Jeremy Corbyn went from jam-making, allotment-loving, unelectable zero to un-spun, old skool, socialist hero this summer. He successfully denied the Conservative Government a majority that had appeared  odds-on when May called the election. Thanks to the White Stripes ever adaptable ditty, his name was sung up and down the country with tens of thousands liable to burst into loud renditions of ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ at any given time at Glastonbury and a host of other rallies. The chanting and the shock results from the exit polls helped get ‘Corbynmania’ into the Collins Dictionary Words of the Year.


4 Big Gaffes

At the Oscars, the wrong envelope somehow made it to the presenters hands. This resulted in La La Land being awkwardly, incorrectly announced as the winner of Best Picture, which was actually awarded to Moonlight. Gaffe number two saw Paul Nuttall call Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood “Natalie”, not once but twice, during ITV’s Election debate. Then Prue Leith accidentally tweeted the winner of this year’s Bakeoff finale, Sophie Faldo, the morning before it was broadcast, blaming the fact that she was in a different time zone when the blunder occurred. And finally peak gaffe was reached in October, with Theresa May’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference, which was hindered by a pesky cough, a self-destructing backdrop and a “comedy” P45; certainly one of 2017’s hardest to watch moments.


3-Line Whips

The year started with a Labour three-line whip vote to trigger article 50. One fifth of Labour MPs ignored their leader’s directive and decided to rebel. Corbyn’s position on Brexit in particular (when anyone can determine what it is) continues to divide his own party. The drama was not limited to the Labour benches though. Not to be out done on parliamentary discipline, May ordered her MPs to abstain from any opposition day debates or votes on Universal Credit to avoid embarrassing defeats. Her 3 line whip on the Brexit Bill finally failed this month, testimony to the Conservatives transition from ‘strong and stable’ to ‘weak and wobbly’.


2 New Royals

When Meghan and Harry went public with their relationship last year, the British Press showed the worst of what it had to offer. However, a year on, when they announced their engagement, the newspapers were all on board. She was the second addition to the royal family announced this year after Kate and William also revealed they were expecting a third child. Between baby watch and wedding dress speculation, there’s a lot to look forward to for royalists in 2018.


And a Greg Clark Industrial Strategy.

Despite a year full of shock election results, viral videos and controversial website changes, there was still time for some nitty gritty. A riveting (and only partially recycled) Industrial Strategy, subtitled ‘Building a Britain fit for the future‘ was launched the same day the aforementioned Royal Engagement news broke, and quite unfairly overshadowed! Together with the preceding Autumn Budget, there was a whopping 349 pages of policy proposals for the coming years. Haven’t found the time to read it yourself yet? You know where we are…


Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all at Atlas Partners