Biggest government comms teams revealed by official figures

The Ministry of Defence has the biggest comms team of any government department, accounting for nearly a quarter of the 2,220 employees with this type of role across Whitehall, official figures show.

Which government departments and agencies have the biggest comms teams? (pic credits: Getty)
Which government departments and agencies have the biggest comms teams? (pic credits: Getty)

The MoD employed 540 people with a comms function, more than double that of the next largest team, at the Ministry of Justice, which had 250 people in this type of role.

The figures form part of statistical data released by the Cabinet Office this autumn, which shows the functions of staff across government departments, executive agencies and non-ministerial departments, as of 31 March 2020.

Making up the top five biggest comms teams in Whitehall were the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), with 240 people; the Department for Education (DfE), with 200; and the Home Office, with 190.

A similar study in 2016, by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), revealed the shift in size of the five largest government comms teams.

The MoD – also the biggest team in 2016 – increased its comms personnel by 30 in the past four years and DfE’s comms team has also nearly doubled in size, from 110 people, over the same period.

Defra has more than doubled its comms headcount from a 2016 figure of 110, however this figure includes comms staff from the department's five arms-length bodies - the Environment Agency, Natural England, the Forestry Commission, the Animal & Plant Health Agency and the Rural Payments Agency - which were brought under central control that year.

By contrast, the Home Office’s comms team has sharply contracted in size from a 2016 figure of 330 people, when it was second only to the MoD.

Moving down through the 10 biggest departments, by size of comms team, the Department for International Trade (DIT) has 180 comms staff, while the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has 130.

The Department for Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) comms team has more than doubled from 50 people in 2016 to 110 in March 2020, as the COVID-19 crisis took hold in the UK.

The department has since drafted in additional comms expertise to help cope with the pandemic.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has increased its comms team by a quarter, to 100 people, since 2016, while the Department for Housing, Communities & Local Government (DCLG) has 80 comms staff.

Of the smaller government comms teams, the Treasury has quadrupled its number of staff with this function from 10 to 40 since 2016.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) did not provide figures on its comms team to the government study, but according to the 2016 figures it employed 160 people with this function.

DWP was contacted, but declined to say how many people currently work in its comms team.

The Cabinet Office, the Department for Transport and the Scotland Office also failed to provide figures to the 2016 or 2020 studies.

PRWeek contacted all three departments but they had not provided figures at the time of publication.

Executive agencies and non-ministerial departments

The statistics also revealed the size of comms teams across 40 executive agencies, which are sponsored by government departments, as well as for non-ministerial departments.

HMRC was by far the biggest with 240 comms staff, nearly three times more than the Crown Commercial Service's 90.

However, HMRC’s comms team has shrunk since 2016, when the non-ministerial department employed nearly 400 people.

In joint third place were Public Health England and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, which both employed 80 comms people.

There were 1,620 people employed in comms across 40 organisations, as of 31 March, and the majority of teams had fewer than 100 people.

Average salaries and wage bills

According to the data, the mean salary of full-time male civil servants – for all functions, including comms – was £34,530, while the mean salary of full-time female civil servants was £32,760.

The disparity equates to a 5.1 per cent gender pay gap for full-time roles across government, but this rose to 8.4 per cent for part-time workers.

The average gender pay gap across the UK for full-time staff in 2019 was 8.9 per cent, according to the ONS.

The statistics showed that the median salary of those with a comms function was £36,590. The civil servants with the highest median pay were inspectors of education and training (£69,120), while the lowest paid had ‘operational delivery’ titles (£25,120).

Based on the figures for median salaries, the annual wage bill for comms to the end of March across central government departments was more than £81m.

For executive agencies and non-ministerial departments the figure was £59m and the combined total, with government department comms teams, was £140m.

Impending cuts

In July, the Government announced a drastic shake-up of the number of comms people it employs, with the intention to reduce the number from the current figure of nearly 4,000 to just hundreds.

A review process began this month to look at the comms work of every department and decide on an “appropriate” number.

Any changes will be carried out from April 2021. Alex Aiken, executive director of the Government Communications Service, is tasked with implementing them.

It was reported in the summer that the maximum number of people in any government comms team would not exceed 30. However, PRWeek understands that this is a baseline figure and that some departments could end up with more or fewer than this.

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