Does anyone, apart from agencies and media owners, really need the COI?

Because they might not have it very much longer. The UK cabinet office, which is in charge of the current ‘bonfire of the quangos’ as the coalition government culls public bodies it thinks are useless, has confirmed that the COI (Central Office of Information as was) may be heading for the crackling tinders in November.

This is tough on the COI’s nearly 600 executives and employees (40 per cent of whom are already slated to be made redundant although they don’t know who yet) and will dismay media owners (particularly ITV) and agencies as the COI’s spend has mushroomed in recent years to around £200m on advertising (in 2009 it was the UK’s biggest advertiser) and a staggering £340m on other stuff.

Which must bring the total to around £1bn with salaries.

But, in essence, the COI has become the marketing department for every ministry and department in Whitehall and clearly some people in the current government think these entities could do the job themselves. As they have various other things to do, they might even spend less money.

In one of those uncomfortable twists of fate adman Tony Douglas, who was the first career adman to run the COI, died today from a brain tumour. Douglas took over at the COI in 1996 just before it began its high-spending era under Tony Blair’s New Labour government.

Leaving money aside for a minute (a treasonable offence in today’s Britain) one should ask whether or not the COI has done a good job in terms of communicating useful things to the British public. No doubt there will be many a business school thesis on the subject to come in the future but the likelihood is that the consensus will be that some of it was useful (road safety, some health campaigns) and others just examples of bureaucratic bossiness.

The cabinet office may decide on a reprieve for the COI after all of course. CEO Mark Lund, formerly of Delaney Lund Knox Warren, is clearly hoping so.

But one suspects that cabinet office boss Francis Maude MP, not known for his feminine side, has his hanging judge’s black cap in place already.

You May Also Like

About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.