GCS to pilot new ‘communities’ outside London

Four cities will test approaches for building regional networks and aiding Places for Growth drive

By Jim Dunton

11 Aug 2023

The Government Communication Service is set to launch a pilot project aimed at creating new “communities” for comms professionals outside of London in a bid to offset the pull of the capital.

Leeds and Manchester will host their own communities while Glasgow and Edinburgh will share a joint Scotland community for the project, which will launch next month and which is set out in GCS’s new Locations Strategy.

According to GCS, the main aim of the rebalancing effort is to strengthen career pathways across the whole of the United Kingdom, and support the government’s Places for Growth drive to move 22,000 civil service roles out of the capital by the end of the decade.

The Locations Strategy says that while roughly half of the GCS’ 7,000-plus members are already based outside of London, those roles are tilted towards professionals in arm’s-length bodies and lower-ranking departmental staff.

Seventy-seven percent of GCS members who work at a ministerial department are based in the capital. Out of 161 members of the GCS who are at Senior Civil Service level, just 37 are based outside the capital – well out of kilter for the government’s target of having half of all SCS roles based in the regions and devolved nations by 2030.

The Locations Strategy says GCS leaders want 33% of all ministerial department comms roles to be based outside London by 2025, a 10-percentage-point increase on the current proportion. It does not set a target for SCS roles, but pledges “support” for the overall 50% ambition.

The strategy cites research from 2021’s Navigating the Labyrinth report on barriers to socio-economic diversity within the civil service. It flagged the importance of proximity to Whitehall for visibility and networking opportunities.

Input from focus groups used for the Locations Strategy reported a lack of visibility and networking opportunities between government comms professionals based outside London – even among officials based in the same city or region, and a lack of senior roles above grade 7.

The strategy says that in addition to making GCS careers more accessible to people based in the regions, the profession’s new communities will help to nurture comms professionals who are more in touch with local people.

“As our GCS locations grow, so will our understanding of local audiences throughout the country, improving the communications we produce with innovative ideas and firsthand insight,” the strategy says.

“Increasing our geographic representation could support us to understand the needs of certain communities and how to reach them effectively.”

According to the strategy, Leeds, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh were picked for the pilots because they have an established SCS presence and a “strong external market” of media outlets and creative agencies.

The pilots will be evaluated next summer ahead of a wider rollout.

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