EDITORIAL: Wicks threatens political comms

After 12 months of deliberation, the Committee on Standards in Public Life this week called for the identification of that troublesome breed of special advisers as separate from the civil service.

The IPR has quite rightly welcomed the recommendations, along, no doubt, with many civil service press officers who have become increasingly concerned about the exact nature of their role.

However, the Wicks report also recommends that this principle be applied to Alastair Campbell and chief of staff Jonathon Powell, effectively calling for a decentralisation of Government comms.

While there may be considerable political concerns about the politicisation of the civil service, from a purely professional communication perspective, the recommendations are unworkable.

Although Campbell has admitted that some aspects of the Government's emphasis on communication and control of messages have backfired, one of the greatest achievements of the New Labour comms policy has been to break down the silo mentality that inevitably affects departments of any large organisation left to its own devices.

To reverse that process would render the task of implementing a strategic comms policy almost impossible, leading to overtly reactive press relations dominated by the media agenda rather than policy. And, like any major organisation, each department is likely to take differing views of major issues based upon their own area of concern.

In a corporate crisis, effective communication is dependent on a clear central strategy and co-operation between departments. So how on earth can the Government, with responsibilities far greater than any firm's, be expected to devolve this process, and still be able to communicate with the electorate?

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