Government confirms comms reform drive

PM’s official spokesperson says work will begin this week to move to a single employer for government communication service
Government's coronavirus communication in Trafalgar Square Matt Crossick/Matt Crossick/Empics Entertainment

By Richard Johnstone

06 Jul 2020

The government has confirmed that it plans to go ahead with a wide-ranging overhaul of the communication functions in departments, with the first steps of reform being taken this week.

Speaking on Friday after reports emerged that Departments will reportedly be forced to cut down their communications teams to a maximum of 30, with the teams being line-managed by the Cabinet Office instead of individual departments under a new “single employer model”, the prime minister's official spokesperson told journalists that there is work which will begin this week on a plan, overseen by a dedicated programme board, that will look at moving to a single employer for the communications service.

Four new director generals will be appointed for the task of overseeing government communications centrally, but the new restrictions will likely lead to a lower headcount. There are currently around 4,000 communication staff working across more than 20 government departments.

The plans also include a proposal to replace off-camera afternoon briefings with a broadcast session in a bid to “introduce a culture of transparency and openness”.

The PMOS said on Friday that the televised briefings plan could be starting in the autumn, adding: “this is about making government communication more efficient and effective."

“There will of course be a full consultation with staff throughout this process.”

Responding to the reports on changes, FDA general secretary Dave Penamn said they would, alongside central control of special advisers, would further diminish the role of ministers.

“Whilst the attention will focus on White House-style briefings, behind this is a dramatic curtailment of the power of departments and their ministers to control their own communications.

“Only last week, Dominic Cummings was quoted as saying: ‘Anybody who has read what I’ve said about management over the years will know that it’s ludicrous to suggest the solution to Whitehall’s problems is a bigger centre and more centralisation’ – quite how that fits with this is anyone’s guess. Coordination of the government’s communications is obviously vital, but this move – as with the management of special advisers – is clearly about control. If I was a cabinet minister I’d be fuming.”

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