The GICS inquiry should have let the officers do some informing

Assiduous readers of this column know that I never expected much from the Select Committee on Public Administration. When I appeared before its inquiry into the Government Information and Communication Service (GICS), Labour members sought to demonise me in order to excuse Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair’s spin doctor. A whitewash was always on the cards.

Assiduous readers of this column know that I never expected much

from the Select Committee on Public Administration. When I appeared

before its inquiry into the Government Information and Communication

Service (GICS), Labour members sought to demonise me in order to excuse

Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair’s spin doctor. A whitewash was always on the

cards.



Let’s ignore, for the moment, the Labour majority’s avoidance of the

GICS’s alleged politicisation under Mr Campbell’s tutelage and his novel

contract enabling him to rubbish the Opposition, provided he does not

use what Sir Richard Wilson, cabinet secretary, described as ’bricks and

bottles’.



Instead let me confess that, however often I am amazed by New Labour’s

brazenness, I was simply not prepared for the luminous spray job by

their majority on the committee, published last week after the Commons

had gone on holiday, following a ludicrously superficial investigation.

Like Swiss bankers during World War II, they went about their business

with their eyes and ears shut. They decided it was not within their

remit to go into the ’unusual turnover’ in departmental heads of

information since the election - not even when more than half of the

heads or deputy heads of information in the main ministerial departments

have moved on or out, often propelled by a ministerial boot. And not

even when, as their report says, some press officers believed their

departure ’was caused by the desire of ministers for information

officers to be less neutral than they thought was compatible with their

regular civil service terms of employment’.



Indeed, they never bothered to interview a single sacked information

head. Instead, they took Stalin’s way out: if there is a problem,

liquidate it. They call on the Government to explain why a GICS is

necessary and why it shouldn’t be integrated into the mainstream civil

service on the spurious grounds of improving career opportunities.



This idea is as old as Methuselah. And it has so far remained just that

because it would not effectively change anything. There is nothing -

except snobbery and prejudice - to prevent information officers becoming

administrators.



But the fact is that most members of the GICS did not join up to become

pen-pushers and policy wonks. They sought a career in, for them, a new

and exciting branch of communications.



Now they see their route to the top being increasingly blocked. Since

the election a third of the top 44 GICS jobs have been taken over by

administrators (seven) or outside journalists/ communicators (eight).

This Government is installing a glass ceiling over GICS heads and it

cannot be whitewashed away by pious requests for it to examine how to

ensure GICS officers are not at a disadvantage when applying for the top

jobs in their own field.



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