There were times over the past two years when the Government’s process of managing its communications in the post-COI era seemed to have reached levels of farce even the old Whitehall Theatre couldn’t have matched. But does last week’s publication of a new communications plan suggest that the civil servants responsible for implementing it are getting their act together instead of appearing as hapless and embarrassed as Brian Rix minus his trousers?
Certainly, the new plan – the first under the restructured Government Communication Service – marks a significant step forward from what was such a bureaucratic and dysfunctional system that the IPA last year passed an unprecedented vote of no confidence in it.
Aside from the 22 per cent increase in the budget for proactive communications to £289 million, a commitment to improve the training and professionalism of the Government’s communicators may have more important long-term implications.
After such a muddled beginning, is the new Government communications machine acquiring some of the old COI’s sureness of touch?
Nick Hurrell, managing partner, Enter
"The GCS is getting into its stride and gaining confidence and rhythm as it does so. It has been two years since the tender process began but now everything is really being pulled into focus, whereas, previously, it may have seemed blurred. A lot of the moaning and wailing has come from outsiders. Those of us who have been involved have seen the GCS become a very good client. I see no reason why it can’t be as effective as COI. It’s definitely more efficient. You could say the resulting work is more explanatory than emotive, but that ought to change as its confidence grows."
Mark Lund, former chief executive, COI; founder, Now
"I’m very encouraged by what’s happening. Not so much by the budget increase, because money can be spent both well and badly, but because communication is being thought about in a more cross-government way. This will make money go further because it will lead to more efficient spending. There are still anomalies on some of the agency rosters that need to be addressed, but the GCS has got some very able people from different departments working together. This isn’t like COI, which wasn’t a government department and was never regarded as ‘one of us’."
Paul Bainsfair, director-general, IPA
"The IPA’s vote of no confidence in the process was meant to get everybody to take notice that it wasn’t working properly and that a rethink was needed. Although we can’t claim to have been responsible for the improvements, I think we’ve helped accelerate them. There are still quite a few concerns from agencies about how little time they get to do work, but I think the problem was far worse previously than it is now. Now, if the amount of red tape around the agency selection process can be reduced, we’ll all be in a much better place."
Peter Buchanan, former deputy chief executive, COI; founder, PB Consulting
"There’s no doubt government briefs are of a much higher standard than previously. What’s more, agencies are more selective about what to pitch for. That means only the most committed agencies will contest a brief. A lot of adjustments have had to be made after COI’s demise and it has taken time for the dust to settle. But the result has been higher requirements for proof of campaign effectiveness. Also, the GCS has been using outside experts to advise on its frameworks. That’s important because nobody is an expert in every area of marketing."