Government comms experts split over plans to close COI

As Whitehall prepares for the abolition of the COI, one Whitehall comms expert has stated that proposals for a 200-strong government comms centre 'never stood a chance'.

COI: staff are currently based at a building in Lambeth
COI: staff are currently based at a building in Lambeth


The Cabinet Office has confirmed it will close the COI following recommendations by former permanent secretary for government comms Matt Tee. The move to shut down the COI was revealed on prweek.com/uk.

However, the plans diverge from Tee’s review of government comms published in March, by handing more responsibility to departments than was suggested.

Former director-general of the Government Information and Communication Service Mike Granatt said: ‘Tee’s plans never had a chance, except his suggestion of more redundancies. The creation of a new, central strategic co-ordination operation with 200 or more people was anathema to both politicians and mandarins.’

However, Howell James – who preceded Tee as permanent secretary for government comms –  took a different view (see below).

Ex-COI PR director Oliver Hickson said the move would ‘drive media and agency costs up and mean less joined-up working’.

CIPR CEO Jane Wilson said she was ‘disappointed’ to hear of further job losses.

But PRCA chief executive Francis Ingham said it was ‘absolutely right’ to abolish the COI. ‘Over recent years, it has become an appalling example of waste, inefficiency and blinkeredness,’ he said.

How I see it

Howell James
Vice chairman, Barclays corporate affairs (former permanent secret-ary for government comms)

A review of how the COI operates was long overdue. It was a point of continuous debate during my time at the Cabinet Office.

The outcome looks like they’ve found a thoughtful middle ground, neither forcing the departments to use a ‘COI mark two’, nor handing it all to departments, which would not give the savings or co-ordination of expertise that running marketing across Government requires.

Matt Tee was looking for a middle ground. Ministers were looking for a slightly leaner model, but neither Matt nor the Cabinet Office wanted to keep a self-governing COI.

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