UK government floats plan to replace COI with freebie communications council

There seems to be no end to the stream of daft communications ideas emanating from the UK coalition government as it tries to get its ads, mailers and PR campaigns on the cheap.

Latest is a wheeze from senior civil servant Matt Tee (aren’t these people supposed to be called Sir Humphrey or something?) to form a “common good communications council’ of agencies, media owners, voluntary groups and presumably anyone else they can persuade to work for nothing.

“There is significant potential to ask agencies, media owners, government and voluntary and community organisations to work together for free or near free on campaigns for the common good,” says the astute Tee.

Near free’s a good one.

As the Advertising Association, which represents advertisers, agencies and media owners, has already blown a few raspberries at this notion it’s hard to see where Tee’s “significant potential” resides.

The communications council will be overseen by three people with “experience of and high credibility in the communications industries” who will form a new “Government Communications Oversight Panel.”

So that’s two new quangos already then (the three wise monkeys will no doubt need their allocation of civil servants, political advisers and pollsters to carry out their important task).

And all this is supposed to replace the (now much reduced) Central Office of Information and dump a thousand supposedly useless government communicators on the streets to save £50m.

There will no doubt be plenty of toadies who will volunteer to join the oversight panel in search of a knighthood or a peerage to go with their knighthood.

But whether or not they achieve anything other than a failed talking shop is debatable to put it mildly.

Tee says that a US-style ad council is “neither workable or desirable.” But what’s this notion apart from a British version of the same?

Tee’s boss, cabinet office minister Francis Maude (who must be wishing he’d never gone down this ridiculous path) has thanked Tee for his efforts and says that the government will “produce its response in due course.”

Which is Whitehall speak for booting it into the long grass.

And about time.

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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.

One comment

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    I couldnt agree more with this article. This is yet another example of makign thousands of people redundant and dressing it up as wll informed strategy. This paper actually goes further in that its saying all comms people from across Govt and NDPBs will be moved into this new organisation – albeit with most of them being made redundant. What we have left is a new COI with about the same staff as it had before (before they made 40% of staff redundant) – now topped up (fro free as there are no recruitmetn costs) by comms people across Govt – and all moved to Whitehall. If you work in comms ‘up north’ you;re in trouble my friends.
    What really gets me is that this actually flies in the face of the coalitions own ideology – this is more big brother, whitehall, ivory tower than ever before.
    Utter madness.