Boris Johnson announced the merger, which will be implemented this autumn, yesterday lunchtime, telling MPs it would be a “big step forward for global Britain”.
But former Conservative International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell immediately condemned the move and called it a “quite extraordinary mistake” that would destroy “a key aspect of Global Britian”.
PRWeek understands that the majority of staff at the departments – including senior comms personnel – were not warned of the announcement and that it came as a surprise to them.
A senior government comms source said of the implications for the two comms teams: “I assume there would be some merging of corporate functions and a single director of comms.”
The FDA union, which represents civil servants, said the announcement would create uncertainty for DfID staff.
FDA national officer Allan Sampson said: “While speculation has existed for several months now, today's news has created huge uncertainty and unease for DFID staff."
There was widespread media speculation on Tuesday morning, ahead of the Prime Minister’s official announcement.
Sampson added: “DFID… employs a significant number of staff outside of London. Those staff, and many others, will now, understandably, be concerned for their future and disappointed to hear about this through leaks to the media.”
The current headcount in the comms teams at both departments is not clear, but a PRWeek study of Office for National Statistics data in 2017 revealed that the FCO employed 80 comms staff while DfID had 50 people in that function.
Commenting on what the merger could mean for the comms strategy of the two previously separate departments, the government comms source said: “I assume there will be a distinct overseas development function within the merged department and they will need a team of specialist comms people to serve that, but it really depends on the knitting together of the two departments.”
DfID and the FCO were approached for comment.
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