Government plans televised media briefings in major civil service comms shake-up

Reports say No.10 wants to slim down departmental communications and centralise PR
Boris Johnson heads to a conronavirus press conference in No.10 Downing Street. Photo: PA

Boris Johnson is planning to introduce daily televised press briefings as part of a major overhaul of the Government’s communications set-up, it has emerged.

Both The Times and Financial Times report that the prime minister wants to replace off-camera afternoon briefings with a broadcast session in a bid to “introduce a culture of transparency and openness”.

Number 10 is also looking to slim down departmental communications teams and centralise the Government’s PR operation in the Cabinet Office.

Departments will reportedly be forced to cut down their communications teams to a maximum of thirty, and the teams will be line-managed by the Cabinet Office instead of individual departments under a new “single employer model” developed by Alex Aiken, the executive director for government communications, according to the FT. Four new director generals will be appointed for the task. There are currently around 4,000 communication staff working across more than 20 government departments.

This would seem to mirror reforms to create a single employer for senior commercial officials in government, created in 2016.

CSW has asked the Cabinet Office for further details about the changes.

The shift to televised grillings will represent a major break from the traditional lobby briefings, which give Westminster journalists two opportunities a day to questions the Prime Minister’s spokesperson — a senior civil servant — behind closed doors.

No.10 is now looking to emulate the United States by screening the afternoon briefing, with a room in Number 9 Downing Street converted into a special briefing room. 

The government is already on the hunt for a broadcaster to chair the daily sessions.

The move comes the daily Downing Street press conferences which have run throughout the coronavirus crisis were brought to an end.

Instead of a televised session every day, the government is currently running ad-hoc conferences, with Johnson set to provide an update on the easing of lockdown on Friday. 

Lobby journalists are still able to question the prime minister’s spokesperson remotely in a daily session that can continue for more than an hour.

Matt Honeycombe-Foster is the acting editor of CSW's sister site Politics Homewhere a version of this story first appreared.

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