Government comms shake-up triggers hunt for leader

The role of Alex Aiken, executive director for government communications, will be abolished under restructure.

GCS leader Alex Aiken: thought to be applying for new chief executive role
GCS leader Alex Aiken: thought to be applying for new chief executive role

Whitehall officials have kicked off a search for a chief executive to lead its Government Communications Service.

The newly created role is part of a major restructure of government communications and marketing under the “Reshaping of GCS” programme, which aims to strengthen and unify government communications. 

A job ad for the post said that the reforms will result in “the provision of more effective, innovative and efficient communications, delivering the Government’s priorities with one voice”.

The GCS has been led by Alex Aiken since 2013, when he joined from Westminster Council where he was director of communications and strategy. His role, executive director, will be abolished under the shake-up and effectively replaced by the beefed-up chief executive post. 

It is understood that Aiken has told Whitehall comms directors that he intends to stay and apply for the new post, following reports that he was leaving. Paying £140,000-a-year, which is the same salary paid to Aiken, the role should be filled by September. 

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "The chief executive will lead a reformed Government Communications Service ensuring departmental communications activity helps to deliver on the Prime Minister’s priorities. Alex Aiken continues to lead GCS and is championing this work."

One of the first actions of the successful candidate will be to recruit someone to the new role of executive director of campaigns, marketing and digital. Ministers are said to have seen the power of effective marketing through the work around the Covid crisis and the post-Brexit UK transition and are keen to elevate this area. 

Experienced government marketer Conrad Bird, who is director, campaigns and marketing at the Cabinet Office, is thought to be one of the frontrunners for the job.

Commenting on the changes afoot, a Cabinet Office spokesman said: "We are engaging with colleagues across government as we develop our plans for the future of GCS and further announcements regarding the shape and structure of the service will be made after that process is complete." 

The government is part-way through a review of its creative agency roster. A result is expected in August.

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