Cabinet Office to close the COI and hand campaigns back to departments

The Cabinet Office has confirmed it will close the COI, following recommendations by former permanent secretary for Government comms Matt Tee.

Cabinet Office: review of government comms
Cabinet Office: review of government comms

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude has announced that the COI will be closed by next April in a list of reforms aimed at improving the effectiveness and efficiency of government comms.

However, the Government plans diverge from Tee’s review of Government comms published in March 2011, by handing far more responsibility to Government departments than Tee suggested.

In Tee’s report, he recommended a new body of 150 staff, named the 'Government Communications Centre', to replace the COI.

However, this plan has been scrapped, and there will instead by a team of just 20, based within the Cabinet Office, which is currently unnamed. This team will support a new ‘Communications Delivery Board’, chaired by ministers and made up of departmental comms directors.

This body will work to oversee overall comms strategy, ensuring there is no replication of campaigns across different departments. The plan also outlines a shared comms delivery pool for certain specialist services, also based at the Cabinet Office.

The Cabinet Office will also create a small specialist comms procurement unit, which will handle the appointment of agencies.

Meanwhile, the bulk of responsibility for advertising and PR campaigns will be handed to the Government departments - far more than Tee envisaged in his report.

A Cabinet Office spokesman explained this move by saying: ‘The best people to trust on health campaigns are the Department of Health, and the best people to trust on armed forces recruitment campaigns are the Ministry of Defence.’

Despite the divergence from Tee’s report, the spokesman added that Tee’s report has been ‘hugely influential’ on the plans, by suggesting ways of reducing bureaucracy.

Minister for the Cabinet Office Francis Maude said: ‘This does not mean the end of vital and cost effective marketing campaigns – such as those campaigns that save people’s lives. However, it does mean that communications spending in the future will never again get out of hand and instead will be more transparent, better coordinated and less bureaucratic.’

The news follows the introduction of spending controls on advertising and marketing spend, which started in June last year. These have led to a 68% reduction in external spend through COI from £532m in 2009/10 to an estimated £168m in 2010/11.

Government departments have reduced the number of in-house comms staff by around a quarter, and their budgets by half.

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