Exclusive: Reshaping GCS programme slashed in scope

Attempts to impose a single employer model on the Government Communication Service (GCS) have been quietly abandoned amid concern from government comms staff and trade unions, PRWeek can reveal.

The plan to silm down Government department comms teams has been watered down
The plan to silm down Government department comms teams has been watered down

The single employer model was the lynchpin in a plan announced by Alex Aiken, former GCS head, last year, in which departments would have suffered major job losses. Comms staffing levels were initially to be capped at 30 per departmental team. This would have led to thousands of job losses across the 7,000-strong GCS.

But constant changes and uncertainty over the programme led one staff member, speaking on condition of anonymity earlier this year, to tell PRWeek: "They're putting thousands of staff in more turmoil, and we're not happy. We thought we'd know by Christmas [2020]. It's just another hatchet over our heads.”

Aiken lost out on the top job when the GCS was restructured earlier this year and Simon Baugh was appointed as the organisation’s first chief executive. Soon after taking the job, Baugh made a point of apologising for the way the Reshaping GCS programme had been handled.

In a presentation to GCS staff, he said the programme had caused “an enormous amount of frustration, uncertainty and frankly unhappiness across GCS.” He added: “I totally understand people's frustration, there is no denying that this programme has changed a number of times… I also completely accept that it has undermined trust in GCS’ ability to deliver.”

Referring to Aiken's failure to be appointed to the role of GCS chief executive in the same presentation, Baugh said it “can't have been easy for him".

Changing course

The scope and nature of the Reshaping GCS programme has changed significantly in recent months.

Whitehall officials have confirmed that the focus is no longer on a single employer model. Comms budgets will sit with departments and arm's-length bodies rather than centrally with GCS, and it will be up to departments how they spend their budgets.

In a statement to PRWeek, Baugh said: “The revised priorities for the RGCS programme will focus on a culture of ongoing, continuous improvement within GCS. We will focus on how to get better at what we do, be more skilled, more innovative, more efficient, and more effective.”

He added: “This is something driven forward by everybody with support from the centre. What we've learned through the Reshaping programme, workshops, the co-creation and data, is providing valuable insights for our future GCS strategy.”

'Union pushback'

Civil Service trade unions have welcomed the decision not to impose redundancies or a single employer model.

A PCS spokesperson said: "The union has no immediate worries about redundancies because the proposals for centralisation and centrally driven cuts have fallen to the wayside thanks to PCS, staff and departmental pushbacks.”

Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of the Prospect union, told PRWeek: "There’s a recognition that it is not the job of the Cabinet Office or No. 10 to dictate to departments the headcount and resourcing that they put into communication functions within their organisations.”

The notion of a single employer model has been abandoned “for the foreseeable future", he said. "What we’re seeking to avoid, and I think we’re moving in the right direction, is very arbitrary headcount targets coming from the centre and being imposed on departments. I think we are a million miles away from that, from where we were."

Official figures show that the overall headcount for government comms staff rose from 2,200 to 2,800 during the 12 months to March 2021.

Steven Littlewood, assistant general secretary of the FDA union, said: “We are continuing to engage with the Cabinet Office on the Reshaping GCS programme and will be seeking to protect our members and help to build a structure that enables them to use their skills to deliver for the nation.”

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