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Strange Bedfellows, or Pragmatic Policy-Making?

3rd november 2016


Russell Patten, Chair of Grayling’s European Public Affairs practice, looks at one of the major political trends as part of our #7for17 series. 

It’s been a turbulent year in politics, with the UK’s historic decision to leave the European Union, and all of the resultant fallout; and one of the most rancorous and divisive US Presidential elections in living memory.

But beneath all of this tumult, in the corridors of power in Brussels, DC, Westminster and elsewhere, the business of policy-making goes on. And as we consider about 2017, one thing will be true across the board: we will see greater collaboration between governments and the corporate world.

How can we say this with such certainty? Understanding the United Nations’ 2016-2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is key. These will be implemented by all governments in the next 15 years, and for the first time ever, this agenda includes new alliances with the private sector and communities. So while 2016 was very much about trying to figure out what this actually meant, and what it might look like, 2017 will be about launching the partnerships that will help implement them.

The impetus behind this agenda is a recognition that solving the world’s most pressing challenges will be led by a joint effort between public and private sectors. Over the past 2 decades, we have seen partnerships between private and public sector organizations increase significantly. The World Bank’s support to Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), for example, has nearly tripled, reaching a total of $2.8 billion in 2016. And the implementation of the UN’s SDGs will only increase this further.

In practical terms, this has the potential to be a win-win: with continuing pressure on the public purse, governments in many parts of the world can harness the expertise and efficiencies of the private sector to increase productivity, and adapt a leaner structure. Meanwhile, corporations, NGOs and civil society groups have the opportunity to work closely with governments and help shape policy from close quarters. 

And as these kinds of partnership become more common, we also expect to see a further rise in independent third parties that both ratify companies’ policies and pledges, and hold them to account. Indexes like FTSE4Good are becoming gold standards which serve to prove that corporates want to break silos and impact positive change.

These new world alliances will serve to open doors that have been firmly closed for years, and have the potential not only to be mutually beneficial for the public and private sectors, but crucial to the success of both.


Russell Patten

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