Government PR tsar Alex Aiken warns departments to stick to new comms roster

Government departments would be 'very unwise' to award work worth £100,000 or more to PR agencies not on the new comms roster, the incoming executive director for government communications has told PRWeek.

Alex Aiken: Issued a warning to departments
Alex Aiken: Issued a warning to departments

Alex Aiken was speaking at a Cabinet Office briefing last Friday on the new creative solutions framework for government PR briefs worth more than £100,000, which replaces the old COI set-up.

PRWeek revealed three weeks ago that at least one department was seeking to bypass the agencies selected for the framework: Engine Group, Munro & Forster, Consolidated, SKV Communications, Unity and Syndicate Communications.

In addition to Aiken's warning, Sean Larkins, head of government communications policy & capability, claimed departments doing this would not get the necessary Cabinet Office budgetary sign-off required for spending over £100,000.

Aiken also commented on complaints from the unsuccessful agencies that the selection process was overly price-led, emphasising that 60 per cent of marks awarded related to quality.

‘There were long and serious discussions and the people making decisions were drawn from a variety of places and had between seven and 25 years of experience in government communications,' he said. 'They came to their conclusions based on what was put before them.’

However, Aiken acknowledged that the Government was ‘absolutely aware of the need to save money’ and pointed to current comms spending of £300m – down from £1bn in 2009/10 – as a ‘yardstick’ for the future.  

The PR roster is part of the wider two-year creative solutions framework, which includes creative, digital and direct marketing services.

The previous line-up of more than 400 agencies across this spectrum has been reduced to 27, with the aim of saving £3m a year. Of these, 14 agencies are small and medium enterprises.

It is expected that the next framework, which covers media strategy and planning, will launch by late spring.

PR work worth less than £100,000 is tendered through the Agile Route to Market roster, which was decided last year and includes around 60 agencies.

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