Government communications chief Alex Aiken reviews 2015 – and looks ahead to 2016

Written by Civil Service World on 9 December 2015 in Interview
Interview

With the end of 2015 in sight, we asked Whitehall's top officials to review the year, set out their priorities for 2016 – and shed some light on their festive plans. Alex Aiken, executive director of government communications, kicks off our perm secs round-up series...

How did you tackle the biggest challenges facing your organisation in 2015?

Like the rest of government we saw a change of pace as coalition moved to a majority government with new priorities. I was delighted that we were able to publish the Government Communication Plan in July. The plan sets out the 80 campaigns we intend to deliver over the next year. These range from the critical public health work of Change4Life to manifesto priorities such as promoting home ownership, exporting and explaining the ambition of the Northern Powerhouse. It was the first major cross-government plan of the new parliament and is on track to meet our objectives. The great thing is we are seeing departments working together ever more closely, for example BIS, DfE and DWP on marketing the apprenticeship scheme. The communications profession operates in a world where the tools of our work continue to change as technology advances. For example we used “Periscope” for the first time in May to live broadcast the PM’s speech on taking office.    


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What are your department’s top priorities in the year ahead?

The prime minister set out his ambition for a “Smarter State” in the summer. Our ability to meet that challenge, reforming public service and providing more efficient ways of implementation will be the priority for the year ahead. Digital channels provide a way to secure much greater value for money. So does departments working together on campaigns and using shared services – for example, our shared graphics design service, Design 102, based in MoJ but providing video and graphics service for many comms teams. We’ll push ahead with our Government Communication Service Improvement programme in the New Year and set ever-higher standards for professional practice, including the use of real time digital dashboards to evaluate our work, gradually replacing the traditional piles of press cuttings. 

What film do you hope to watch over the festive period – and what’s the best game to play with the family on Christmas Day?

We’ll be in Wales over Christmas and while we love the Christmas family lunch it’s more likely that we will be out and about than watching the TV. If fixtures allow we will be at the Rugby and Cardiff City football and out walking the valleys of South Wales. If the weather is impossible it will be Monopoly and card games.

 

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