Marketing bodies call for ‘swift clarity’ over government’s decision to split DCMS

It is now unclear where responsibility for some of the marketing industry’s top concerns lie, including the digital skills gap, the replacement of GDPR and the online safety bill.

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UK marketing bodies have called for swift “clarity” as prime minister Rishi Sunak splits the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), amid concerns over what the restructure means for the industry’s “most pressing” policy issues.

As part of wider changes to the government’s ministerial departments, the DCMS is to lose responsibility for digital and become the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The “re-focused” department will “recognise the importance of these industries to our economy” and work to further the UK’s position as a leader in the creative arts, the government has said. 

South East Cambridgeshire MP Lucy Frazer has been appointed to lead the department, making her the 11th culture secretary within 10 years. The former barrister had been serving as minister of state for housing and planning since October.

Meanwhile, former culture secretary Michelle Donelan is to head up the newly-created Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, after less than a year in her previous role. Created to accelerate Sunak’s vision of turning the UK into the next Silicon Valley, the department will “drive the innovation that will deliver public services, create new and better-paid jobs, and grow the economy”. 

Changes to the machinery of government which confuse the sectors that power that growth are not ideal.

Rob Newman, ISBA

Two other new departments have also been created, including the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero and the Department for Business and Trade.

It is currently unclear where responsibility for some of the marketing industry’s top concerns will now lie, including the digital skills gap, the UK’s post-Brexit GDPR replacement, the online safety bill and the future of public service broadcasting. According to IPA director general Paul Bainsfair it is understood that the online safety bill will stay in Donelan’s remit, but it is not yet known whether this will include the online advertising programme.

ISBA, the industry body representing advertisers, says it hopes to “swiftly have clarity”.

“Advertising and marketing underpin the UK economy. It is reported that the reshuffle is intended to focus the government on growth, but changes to the machinery of government which confuse the sectors that power that growth are not ideal,” says director of public affairs, Rob Newman.

While he welcomes Frazer as culture secretary, Newman calls the rate at which leadership of the department has changed over the last decade “dismaying”.

“After a period of prolonged instability, it was starting to feel as if politics was settling down into something resembling business as usual, with a focus on policy and government meaningfully engaging with our sector,” he says.

“We are therefore concerned that we appear to be climbing back onboard the merry-go-round – not just in terms of ministerial jobs, but also in terms of government departments.”

A spokesperson for the Advertising Association says the trade body is also awaiting “clarity” on where key policy areas for the advertising industry will sit, but hopes the restructure will provide government with “a laser-focus” on delivering for the industry.

“Whether it is bolstering apprenticeships and the talent pipeline, providing leadership on digital regulation, powering the UK economy, or promoting and growing our £11bn export market, there is plenty of joint work to be done over the coming months and years,” the spokesperson says.

Meanwhile, the Data & Marketing Association (DMA UK) welcomes the creation of a Department for Science, Innovation and Technology and is calling on secretary Donelan to put digital skills development at the top of her priority list.

“Businesses and the people who power them will be key to supercharging sustainable growth across the UK economy, so it’s essential that the government prioritises skills development initiatives to ensure the UK’s workforce can support future innovation and growth,” CEO Chris Combemale says.DMA calls for ‘realistic’ approach to skills development after success of ‘micro-upskilling’ pilot

Last month, Donelan said closing skills gaps among future and existing employees was the DCMS’s “most important priority” for the marketing and advertising industry.

Speaking at the joint Advertising Association, IPA and ISBA LEAD 2023 conference, Donelan said she would “go further” to address the ongoing skills crisis. A former marketer herself, the culture secretary promised to unveil a plan detailing how the government will deliver a “new generation of highly skilled workers” in 2023, while also upskilling the current workforce.

According to a new report from the Advertising Association and industry thinktank Credos, the number of people working in marketing and advertising fell by 14% between 2019 and 2020. Digital and data skills are particularly in demand, while in 2019 there were an estimated 3,500 “hard-to-fill” vacancies across the industry. Skills shortages were reportedly most acute at mid-level and entry-level.

In her time as culture secretary, Donelan oversaw a number of significant U-turns within the department. Most notably, the beginning of 2023 saw plans to privatise Channel 4 abandoned.

Last year she announced plans to replace the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) with a new “business- and consumer-friendly” data privacy regime, after throwing out the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill put forward by the previous government.