Call the COI’s closure what it is: cost cutting

Russell Parsons

Despite the talk of cutting inefficiency and bureaucracy, the motivation behind axing the 65-year old Central Office of Information is simple: penny pinching.

The final nail in the COI’s coffin was hammered in last week by the Cabinet Office, which confirmed what had been recommended by a report into the long-term role of the Government’s marketing and communication earlier this year. The report concluded that the COI was no longer required and should cease to be.

The COI’s procurement task will now be handled centrally with a keen eye on getting the best deal. A strategic board has been set up to cut out duplication of messages, as well as ensuring the purse strings are kept tight so “communications spending in the future will never again get out of hand”.

The departments will handle everything else after successfully fighting off a recommendation that a central pool of marketers would handle most communications.

In addition to keeping a tight rein on spending, the new structure was spun as one that ensured activity would be “transparent, better coordinated and less bureaucratic” going forward.

There is a strong argument for all of what Whitehall is arguing but what has yet to be justified is why a pared down COI could not act as strategic coordinator and purchaser in chief itself.

Those left at the public body had the expertise and savvy to plan and develop activity. They knew the market, the agencies and the way marketing and communications worked.

The body had already slimmed down, losing 40% of its staff last year, it had already shown itself to be ready for the new sober Whitehall world of less money and questioning Treasury officials.

There are many millions less being spent on marketing by a Government that is wielding the axe on budgets wherever it identifies profligacy by the previous administration.

The COI could never be what it was under Labour, there simply isn’t the money. Getting rid of it completely, though, is naked cost-cutting. Closing it cuts out staff, building and operational costs.

It might be that the new structure proves more efficient, but let’s not pretend that it wasn’t also about removing costs from the balance sheet.

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