Home Office comms director becomes first GCS chief exec

Simon Baugh pledges reform “will deliver more joined-up communications, and provide value for taxpayers”
Simon Baugh. Photo: GCS

By Jim Dunton

15 Sep 2021

Home Office director of communications Simon Baugh has been named as the first chief executive of the Government Communication Service, which brings together media professionals from more than 300 departments and agencies.

Civil service chief operating officer Alex Chisholm said he believes Baugh has the “skill set and the experience” to continue driving reform within the service, which is partway through the controversial Reshaping GCS reform programme to centralise operations along single-employer lines.

Chisholm said he is pleased GCS executive director Alex Aiken will stay with the service during a transition period that would see him supporting Baugh and working on priority areas including the Union, security and international affairs.

Prior to becoming director of communications at the Home Office in February last year, Baugh served as comms chief at the now-defunct Department for Exiting the European Union and the Department for Transport. Before that he was director of media and public relations at Heathrow Airport Holdings.

Baugh said he is “hugely honoured” by the appointment and that his experience in government has shown him the civil service has some of the most “brilliant, innovative and hard-working” communications professionals in the UK.

“My role is to make sure the GCS continues to help people do amazing work that builds public confidence and delivers positive change,” he said.

“My focus will be on how we continuously improve the work we do for ministers and the public, develop the talent, skills and capability we need for the future, and create a positive culture where everyone can flourish.

“I want to take forward the Reshaping GCS programme with a positive vision of how change can help GCS members in their roles, deliver better more joined-up communications, and provide value for taxpayers.”

The original Reshaping GCS plans prompted concerns from civil service unions when they were launched in the summer of 2020, not least because limiting departments’ comms teams to 40 people or fewer raised the spectre of hundreds of job losses.

Earlier this month, former No.10 director of communications Lee Cain, who was one of the architects of the reform plan, said he believed the GCS is “failing in many of its most basic functions” and in need of real expertise. 

Cain said the vast majority of Whitehall communications staff do not have an adequate understanding of strategic communications or campaigns. “An example of this was the poor first iteration of the Covid campaign, which had to be scrapped and restarted with outside expertise – individuals who really understood strategic communications and campaigns,” he said.

A core element of Cain’s reform vision is a reduction in comms staff numbers but better pay for those who remain to concentrate quality and skills.

Announcing Baugh’s appointment, civil service chief operating officer Alex Chisholm acknowledged a need for ongoing reform within GCS.

“Simon has the skill set and experience to build on the fantastic work delivered by the communications profession throughout the pandemic, as well as the determination to drive forward the important reforms that are needed to make sure the GCS continues to deliver for the public,” he said.

“I would like to take the opportunity to recognise Alex Aiken for his leadership of the service for close to 10 years. I personally thank him for his extraordinary contribution to government communications and expertly leading the function throughout the unprecedented communications challenges of the pandemic and kicking off the ambitious Reshaping GCS transformation programme.

“I am pleased to confirm that Alex will continue in his role as executive director and as a senior leader in the Government Communication Service, supporting the transition period with the new CEO. Alex will be leading the government’s vital communications work on priority areas that include the Union, security and international issues.”

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