Government Communications - Communications Committee Contents


The implementation of the Phillis Review of government communications

The House of Lords Select Committee on Communications is announcing today an inquiry into the implementation of Sir Bob Phillis' 2004 review of government communications. The Independent Review of Government Communications, chaired by Bob Phillis, was published in January 2004. It is available at:

This will be a relatively short inquiry focusing on whether the recommendations were adopted by the Government and whether the changes that have been made effectively underpin the principles that the review was based on.

The Committee would welcome evidence on the following question:

Has the implementation of the reforms of government communications since the Phillis Review resulted in a more effective system of communication and underpinned the principles set out in the report?

The principles set out in the Phillis Review are:

  • Openness, not secrecy.
  • More direct, unmediated communications with the public.
  • Genuine engagement with the public as part of policy formation and delivery, not communication as an afterthought.
  • Positive presentation of government policies and achievements, not misleading spin.
  • Use of all relevant channels of communication, not excessive emphasis on national press and broadcasters.
  • Co-ordinated communication of issues that cut across departments, not conflicting or duplicated departmental messages.
  • Reinforcement of the Civil Service's political neutrality, rather than a blurring of government and party communications.

Summary of Phillis Review Recommendations

The twelve main recommendations of the Phillis Review are listed for the information of those responding:

(1)  A redefinition of the role and scope of government communications

    "Our central recommendation is that communications should be redefined across government to mean a continuous dialogue with all interested parties, encompassing a broader range of skills and techniques than those associated with media relations. The focus of attention should be the general public" (page 12).

(2)  A strong central communications structure

    "We have recommended, and the government has already accepted, a new structure, led by a new Permanent Secretary, Government Communications who will be Head of Profession, provide strategic leadership for communications across government and build a new and authoritative communications service within government. The Prime Minister's Senior Official Spokesperson will report to the Permanent Secretary, Government Communications, and will work alongside the Prime Minister's Director of Communication" (page 12).

(3)  Strong, integrated departmental communications structures

    "We found inconsistencies between departments on the significance attached to the communications function. We recommend that, led by the Director of Communication, each department's communications activity must clearly contribute to the achievement of the department's overall policy aims and objectives" (page 15).

(4)  Disband the Government Information and Communication Service (GICS)

    "We found structural and systems weaknesses that diminished the work of many able staff within GICS. These weaknesses made GICS no longer fit for purpose. We recommend that the government adopt a new approach and structures, replacing the existing network with a wider definition of communications professionals encompassing all those involved in communication activity and led by the new Permanent Secretary, Government Communications" (page 17).

(5)  Greater emphasis on regional communication

    "Research told us the public want information that is more relevant to them and where they live. We recommend that more investment should be made in communicating at a local and regional level and more communication activity should be devolved into relevant regional government or public service units" (page 18).

(6)  Recruitment and training to raise professional standards and maintain Civil Service impartiality

    "We found inconsistency in recruitment and inequality in training opportunities. We recommend that all communication specialists should be recruited to the same high standards. All those involved in communications should have training that allows them to perform in a professional and effective manner. Ministers should not be involved in the selection process for communications professionals during open, external competitions" (page 19).

(7)  New rules governing the conduct of special advisers and defining more clearly the boundaries with the Civil Service

    "We accept the role of special advisers but found a lack of clarity in their relationship with civil servants. We recommend that new propriety guidelines and induction training should be developed by the Permanent Secretary, Government Communications to cover all those involved in communication, including special advisers. The principle of Civil Service impartiality must underpin these guidelines" (page 21).

(8)  Effective implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000

    "We found a culture of secrecy and partial disclosure of information which is at the root of many of the problems we have examined. We recommend that, when implementing the main provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, the overriding presumption should be to disclose" (page 23).

(9)  Clearer rules for the release of statistical information

    "We found cases of selective release of information and lack of clear timetables as to when information was to be released. We recommend that core central government statistical information should be automatically, routinely and systematically made available, with schedules published in advance and strictly observed. There should be a new statute to define a clear remit for the National Statistician and the Statistics Commission" (page 24).

(10) A new approach to briefing the media

    "We found that the lobby system is no longer working effectively for either the government or the media. We recommend that all major government media briefings should be on the record, live on television and radio, and with full transcripts available promptly online. Ministers should deliver announcements and briefings relevant to their department at the daily lobby briefings, which should also be televised, and respond to questions of the day on behalf of the government" (page 25).

(11)Customer-driven online communication

    "We found that, although significant resources are being devoted to government websites, the impact has been diluted by a lack of integration within departments and across government. We recommend that the central government website should be redesigned to meet the needs and perceptions of users, with individual departments only becoming "visible" when this makes sense to the users. Information on local public services should be prominent and easily found. There should be increased investment in websites to reflect the increasing importance of this method of communication" (page 26).

(12) A reappraisal of the relationship between politicians and the media

    "We found a three-way breakdown of trust between politicians, the media and the general public. We recommend that politicians and the media should consider the extent to which their behaviour might support or undermine the objective of these recommendations—to help restore public trust in legitimate government communication" (page 26).

7 July 2008

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