Alex Aiken on GCS 2017 and the year ahead

Blog post by Alex Aiken

Wednesday 20 December 2017

In this 100th anniversary year of Government Communications, as a profession we can be proud of our achievements and confident of future improvement.

We have successful and award winning campaigns, professional and skilled people that represent the best of a brilliant Civil Service. This year UK Government communications and GCS have been internationally praised (UN, NATO, Arab Media Forum, Eurocom, Club of Venice) and recognised as the leading Civil Service Function by the National Audit Office (March) and again by the Civil Service Functions Survey (October) and topped the Civil Service People Survey engagement score (by profession).

Government communication is a leading and valued profession, our campaigns have demonstrated impact and professional excellence in a changing and challenging environment. From the national launch of the Industrial Strategy, to the demonstrable return on investment from the pensions campaign to global Britain, successful prison officer recruitment and award winning public health work.

Our practice has improved with the Head of News produced Modern Media Operation Guide, the completion of the fourth phase of the Improvement programme and our successful Inspire and Early Talent schemes. Media relations work has had to be effective when faced with daily engagement on Europe, domestically and abroad, and crisis planning including the collapse of Monarch, the Grenfell tragedy and hurricane response work this year.

At my departmental visits in January and July GCS members showed the progress that we are making and highlighted areas of further improvement. As DoCs agreed in September we need to make more effective use of audience insight, refine our evaluation skills and continue to improve our stakeholder engagement and internal communications function.

This year we relaunched the GCS membership offer, GCS Handbook and curriculum through the GCS Story (April) and held our second all members annual skills survey which informs our talent and professional development programme and the new GCS professional development standards. So far this year 1700 places have been offered to GCS members on over 74 Aspire courses and we have launched our pilot webinar programme.

We launched our second GCS Diversity and Inclusion Strategy in July at an event hosted by Chris Skidmore MP, Minister for the Constitution, GCS are the only function to have a live Diversity and Inclusion strategy. Since launch, we ran the pilot schools outreach programme; held the GCS Diversity Internship; welcomed 27 GCS apprentices to departments and agencies (October) and opened recruitment for GCS Fast Stream receiving over 11,000 applications for 2018 entry. Selvin Brown, Leonie Austin and Sam Lister continue to lead this work with dedication and impact.

The sixth annual Government Communication Plan (2017/18) was launched by the Minister for the Constitution at an event for partners and stakeholders held at the FCO on 23 August. This year’s plan collated some 113 campaigns representing circa £500m expenditure. Alongside the profession’s commitment to the Prime Minister’s priority themes, the launch focussed on the need to harness data to better engage with our audiences and GCS commitment to tackle issues of diversity and inclusion were centre stage with inspiring words from GCS apprentices at the event.

In October GCS joined forces with LGComms and LGA for Communications Academy in Leeds and the two day comms event was our biggest and best yet. Over 600 delegates heard from 60 plus speakers at 48 sessions and the Communication Excellence Awards showcasing the very best of public service communication practice. I’m particularly grateful to David Rose and Simon Jones for their leadership of this event.

We have led the way with new thinking about audiences, digital and data through the Engage and Impact programmes and in November embarked on our fifth GCS Improvement Programme. The programme features five distinct projects agreed by the GCS ministerial Board including: Strategic Purpose of Government Communications; Business Partnering; Strategic Engagement; Professional Excellence (including the Engage project) and Emergency Planning communication.

You have built this profession but there is much more to do in 2018, to better serve the public through effective communication, and continually improve our professional practice and our team work. We will recruit nearly 100 apprentices, graduates and interns over the next 12 months, they will be keen to work hard, learn and become effective public servants. To fulfil their potential and that of everyone in the GCS we will need to complete our professional Improvement Programme, overseen by Charlie McBride, conclude the Engage project, which will improve our digital communication, implement our Diversity Strategy and publish and deliver the 2018-19 communications plan – around 140 campaigns including the provision of vitally important public information for people and businesses as we leave the European Union. We’ll also be testing the strength of our professional development with assessments of the standards of training and learning in each department.

Thank you to all GCS members and colleagues across public service for making GCS the best profession. I look forward to working with you all in 2018, to build upon the successes of 2017 and tackle the challenges ahead.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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