Gregory, Anne (2012) UK Government communications: Full circle in the 21st century? Public Relations Review, 38 (3). pp. 367-375. ISSN 0363-8111

On 19th January 2004, the UK government published An Independent Review of Government
Communications (Phillis, 2004) known as the Phillis Review, and announced that it
would implement the recommendations in full. In the early 2000s, under the Government
of the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, there was some blurring of the lines between the role
of impartial government communicators who were members of the Government Information and Communication Service (GICS) and politically appointed Special Advisors. In 1997, Alistair Campbell, Director of Communication, and Blair’s Special Advisor, had been given the power to direct government communicators and subsequently there were a number of incidents that reinforced the view that propriety lines were being breached. It was felt that the GICS was being increasingly politicised. The Phillis Review led to far reaching change,the most important being the appointment of a Permanent Secretary, a civil servant of the most senior rank to lead GICS.
The impact on the GICS was significant. It re-established its independence from political
advisors, its numbers increased and it found a renewed confidence and role in Government
and public life. This apparent progress came to an abrupt halt in 2010. As part of its austerity
measures to address the budget deficit, Government spending on communications
was frozen and in January 2011, Matt Tee, the incumbent Permanent Secretary was made
redundant and left Government service in March 2011. In June and December 2011, the Government made announcements that there would be far reaching changes to Government communications which will be implemented by the Spring of 2012. This includes the appointment of a civil servant of lesser grade to head the service. So, what does this mean for Government communications? This paper reflects on the changes in Government communications in the first decade of the 21st century and concludes that in many ways it has
come full circle – history is in danger of repeating itself.

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