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 Call for views
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 Issues and Questions

 Call for Views

Call for Views from the Chairman

The Government has instituted an independent and radical review of Government Communications. I have been asked to Chair this review and all visitors to the site are most welcome to submit any evidence or views to assist the review group in its deliberations.  

Douglas Alexander MP, Minister of State in the Cabinet Office, set up the review group:

"to conduct a radical review of government communications. This will include the examination of different models for organising and managing the government’s communication effort, the effectiveness of the current model based on the Government Information and Communication Service, and the roles played by other civil servants including those special advisers who have a responsibility for communications."

What do we mean by a radical review?

At our first meeting on the 14th February, the Group debated the "radical agenda" that we have been explicitly invited to address. We agreed to take things in three stages.

1. Ideally, and if we were able to start from a clean sheet of paper, what would be the key features of a government communication system?.

2. What do we see as the obstacles and constraints that prevent the current system operating to our ideal specification?

3. How do we think we should go about achieving something that approximates as closely as possible to our ideal?

Throughout the review, the Group will be refining its thinking on these three first order questions. We would particularly welcome contributions to the review that address the questions, and the key issues identified in our initial discussions .

What do we think the key issues are?

We had before us a comprehensive list of issues from which we distilled what we considered to be the five priority themes around which to organise our thinking and our evidence taking and these are listed below:

1. Context

What is the impact of the context in which government communications now take place? Large, growing, competitive, global, 24/7 media - voracious for news, comment and controversy. Politics now in an era of "permanent campaigning" and communications an integral part of policy analysis and development and the delivery of outcomes across the public services.

2. Needs of Different Groups of People

How and when do different groups of people want to receive information and what is the role for the media (television, radio, national regional and local newspapers, specialist magazines, internet web sites) who act as filters and interpreters? How transparent are the original sources of information to the final consumer? What might be the best mix for delivering messages to the public? When should government communicate directly with the general public, when should government pay to communicate (eg advertising campaigns), and when should it put out information through the print and broadcast media?

3. Quality and Credibility

What do the general public – as citizens and electors – know and believe, and whom do they trust? The spirit of the age is cynical – how are government communications perceived on the spectrum from spin to objective, factual information? What is the impact of regulation such as the impartiality requirements placed upon television news? How good is direct access to factual government information for the media and the general public? What is the quality and timeliness of communications and information across government departments and to individual ministers?

4. Politicisation

What are the different roles of the permanent civil service, with their codified duty to conduct themselves with integrity, impartiality and honesty, and special advisers, who are personal appointments by Ministers and who are expressly relieved of the duty to be politically impartial? What can the two groups do and what should they be able to do and where should the lines of management, responsibility and accountability be drawn? What is the ideal relationship at the top between the Head of GICS (who is a permanent civil servant) and the Director of Communications and Strategy at No 10 (who is a special adviser)?

5. Organisation and Professionalism

How best can the communication service be organised within departments and across government as a whole? Currently the professional communicators are dispersed across departments - all of which have their own Communication Directorates - with a small GICS corporate unit at the centre. How can levels of performance be improved and maintained at consistently high levels and how can the communication service sustain a professional career path within government? How should the career development and training offered to members of the GICS be managed and how should the importance of communication be reflected in the career development of other civil servants?

How can you help?

1. We will, of course, take full account of all written contributions we receive, including any that tell us that we have missed out issues that they regard as central. But it would greatly assist us in our task if, so far as possible, submissions could be organised under the five headings above.

2. We would invite contributions to be made as quickly as possible so that they can inform our deliberations and help us decide those from whom we should seek oral evidence.

3. The deadline for submissions will be 2 May but, as I have just explained, we will greatly welcome submissions before then.

4. We look forward to receiving your contributions. The quality of our report will depend to a large extent on the quality of the response to this call for written evidence. We are confident that we will not be disappointed.

5. Please do not forget to make clear whether you want your submission to be kept confidential or whether you are content for it to be made accessible to others, not least through the Review website.








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