COI to screen its last public information film?

Government comms are going 'Big Society'. But will advertising agencies join in?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
The Central Office of Information, the Government agency responsible for such memorable campaigns as that gruesome ‘don’t drink and drive’ ad, not to mention MT’s particular childhood favourite, the road safety hedgehogs, is to be axed under new recommendations by the Cabinet Office. The Government said the measures are necessary to it help slash the £1bn a year it currently spends on communications. But it pointed out that this isn’t the end of the public information film: to replace the COI, it’s going to create a sort of ‘Big Society ad agency’. Although real-life agencies might not be quite so keen.  

The review was carried out by Matt Tee, the outgoing permanent secretary for Government communications, who said the £540m a year budget the COI is responsible for will need to be slashed. Measures include a 15% cut to the Government's 6,848 comms headcount that’s about 1,000 people), on top of a 67% cut to Government marketing staff (roughly 1,310 jobs). The COI itself has already slashed its own headcount by 40% since the last Election.

But while the COI may be going, Government communications are obviously not going to be axed completely. Instead, the COI, which has been around for 60 years, will be replaced with a new body, the (admittedly less Orwellian-sounding) Government Communications Centre. The new centre will have a wider remit, and be responsible for ensuring Government advertising spend ‘is concentrated in fewer areas of focus and to targeted audiences’ so that ‘the Government is not aiming multiple messages at the same audience’. Which sounds fair enough.

But with a pared-down budget, who will fund campaigns like the much-loved Change4Life? Well, the recommendations also propose forming a ‘common good communication council’ that’s separate from the Government ‘but supported by’ it. The council would be made up of agencies, media companies and voluntary and community organisations that would ‘work together for free or near free on campaigns for the common good’. Which is all very Big Society – but considering Government campaigns contribute huge amounts to the coffers of the ad agencies that create them (the Change4Life campaign, for example, cost the Government £75m over three years), we wonder how many will be enthusiastic to donate their efforts – whether it’s for the ‘common good’ or not…

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