‘I am proud of the way the Government Communication Service has come together under difficult circumstances to deliver exemplary public communication’: Government comms chief Alex Aiken on 2020

2020 was a year unlike any other, with the coronavirus pandemic upending the work of government and changing how we live our daily lives. Senior figures from across the civil service tell us how the unprecedented 12 months affected them, and look ahead to 2021
Executive Director of Government Communications Alex Aiken

By Civil Service World

23 Dec 2020

 

What are you proudest of the Government Communication Service achieving in 2020?

This has been a hugely difficult year for people across the country and the world. The Covid tragedy has taken thousands of lives and many livelihoods. I am proud of the way the Government Communication Service colleagues across the country have come together under difficult circumstances to deliver exemplary public communication. This has included information that has helped prevent illness, support businesses and ultimately save lives. We have run the biggest communication campaign the government has ever undertaken. From the initial ‘wash your hands’ advertising through the ‘stay at home’ instruction and the daily Number 10 press briefings to ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ and latterly ‘Hands, Face, Space’ colleagues have worked effectively together across government. We’ve seen innovation and effective work. The first ever press partnership with the nation's media, a digital campaign which has reached all parts of society, local communication working with councils, the translation of key materials, a daily media effort including successfully countering disinformation, and an always on marketing campaign which has included supporting the successful download of 20 million Covid apps.

What was the hardest part of being a leader in 2020?

The need for resilience, perseverance and optimism were essential components of public service leadership in 2020. My work was dominated by the response to the Covid virus but I also focused on the UK's transition out of the EU and the modernisation of the government communication service. In all three of these areas I needed the support of brilliant colleagues from across Departments to help us succeed. This was particularly true of our work on Covid where the Department for Health, led much of the work. I think as a leader in times like these, visibility, encouragement and gratitude to colleagues were the attributes I hope I exhibited as we designed and delivered campaigns.

What are the main challenges facing your organisation in the coming year?

I hope that 2021 will be very different to 2020. But there are some good things that we will take out of the last year for the future. These include routinely using technology to run our meetings, far greater efforts to collaborate together and more working from home. All of which I believe will contribute to a more efficient public service. We were really proud that we were able to run a successful Civil Service Live online this year, which attracted record numbers of participants and launched the new drive to modernise the Civil service. The biggest single policy and communication challenge in 2021, after the recovery from Covid, will be how we shape the United Kingdom’s leadership role in the world given our chairmanship of the G7, our ambitions on free trade and how we can galvanise the world to respond to climate change as we host COP26. I will also be concentrating on how we improve government communication through our ‘Reshaping GCS’ programme’ which will create a more united, effective and better skilled profession.  

People will have to be more creative about celebrating this year. How will you make the festive period on Zoom special?

Like many others we are planning a small family Christmas this year. We will talk to friends and family over zoom and enjoy the delights of London's parks with a long walk on Christmas day in Hyde Park and enjoy watching the Premier League over the holiday period.

 

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