EDITORIAL: Why Govt must let COI get on with job

Just when is New Labour going to understand that COI Communications ain't broke and doesn't need fixing?

Not while the control freakery of the current regime makes it so sensitive to the issues of the day and so obsessional about news management.

Not while COI is treated as a political shuttlecock, unfairly blamed for the blurring of public information and government propaganda.

And not while Opposition MPs use it as a stick with which to beat the Blair administration by claiming that a particular campaign hasn't worked.

In short, not until hell freezes over.

Now, just 11 months after the Government gave COI a clean bill of health in its five-yearly review, ministers have again found the temptation to meddle irresistible. The official reason for the latest probe is to find out whether what COI does can be more fully integrated into the Government's overall communications.

Notwithstanding the obvious question of why this wasn't considered last time around, the decision to make COI jump through the hoops again will rightly arouse suspicion. There's no problem if the exercise is no more than an attempt to ensure government campaigns aren't duplicating each other. It may be right to ask whether the tendering process for some campaigns leads to a lack of continuity in the advertising and if memorable work could be used as a vehicle for other messages.

Alarm bells will ring at the idea of Alan Bishop, COI's chief executive, being made to "interrelate" more closely with others, such as Labour's spin-doctor-in-chief, Alastair Campbell. A big fear is that by kicking COI's tyres yet again to test its roadworthiness, ministers will cause its wheels to fall off. Insiders warn morale within COI has already been sapped by perpetual government pressure. The decision to allow the Department of Transport to drop COI on a whim has done nothing to sustain the self-confidence of COI staffers.

Instead of ordering yet another review, ministers would be better asking themselves why the UK can boast of having probably the best public service advertising in the world. It's because that, in COI, they have an organisation which not only treats agencies honourably but inspires them to push the creative boundaries. Bishop and his team should be left to get on with it.

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