Government comms reforms to tackle "silo mentality"

The Government is seeking to quash a "silo mentality" in departmental comms by bolstering its top-level oversight with the creation of two new bodies setting the agenda for Whitehall and beyond.

Government reforms: Set to impact on the 3,100 people working across comms
Government reforms: Set to impact on the 3,100 people working across comms

The reforms will also bring enforced evaluation, a drive on digital work and standardised recruitment, and the introduction of a new junior rank.

As of next year a Government Communications Board (GCB) – including a mixture of permanent secretaries, ministers and comms heads – will maintain oversight of longer-term marcoms strategy.

Meanwhile, a newly created group known as the Government Communications Service (GCS) will move to co-ordinate recruitment and promote good practice.

In a briefing about the reforms yesterday, Department of Health comms head Sam Lister said the move would not be about centralising power but spreading good practice.

"We need to recognise and identify outstanding communications and share that around more effectively," he said.

"In parts of government there is too much of a silo mentality and we need to be aware of the cross-government context. No department is an island unto itself, and they need to be part of a bigger narrative."

The reforms will impact on the 3,100 communicators working across government departments and arm's-length bodies; a figure nearly half the number in place in 2010, when severe budget cuts kicked in.

The Government claims that Cabinet Office controls of spending across advertising, marketing and comms led to more than £40m in savings over 2012/13.

They follow on from a rolling capability review of every department's comms set-up that is set to conclude shortly and kick in from next January.

Earlier this summer, the Cabinet Office denied that it was staging a comms "power grab" and the changes were yesterday described as "more of a nudge than a push".

Government executive director of comms Alex Aiken said: "I am content that we need to create this together and all directors of comms are signed up to it. I don’t need the authority to tell people what to do, I need the intelligence to convince them it’s the right approach."

The Government has now announced all but one of its rosters for agency work. The strategy and creative roster was delayed by an Institute of Practitioners in Advertising vote of no confidence amid anger at the use of reverse e-auctions, though is understood to have now been concluded.


The Government Communications Board

The GCB will be headed by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude and will meet four times a year.

Early plans are for it to include four ministers, four permanent secretaries and four comms heads, though  Aiken said "we're not going to turn people away".

Its role will be to review overall progress and sign off the overarching comms strategy for the coming year.

The Government Communications Service

Set up to replace the less formal Government Communications Network, the GCS will oversee efforts to force departments and arms-length bodies to evaluate and justify the value of all of their comms work, while spending controls will also be revised.

Sean Larkins, head of government comms policy and capability, said: "From the capability reviews we can see there are brilliant staff in each department, but they can be constrained by outmoded and outdates processes and structures."

As well as setting standards and making the spreading of good practice in areas like digital comms a priority, the GCS will offer troubleshooting expertise.

It will be led by Aiken and, in the short term, will include a senior team brought in from the Department for Work and Pensions.

It will also seek to standardise recruitment practice across comms, with the aim of creating a fast track for outstanding staff.

Most recruitment will still be done by departments, but a new central pool of junior assistant information officers will also be introduced for departments to draw from.  

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