DEFRA bids to dispel MAFF ‘secrecy’ culture

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) is to recruit a team of senior communications experts to advise on a fresh wave of PR campaigning.

The decision comes as the department unveils its three-year strategy document. This has created six priority areas, for which the comms advisers will develop PR strategies.

The priorities highlighted are to promote ‘prudent use of natural resources’, improve rural economies, promote ‘a low carbon economy’, encourage sustainability in farming, boost recycling, and protect public health and animal welfare.

It is understood that two or three communications advisers will be appointed, and it is hoped that the hires, which are likely to be from within Government, will be made by the summer.

They will look at each priority area, and offer strategic advice on possible campaigns. DEFRA director of communications Lucian Hudson said this will also include stakeholder relations work.

Improving the way the department deals with public health and animal welfare is seen as crucial following criticism of the department’s predecessor – the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food – over its handling of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

An inquiry into the handling of the crisis in Devon said there was ‘a culture of secrecy within MAFF’ and that ‘public communications were poor to non-existent’ (PRWeek, 1 February 2002).

Hudson added: ‘We accept there is more work to do within each of the strategic areas.’

The department has this week also unveiled an ‘accessibility commitment’ – a document pledging greater transparency.

‘DEFRA has inherited, however unfairly, a negative image for openness and accessibility,’ said Hudson.

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