A new comms era dawns in Whitehall

The Government Communication Service will usher public sector comms into the digital world.

Alex Aiken: "The GCS will also reach out beyond Whitehall."
Alex Aiken: "The GCS will also reach out beyond Whitehall."

The new Government Communication Service (GCS) starts work this month, partly inspired by readers of PRWeek. Over the past 18 months we have used the expertise of some of the leading brains in the industry to challenge, assess and make recommendations on the performance of Whitehall comms teams. These capability reviews have provided the evidence base to improve our work.

The reviews showed that the Government needs more digital, united and skilled comms. So the GCS will focus on strengthening the profession and integrating channels by moving from press release by default to digital by default. The reviews demonstrated there is great practice across Whitehall but it is not shared, so the GCS will identify and promote the best people through a new Talent Management Strategy and share the best campaigns – making them standard practice.

There are 11 major reforms covering the whole range of activities from internal comms through to regional operations. The Cabinet has endorsed the approach and Sir Bob Kerslake, head of the Civil Service, sees them as "increasing the visibility and value of communication as a profession".

They are part of the wider Civil Service Reform programme, led by Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office, which is transforming the way Whitehall works with the goal of creating exceptional public service. As part of this progress, comms has been recognised as one of the leading government professions.

The GCS will also reach out beyond Whitehall. This week we are inviting all those from agencies, charities and business who helped review our comms functions to join a new Peer Network to continue to advise and participate in GCS activities. And we will invite other leading PR practitioners to take part in future reviews and join bodies like our recently established Evaluation Council.

We want to reach organisations across the public service and for them in turn to adopt the rigorous professional standards we will set, overseen by the Government Communications Board. By doing so it will be possible to chart a PR career from the police press office, to the town hall campaign team, to Whitehall director of comms, by constantly improving your skills. At the core of this path will be the professional requirement that if you can’t evaluate and prove the value of your work, you can’t progress in the profession.

The best government communication really does make a difference by saving lives (DfT THINK!), helping business (GREAT) and creating opportunity (DWP’s Disability Confident). I welcome participation in our work from leading lights in the PR community and hope that in turn we can commission brilliant PR work that strengthens the economy and enables the UK to compete in the global race.

The GCS is open for business. It will build a reputation for exceptional public service communication. 

Alex Aiken is executive director for government comms

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