Cross-governmental comms initiative aims to tackle volcanic ash crisis

The volcanic ash crisis has seen the Department for Transport (DfT) leading a cross-governmental communications initiative that brings together five departments.

Ash cloud crisis: prompted government PR response
Ash cloud crisis: prompted government PR response

Around 150,000 Britons remained stranded abroad this week following the closure of British airspace since last Thursday, when a cloud of volcanic ash started to drift over the country from the erupting Eyjafjallajoekull volcano in Iceland.

DfT director of comms Jeremy Mooney is being briefed daily by permanent secretary for government communications Matt Tee.

The permanent secretary has taken part in daily 'Cobra' committee meetings - set up to co-ordinate the whole of the Government's response during crises such as these.

Mooney defended the Government's communications, stating: 'It's very difficult - you have hundreds of thousands of British citizens stranded across the world and no two people's problems are the same.'

The Cobra meetings have ruled that communications must remain a top priority. Mooney said: 'The priority must be to get the best advice to people affected. That's difficult as the volcano is very unpredictable.'

Following the Cobra meetings, Tee is disseminating the plans to the directors of comms from the DfT, Ministry of Defence (MoD), Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Cabinet Office, plus a duty officer from Downing Street.

The Government's four main priorities for communication include the air safety issue (being handled by DfT); the impact on the travel and transport industry and the macro-economic impact (BIS); and repatriating stranded passengers back to Britain (FCO).

A key role is being played by Mooney's head of news Jo Millington, who Mooney said has had 'about three hours' sleep in four days'.

FCO director of comms Ian Hargreaves added: 'Our involvement is essentially through our consular services, who are doing a lot to help a lot of people in a lot of places.'

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