Government bids to burst "Whitehall bubble" with regional shake-up

The Government is reviewing how its PR teams communicate with the regions as it seeks to avoid being trapped in a "Whitehall bubble".

Whitehall: regional review launched in December (Credit: Ian Bottle)
Whitehall: regional review launched in December (Credit: Ian Bottle)

A formal assessment of how departments communicate on issues on a local basis has been prompted by concerns that current efforts may not be up to scratch.

The probe was sparked by findings from the Government’s rolling comms capability review, which has finished scrutinising departments' PR teams and is now set to move on to arm's-length bodies. 

Head of government communication policy and capability Sean Larkins is leading the process and said the regional review was sparked by concerns that messaging was still "overwhelmingly national, or London-focused".

"Some parts, like Defra, do it brilliantly," he said, "but we need to look at what some departments are doing in terms of their locally focused comms, and some of the big comms issues like growth are landing in the regions." 

The review, which includes further scrutiny into departmental PR teams and discussions with local media, launched in December and is expected to conclude next month. 

It is understood to be looking at developing a more consistent message across departments and regions. Having at least one person responsible for regional comms in each department is considered a important factor.

"We know the trust is there and we know the reach is there, we just need to make sure we don’t commit the mistake of living in a Whitehall bubble," Larkins said. 

On the conclusion of the wider capability review across departments, which also sparked a review of digital comms, Larkins said that the overall findings were that departments were often "tactically strong but strategically weak".

"In a nutshell we have some of the best in the business when it comes to a crisis and reacting to events, but where we’re not as strong is in looking at how we get on the front foot and develop our strategic engagement."

With some of the final departmental reviews now published, the spotlight will now be shone on some of the bigger arm’s-length bodies and non-departmental public bodies.

These are likely to include bodies as wide-ranging as the DVLA and Public Health England, with Trade and Investment likely to be the first scrutinised in February or March. 

The comms capability reviews were first launched in 2012 as part of a wider shake-up of government messaging overseen by its top comms figure Alex Aiken. 

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