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All change at the COI?

08 April 2011

A few years ago, when presenting to the management board at COI, I took in my slightly battered but much treasured copy of The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa. The topic of the moment back then was change. The relevant line from this wonderful novel is of course, "For things to remain the same, everything must change".

Spool forward to March 2011 and with a resounding thump the latest review on the future of direct government communications and the COI lands. It reveals that the next wave of change heading towards me and all my colleagues in government communications will make everything very, very different. Or does it?

Well, after more than 60 years, the COI brand will disappear. Some major strategic issues are finally being addressed - why isn't there an over arching marketing communications plan in place for national government? There will be structural changes too, with people moving and head count reductions. The new GCC will oversee government marketing strategy, assist in maintaining the spending control gateway and provide leadership on strategic partnerships, procurement, evaluation and ROMI. Much to consider - much of it new.

But once you get past the executive summary and into the detailed evidence in the review, some things start to look familiar. There are long overdue improvements proposed. Yet burbling along underneath is that wonderful passive/aggressive civil service havering, evidenced in the sections that detail responses to the future role of the centre.

Views are mixed when it comes to centralising functions such as strategy, planning, delivery and regional services. Here a lack of consensus appears, as senior civil servants realise that the new GCC could subvert the power they wield at departmental level. They will try to resist this, so that things remain the same. Welcome to the brave new world of "leopards, lions, jackals, and sheep - we'll go on thinking ourselves the salt of the earth."

Millie, aged 6, captured the moment perfectly for me on the day the review was published. Trying to explain what her school charity auction night was she said, "It's like a disco, but without the music or the dancing." I could not have put it better myself.

Simon Hughes is director of live events at the COI

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