Govt appoints communications chief

Agencies working for the Government will have a new master to please following the appointment of Howell James as its first permanent secretary in charge of communications.

James began his working life in advertising before moving on to Capital Radio, TV-am, the BBC, Whitehall departments and Downing Street. He will now oversee the work of COI Communications and try to ensure better government-wide co-ordination of research, marketing and campaigns. He is expected to seek to integrate advertising more fully into the Government's press and public relations machine.

James, who will start work in June, will produce an annual report on the effectiveness of government communications and will order each department to carry out an audit of its work every three years. Independent bodies, including the Advisory Committee on Advertising, are likely to have a role in this process.

James helped to write his job description. His new post was recommended by a committee chaired by the Guardian Media Group chief executive, Bob Phillis, on which he served and which praised COI.

His appointment was welcomed by Whitehall officials working on campaigns, who believe he will be "pro advertising", while keen to ensure it provides value for money. They expect the Government's budget to remain more buoyant than the private sector.

James' initial priority will be to combat the over-reliance on "spin", which has become the hallmark of Tony Blair's administration.

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