THURSDAY 23 JUN 2011 10:21 AM


The Cabinet Office has confirmed that the Central Office of Information (COI) is to be closed as part of the reform of government communications.

This comes in response to the recommendations made in the ‘Review of government direct communication and the role of COI’, a report published in March by the former permanent secretary for government communication Matt Tee.

Tee recommended that the COI should be replaced with a Government Communication Centre, but the government’s response has been to propose a Communications Delivery Board which will govern accountability and transparency across government communications.

The government intends to adopt a "tight-loose" approach to individual department's communications needs, whereby procurement and strategy will be overseen by a central planning function - in which departments will be heavily involved - but a localist approach will be taken to direct relationships with agencies.

The changes come on the heels of a 68% reduction in external spending by COI from £532 million in 2009/10 to £168 million in 2010/11, and the slashing of in-house government communications staff numbers and budgets.

"The Government is absolutely right to abolish the COI. Over recent years, it has become an appalling example of waste, inefficiency and blinkeredness. Within our industry, its reputation for arrogance and indifference has become legendary - very, very few people will mourn its passing," says Francis Ingham, chief executive of the PRCA. "Those who weep for the COI do so from a position either of ignorance or of self-interest. Francis Maude has taken a bold and correct decision, and should be complimented, not criticised for doing so."

Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, comments that “vital” communications campaigns – such as those focusing on health and recruitment to the armed forces – will not be undermined. He adds: “However, it does mean that communications spending in the future will never again get out of hand and instead will be more transparent, better coordinated and less bureaucratic.”

Jane Wilson, CIPR CEO, said: “We are disappointed to hear of further job losses. We look forward to seeing how the Government will maintain its communications track record through the introduction of new structures. There is clearly a vital role for communications in Government as shown by campaigns on issues including family health, alcohol, tobacco and safety, and it is important to recognise the COI’s contribution to public information over the last 60 years.”

Related stories:

- GCC: The new COI? (Communicate magazine, March 2011)