Brexit ‘one of history’s biggest comms challenges’, says Whitehall strategy

Government Communications Service sets out role of departments in supporting government priorities, including getting greatest possible public support for EU exit deal

The FCO will promote the UK as a global force for good ahead of Brexit. Credit: PA

By Tamsin Rutter

24 Aug 2017

Communications professionals across Whitehall face “one of the biggest communication challenges in history” in setting out the details of Brexit for the public, leaders of the Government Communications Service (GCS) have said.

In a report put together by more than 20 departmental directors of communication, the roles of various government departments and bodies are laid out as the UK begins to negotiate “an EU exit agreement that works for all parts of our country and has the greatest possible public support”.

While the Department for Exiting the European Union is striking a new deal with the EU, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will seek to reassure businesses throughout the process, and the Foreign and Commonwealth office will promote the UK as an economic power and global force for good, the report says.

The Department for International Trade, via the GREAT Britain campaign, is to showcase the UK “as a world-class destination for trade, investment, education and tourism”, in partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, VisitBritain, the British Council and 18 other departments or bodies.


The 2017/18 Government Communications Plan, launched yesterday by Chris Skidmore, the Cabinet Office minister for the constitution and government, explains the role of the GCS and sets out how major communications campaigns will support government priorities and make the best possible use of public funds.

It says the work of all civil service communicators should bolster the government’s four central priorities: to further a global Britain and Northern Ireland; a secure and strong union; a stronger economy; and a fairer society.

This includes campaigns that explain the government’s preparations to leave the EU; those that support democracy and security; campaigns to promote apprenticeships and deliver a modern industrial strategy; and to support home ownership and public sector recruitment.

In his foreword to the report, Skidmore says that the GCS is crucial to realising government goals.

He added: “It will support these priorities through compelling communications that improve and enhance the lives of people living in the UK and abroad. From promoting the UK as a world-class destination for trade and investment, to protecting people against cyber attacks.”

Listing examples of successful government communications campaigns, the report includes HMRC’s Inner Peace campaign, which contributed to a record 93% of self assessment customers filing their tax returns on time, and the NHS Missing Type Campaign, which saw 60,000 people come forward to start giving blood over 10 days in August 2016.

“Our job is to help ministers reach the right audience with the right message at the right time,” Alex Aiken, executive director for government communications, says in the report.

The plan praises the response of local and central government communicators to the Grenfell Tower disaster, and said cross-departmental collaboration will continue with work supporting victims and the independent public inquiry.

“The Home Office will continue to promote essential fire safety messages to the public, with an emphasis on smoke alarm testing, fire prevention and safe escape routes,” it says.

The report also sets out details of the GCS Improvement Programme, which includes plans to accelerate the use of digital communication tools across public services, create best practice guidance for media relations in government and improve data gathering and insight.

It includes a focus on diversity and professional development, announcing plans to develop Whitehall’s first specialist communications apprenticeship programme and a bespoke GCS summer diversity internship programme.

The GCS is the professional body for all government communicators, which brings together around 4,000 professionals across 25 ministerial departments, 21 non-ministerial departments and almost 400 agencies and public bodies.

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