Cameron on Monday pledged to save taxpayers money by axing comms functions such as Ofcom’s, and wants to reduce the regulatory body’s remit to ‘narrow technical and enforcement roles’.
But Ofcom head of media and corporate relations Clayton Hirst dismissed the notion that the regulator had no need to communicate directly with the public. ‘I think there’s a strong reason for our comms function to continue,’ he said.
Hirst currently oversees an eight-strong comms team. He added: ‘As well as dealing with media business, we go out and actively discuss what we’re doing with City and investment analysts. We also have a duty to inform consumers with guides to things such as switching phone providers and how to get a better deal.’
Under the Douglas-Home rules, the Tories are allowed to brief permanent secretaries on their proposals for departmental reorganisation, as the deadline for a general election looms. One senior departmental source noted it was entirely conceivable that Matt Tee, permanent secretary for government communication, would be liaising with the Tories over the proposed cuts in advance of the election. Tee was unavailable for comment as PRWeek went to press.
Departmental comms directors recently met Tee to discuss issues of propriety in the run-up to the election, such as the use of purdah. It is thought Tory cuts were not explicitly discussed in the meeting.
Gordon Brown is believed to be unhappy about contact between the civil service and the Tories. As one former Whitehall comms director said: ‘In 1996-97 the Tories were quite grown up about it. Predictably, Brown takes a more tribal and aggressive stance, of which civil servants are well aware.’