The Government Communication Service (GCS) is the professional body for more than 7,000 public service communicators working in government departments, agencies and arm’s length bodies. Communication is one of the four main levers government has to affect change, alongside legislation, regulation and taxation.
Our membership includes marketing, stakeholder engagement, internal comms, media, digital and social, and operational communications professionals. We work across 25 ministerial departments, 21 non-ministerial departments and more than 300 agencies and other public bodies. We serve the public across the United Kingdom and promote our interests overseas through the network of communicators based at embassies and posts around the world.
Exponential growth of data, rapid transformations in media consumption, fragile public trust and false content, new technology, the need for greater efficiency, and changing societal expectations are creating new opportunities, challenges and ethical questions for GCS.
This strategy is a response to those challenges. Its goals are to help government speak with one voice; harness rapid technological changes for the public good; deliver a more efficient and effective GCS; build public trust in government communications; and retain, attract and develop the best talent.
Pillar 1: Collaboration
The big challenges facing the country, such as levelling up or our response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, can only be tackled together. To foster collaboration and overcome the institutional barriers that prevent joined up communication, GCS needs a shared plan and a central team that aids joint working.
A stronger cross-government communications strategy
We will establish a central strategy and planning function in GCS to develop and support delivery of an annual communications plan and make sure Ministers have clear visibility of campaign delivery and impact. We will build on the use of insight and evaluation during the pandemic to replicate this approach for other priorities. We will use spending controls to challenge expenditure which does not demonstrate an audience-focussed approach, support cross-government objectives, join-up with other departments, support stronger government brands, or show that low cost routes have been fully explored.
A new central GCS operating model
We will restructure and reduce the size of the central team, and introduce a new and more sustainable funding model for GCS. The central GCS team should support collaboration by focussing on the things that it alone can do: strategy and coordination of cross government communications; setting and assuring standards; and providing expert and shared services.
Building stronger networks and improving governance
Building alliances with the private sector will help us to achieve our goals more quickly. We will establish a new GCS external advisory board to make recommendations on strategy and scrutinise campaign value for money and effectiveness. We will leverage external supplier relationships to use their expertise to support our ambitions. We will use ‘red teams’ made up of internal and external experts to challenge conventional thinking and consider radical alternative approaches.
Improving crisis planning and response
Collaboration is most important during a crisis. Government needs to work together, speaking with one voice and working to one plan. We will bring crisis comms capabilities into a central strategy and planning function responsible for crisis plans, horizon scanning, crisis response coordination, and crisis reviews.
Pillar 2: Innovation and Improvement
We need to adopt a culture of continuous improvement, embrace innovation, and learn from best practice to lower costs and increase quality.
Improving digital content
We will develop a central digital comms strategy and model of best practice led by an enhanced digital communications hub in No10. We will drive up the quality and consistency of digital products, and update functional standards to ensure the role of a modern digital team is fully reflected. Data analysis and visualisation needs to be a core competency for government communicators. There are pockets of exceptional broadcast and digital capability within GCS, but these skills overall are in short supply. Every department should have broadcast expertise and we will seek to attract experienced broadcast specialists into GCS to increase this skill.
Harnessing data and innovation to improve impact
Communications campaigns will increasingly focus on techniques which use data to deliver an individual experience, with less use of mass communication. We will publish a GCS innovation strategy to identify the trends shaping the environment for government communications and the key issues for us to solve. The strategy will consider how we could use insight, data, applied AI, and speech technology to interact with the public in new ways. The effective use of data can help personalise and target messages, delivering more relevant, interesting and engaging content to the public. We will establish a virtual GCS Innovation Lab to identify, develop, test, execute and scale system changing innovation for Government Communications and publish a GCS Data Strategy.
Improving efficiency throughout GCS
Efficiency is a positive force, driving innovation and improvement. We will establish a regular data reporting and business planning cycle to challenge departments on how they are driving efficiency and reducing headcount. We will use our data to support departments and ALBs to drive efficiencies through functional standards. The central GCS team will lead by example by designing a smaller but stronger central structure by May. We will reduce government spending on paid for marketing campaigns by encouraging low-cost techniques and joining-up campaigns. We will identify opportunities to rationalise commercial contracts across government to deliver economies of scale.
Maintaining public trust in communication
We will continue to work alongside international partners to take action against misinformation and disinformation. We will take a systematic, evidence- based approach to help build societal and individual resilience. As well as challenging others we have to take responsibility for our own content and behaviour. We will introduce mandatory training on GCS propriety guidance and make it clearer how GCS members can raise a concern. The application of AI in digital marketing raises new ethical questions about privacy, non-discrimination, self- determination and fairness. We will publish a paper on the issues for government communications and review and revise propriety guidance on the application of new technology.
Pillar 3: Great People
Our people are central to achieving our mission. To continue to deliver for the public we need to raise professional standards, attract and retain talent, improve leadership, and create a more diverse and inclusive GCS located throughout the UK.
Developing our people and raising professional standards
We will create a professional accreditation and qualification model and assess all communicators against it to ensure people are operating at the expected standard. We will audit the skills we have now and those we need for the future. We will update the communications functional standard to detail the knowledge, skills and attributes we require of communicators in different disciplines at different levels. We will work with the Government Skills and Curriculum Unit and external partners to create a stronger curriculum and an online learning system to assess capability.
Attracting, recruiting and retaining talent
Our aspiration is for GCS to be a destination of choice for communications professionals. We need to build a more inspiring brand and develop a talent attraction strategy that highlights the unique opportunities available in GCS. We will review our talent programmes to better identify future leaders within GCS, including in ALBs. We will continue our successful apprenticeship and internship programmes which attract a diverse external early talent pipeline. We will develop new entry routes for people in business or the third sector who want to serve in government for a period, and for those in public service to spend time in organisations which are not dependent on public money.
Building brilliant GCS leaders
We will set clear expectations of our senior leaders so that people know what is required of them. This will include launching a new leadership capability framework. We will identify and invest in key skills development for our leaders, providing targeted development to ensure we stay up to date with the latest trends in technology. We will refresh the heads of discipline model to make sure that each communications discipline has clear leadership with responsibility for driving improvement.
Creating a more diverse and inclusive GCS
We cannot communicate effectively with people from across the UK unless we draw our talent from every section of society. Increasing diversity of thought and representation is critical to our operational effectiveness. We will increase the ambition of our diversity and inclusion action plan, setting out realistic but challenging commitments. We will improve the quality of data we collect on diversity. We will make sure government communications campaigns take into account the need to reflect and reach a diverse range of audiences.
Creating GCS careers across all four corners of the UK
81% of GCS roles in central government departments, and the majority of our senior posts, are based in London. Creating more roles outside of London will enable us to better reflect the views of citizens in all parts of the country and widen our talent pool. We will create a GCS location strategy with a target for the number of GCS roles in Whitehall departments to be based outside of London by 2025. We will create GCS hubs where communicators can develop their careers and where communicators from different departments can work together.
Table of commitments
View the GCS Strategy table of commitments with delivery timescales.
Download the full GCS Strategy
Government Communication Service Strategy 2022-25 (PDF, 31 pages – 8MB)