UK government roster could be sidestepped

At least one UK government department is looking at how to get around the government's newly decided big budget PR roster, PRWeek UK understands.

At least one UK government department is looking at how to get around the government's newly decided big budget PR roster, PRWeek UK understands.

News of the development follows PRWeek UK revealing the roster for work worth more than £100,000, or about $151,000, had been decided.

The line-up of Engine Group, Munro & Forster, Consolidated, SKV Communications, Unity, and Syndicate Communications will compete for work.

However, one well-placed PR source noted that some big-name agency omissions had led to moves to try to sidestep the new set-up.

“At least one department is looking into how it can get around this and continue to pick agencies itself,” he said.

The new roster is part of a major update of government communications, which included the closure of its Central Office of Information last year amid marketing spending cuts.

The new, more centralized approach across marcomms includes the Agile Route to Market framework, which covers PR work under £100,000.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “This framework means we can spend money in a more strategic and coordinated way, with confidence we are extracting maximum value.”

The Cabinet Office website states “all in-scope spend” should be channeled through the framework. This is understood to include departmental work, “arm's-length bodies, non-departmental public bodies, and agencies,” but not the NHS or local government.

Among the large agencies that have worked for the Government but did not make the cut are Blue Rubicon, Weber Shandwick, Grayling, and Freud Communications. Freud's £1m-a-year brief with the Department of Health is unaffected.

PRWeek UK understands that discussions have taken place between senior figures at some of the omitted agencies about a possible objection. One claimed the fact that the roster selection process judged 40% of marks on the basis of price was indicative of a decision based on “the cost of everything and the value of nothing.”

Oliver Hickson, director of Hickson Communications and former head of PR at the COI, called the decision to exclude big names “a risk,” and added departments would “find a way to do their own thing.”

Appointed agencies were unable to comment due to a European Union-enforced ten-day “standstill period.”

Ex-government comms secretary says agencies will want to know they are taken seriously
The UK Government is now going to have to prove to agencies that it “takes comms seriously,” according to sources.

Former permanent secretary for government communications Matt Tee has said there is still a lot of confusion about the new set-up.

“There's been a fair amount of unhappiness in the industry about the process and how long it's taken, and agencies will be looking to see that Government takes comms seriously,” he said.

PRWeek UK revealed last year that the roster bidding process had been beset by delays.

“The Government needs to think about how it's going to approach working with creative agencies, as at the moment, its reputation as a client is not great,” said Tee. “People understand why the COI was abolished, but they understood how it worked, and many don't yet understand the new arrangements.”

Tee's words follow claims in PRWeek UK sister magazine Marketing that the Government Procurement Service had created “ruptures” in the process of selecting the advertising roster, which has just been announced.

Tee, who left his government position in 2011 to launch his own consultancy, Reputate, will take a leading comms role at the NHS shortly.

How I see it

Alison Clarke, CEO, Grayling
Price has been a deciding factor for the Government, and I wish those agencies who have been successful very well indeed. Clients need to have an appropriate choice of agencies that can offer high-quality support and consultants who have a deep understanding of their specific sector at an acceptable price.

Laura Oliphant, MD, Stand Agency
I like the fact that the roster wasn't predictable. They seem to have picked the top six responses rather than the top six names, and that means you will get new talent and experience coming to the table.

This story originally appeared on the website of PRWeek UK, the sister publication of PRWeek at Haymarket Media. 

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