Civil service chief executive John Manzoni has revealed that extra controls have been introduced to provide assurance that spending on the government’s Get Ready for Brexit communications campaign represents value for money.
Speaking to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee alongside cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill on Monday, Manzoni revealed that controls reflected the fact the campaign had been launched quickly.
The campaign, which was launched last week, has been controversial as its launch coincided with the government unsuccessfully attempting to call a general election. Labour MP Mary Creagh wrote to Sedwill called on the government to halt the campaign, which she said had already been politicised.
Sedwill told the MPs that the civil service had “applied all the rules we apply to the government communication campaigns to this one” but acknowledged that in a purdah period it would “have to be handled with great sensitivity and care and there’d be some adjustments made”.
There are precedents for the information drive, he said. “I think there was a 'get ready' campaign for entry into the [European] single market, and there as a campaign for the millennium bug. This one operates on the same rules as others. Some of those were controversial too, but this applies the same rules as others.”
Manzoni said the controls included additional assessments of spending in the £100m campaign, which directs people to information about how to prepare for the UK's departure from the EU either with or without a deal on 31 October.
“Because it is being done at some pace, we have introduced a specific assurance panel to make sure that it has all the right control and metrics and is done in a professional way. In addition, we have external auditors checking that the media buys are sensible around price.”
Manzoni also set out how the government would measure the programme's success, including tracking user journeys through its Get Ready for Brexit website.
“We can do quite a lot of analytics on the website around what journeys are being followed, how many people leave successfully from that website having found the information... We have nine step-by-step processes [for different areas of Brexit preparation], so we can track the number of businesses that go there, and we are additionally introducing a series of surveys both with public citizens and businesses so that we can routinely check where those are and those will be ramped up.”
Sedwill added that the use of the gov.uk website as the main information source for the campaign allowed government to share more specific information with people than in previous campaigns.
“It is possible, through drop-down menus, to get a bespoke answer to your requirements. Whereas with previous campaigns, the nature of the technology meant we had to tell everybody everything, and inevitably they were more generic. This is like anything in the digital arena, it enables people to become more self-serve and more specific.”