Up, down, or stable? Size of government comms teams revealed by official figures

Official figures reveal the changes in government comms teams across all major departments and agencies – some of which have grown over the past year, against a continuing backdrop of plans to permanently reduce the comms headcount across Whitehall.

Whitehall comms departments are experiencing mixed fortunes
Whitehall comms departments are experiencing mixed fortunes

A PRWeek analysis of the latest Civil Service data released by the Cabinet Office reveals that the Ministry of Defence’s core comms team – at 540 – dwarfs that of any other government department.

More than 2,800 comms professionals work in major government departments – a significant rise from the 2,220 in 2020 – and MoD staff account for one in five of this total.

The figures are released in the form of statistical tables by the Government each year. 

In contrast, departments such as HM Treasury and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have just 40 people in their comms teams – less than one-tenth of the number employed by the MoD.

The new data is a snapshot of the situation as at 31 March this year. This was the same month in which PRWeek revealed that the Cabinet Office is paying a change management consultancy £2.5m to oversee major job cuts at the Government Communication Service (GCS) over the coming year.

The scale of the cuts emerged last year, when a leaked document outlined how comms teams could be set a target of having no more than 30 people, although this figure was later revised. 

On the up

Despite the controversial plans to scale back the size of the GCS, the numbers have soared in some comms teams.

The MoD comms team is more than twice the size of that of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

However, Defra, which now has 260 people with a comms title – up from 240 in 2020 – includes comms personnel for five 'arm's length bodies': the Environment Agency, Natural England, the Forestry Commission, the Animal & Plant Health Agency and the Rural Payments Agency.

Meanwhile, the Department for Education is now the third-largest comms team in government – at 260 people, up almost one-third on the 200 people it had in 2020.

The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) comms team increased in size by 73 per cent – from 110 in 2020 to 190 in 2021 – fuelled by the demands of dealing with comms related to COVID-19.

The comms team at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has also grown, from 100 people in 2020 to 140 in 2021. 

Other departments have enjoyed more modest increases. The Home Office’s team has gone from 180 in 2020 to 190 in 2021.

And the Department for Housing, Communities & Local Government (DHCLG) now has a 100-strong team, up from 80.

Stable or in decline

Some have held steady, such as the MoD, which has the same size team as in 2020, while the size of the comms team at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) remains 130.

But other comms teams have been slashed. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ), which had a 250-strong unit in 2020, has had it cut by 56 per cent to 110 people.

And the Department for International Trade's comms team was reduced from 180 to 140 between 2020 and 2021.

The Department for Work and Pensions and the Cabinet Office were not included in the Government's statistical report.

The DWP did not provide any data, while the Cabinet Office does not supply details of professions for more than 9,000 of its staff.

The total number of comms professionals working in various departments and agencies has risen from 3,780 in 2020 to 3,960 in 2021.

Comms is a profession that is “predominantly London-based”, according to the data, with 52.8 per cent of its practitioners based in the capital.

Executive agencies and non-ministerial departments

The Civil Service data also shows the sizes of comms teams across dozens of executive agencies and non-ministerial departments.

HMRC is by far the biggest, at 230. That’s more than double the size of the next largest – the 90-strong comms teams at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency and United Kingdom Statistics Authority.

But some agencies have been cut back. The Crown Commercial Service, which had a 90-strong team in 2020 now has just 20 staff working in comms – a 78 per cent reduction.

Some 1,400 comms people are spread across 39 organisations, down from 1,620 in 2020. In contrast to Whitehall departments, the majority of these comms teams consist of between 10 and 30 people.

Money matters

The mean salary of full-time male civil servants – for all functions, including comms – was £35,260. This is higher than the £32,420 their female counterparts are paid on average. The difference is a gender pay gap of 7.8 per cent, half that of the average national gender pay gap of 15.5 per cent. The Civil Service statistics report states that “salary differences between the sexes are partly explained by their relative representations across the grades”.

The statistics also reveal how the median salary of people working in comms has risen from £36,590 to £38,540, well above the Civil Service average of £29,180.

Those with the highest median pay, at £74,730 (up from £69,120), were inspectors of education and training, with the lowest paid in ‘operational delivery’ on an average of £25,830 – only slightly up on the £25,120 in 2020.

Based on the latest figures for median salaries, the annual wage bill for comms across central government departments surged from more than £81m in 2020 to £88m in 2021.

For executive agencies and non-ministerial departments the figure fell from £59m to £54m. This resulted in the overall total for all government comms rising by £2m, to £142m.

Changing times

The coming months will see the controversial Reshaping GCS programme gain momentum. Alex Aiken, who proposed the cuts last year, has been replaced at the top of the organisation by Simon Baugh, who was appointed as the first chief executive of GCS last month.

Baugh has the “determination to drive forward the important reforms that are needed to make sure the GCS continues to deliver for the public”, according to Alex Chisholm, Civil Service chief operating officer and Cabinet Office permanent secretary.

“I am pleased to confirm that Alex will continue in his role as executive director, and as a senior leader in the Government Communication Service, supporting the transition period with the new CEO,” he added.

In a statement issued to mark his new role leading the GCS, Baugh commented: “I want to take forward the Reshaping GCS programme with a positive vision of how change can help GCS members in their roles, deliver better more joined-up communications, and provide value for taxpayers.”

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