12 July 2021

Why government communications matter

James Hawthorne, chair of the PCS Ofwat branch, explains why we must all stand up for government communications workers

Government communications matter. From the founding of the NHS to the introduction of the minimum wage, civil service communications staff have played an important role in keeping citizens informed of changes that affect them.

Today, thousands of comms professionals work across dozens of civil service organisations, and many of them are PCS members.

Last July these members learned – via leaks to the media – that their job security was under serious threat. The leaks revealed a plan to cut all civil service comms teams to a maximum of 30 staff per department, and bring all staff into a ‘single employer’ rather than being employed by their department.

Sleepless nights

The uncertainty, worry, and sleepless nights that these leaks caused among our members can hardly be overstated. As the gutter press sought to smear these members as overpaid ‘spin doctors’, PCS took up the fight to protect their jobs and conditions.

At a national level, PCS and the other civil service unions entered negotiations with the Cabinet Office around the scope and timeline of the proposed changes. And at employer level, group and branch officials engaged with departments to understand how the project would affect them.

These negotiations have succeeded in forcing the Cabinet Office to drop many of the most troubling aspects of their proposals. The idea of a single employer model has been ditched, and the 30 staff maximum has been hugely watered down.

But the threat is not over yet and we must be vigilant. Over the last 10 years, our comms members have been subjected to wild mood swings from the centre of government: from increased decentralisation, to No. 10 power grabs, and back again. We have no reason to doubt that these proposals won’t come back again in future, and it’s possible that comms staff will continue to face the threat of job losses as the government plots a new wave of austerity on departmental budgets in the coming years.

At this year’s national PCS conference, delegates voted overwhelmingly in support of a motion calling for the union to keep up negotiations and continue standing up for comms staff. By standing together, our members communicate a message loud and clear: it’ll take more than a few leaks to break us.

If you work in government communications, join PCS online today.