NEWS18 March 2011

Government urged to scrap COI and establish new Communication Centre

Government UK

UK— The Central Office of Information should be scrapped and replaced with a new Government Communication Centre (GCC) responsible for developing communications strategy, audience insights and evaluating campaigns, according to a review.

Matt Tee, the permanent secretary for government communication, believes the move will better align communications with overall government priorities, rather than those of individual departments.

He criticises existing communications for “not always [being] based on the best evidence”, for lacking “good measures of impact or effectiveness” and for using a media mix which is skewed towards more expensive, less targeted channels. “All of these need to be addressed in a new approach,” Tee said.

Among its functions, the GCC will be expected to set standards and provide strategic capabilities to develop audience and behaviour insight, including segmentation, while ensuring all government marketing activity costing more than £100,000 makes robust use of insight, has a solid evaluation plan and can demonstrate return on investment.

In deciding to scrap the COI, Tee said its status as an arms-length body and its trading fund model – in which its income is derived from the departments it works with – has kept it from being “as close to the development of government policy and communications strategies as it would like to have been”.

“Much of the skills and experience that will be needed for the GCC that I propose is present in the current staff of COI,” said Tee. “I do also conclude that there is a place in the GCC for the sort of ‘pay-as-you-go’, direct-service provision that parts of COI currently provide.”

However, he said, retaining the COI brand would suggest a greater continuity with the recent past “than I think is helpful”.

Tee has set out a number of options for organising and funding the GCC, but his preferred approach is to set up six “theme teams”, aligned to key government priorities. These teams would be made up of communications staff drawn from across departments, the COI and other arms-length bodies, and all would be employed by the Government Communication Network (GCN).

At present there are some 6,848 communications staff working within government that are part of the GCN. Just over half – mostly press officers and those responsible for internal and policy communications – would remain employed by government departments, leaving 3,233 – 40% of whom are expected to lose their jobs in line with the spending cuts required by the government’s spending review.

This will reduce GCN employee numbers to 1,940. Tee calls for 150 staff to be assigned to the GCC, with 480 distributed among the “six theme teams”. “The remaining staff” – 1,310 – “would be surplus and could either be redeployed or exited,” Tee said. “This option would offer a potential saving of £54m per annum, over and above the 40% reductions.”


1 Comment

13 years ago

Overall this seems like a sound approach in that it enables priorities to be set much more easily and demonstrably. The safeguards needed are rigid quality control and independent insight free from political interference. The old COI "just grew" from a structure established in the second Worl;d War..

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