‘Deciding where to cut staff was hard’ – Simon Baugh on restructuring GCS and reacting to once-in-a-generation events

The Government Communication Service chief exec is proud of how staff responded to Omicron and Russia's invasion of Ukraine
The death of Queen Elizabeth II: one of the once-in-a-generation events that defined 2022. Photo: Richard Barnes/Alamy Stock Photo

By Civil Service World

06 Jan 2023


What has been your highlight of the last 12 months? 

There are four once-in-a-generation events that stand out for me: Omicron, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the cost of living, and the death of Her Majesty The Queen. Four moments when the Government Communication Service was asked to rise to an extraordinary challenge. We can be proud of our response to each.   

What was your most difficult decision in 2022?   

I have reduced the size of the central GCS team by 55% this year, which meant reducing the size of the team by 250 roles by reprioritising work and redeploying staff. Choosing what work to stop and telling people who had worked exceptionally hard that we were closing their team was extremely difficult.   

What is the biggest challenge facing your organisation in 2023, and how are you preparing to meet it as an organisation?  

The fast pace of technological innovation is profoundly changing communications and opening up new challenges and opportunities for how we deliver for the public. Here’s how we’re responding. First, by empowering each GCS member to make small improvements each day. The greatest advances won’t come from a top-down approach. We are trying to create a culture where each GCS member is encouraged to have a mindset of continuously improving communications practices, lowering costs, and increasing quality. Second, by identifying, testing and scaling innovation that already exists and supporting people to develop great ideas. For example, we have set up “Project Spark!”, a Dragon’s Den-style opportunity for GCS members to share their ideas and see them implemented across government. Third, by allocating a greater proportion of our spend to innovation. The largest private sector advertisers typically allocate 10% of their annual marketing budget to innovative practices from which they can learn and improve. By doing the same within government we can help spur innovation. 

And personally, as a leader? 

Sharpening my focus as chief executive on the things that only I can do. Being bolder and more courageous.  

It's not only Santa who has to work at Christmas. What is your best, worst or weirdest experience of working in the festive season? 

The worst, by far, was being responsible for communications at Heathrow Airport in the run-up to Christmas 2010. Heavy snow and freezing temperatures combined with an inadequate response caused the cancellation of more than 4,000 flights, ruining Christmas for hundreds of thousands of passengers. It was the worst crisis response I have been involved in, but I learnt an enormous amount from it and I was pleased to have a role in redesigning how the airport managed disruption – which has prevented anything like this from happening since. 

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