» Thursday, March 25, 2004

Government Communications/Phillis Review

Asked if Downing Street would agree with the description of the new Permanent Secretary for Government Communications, Howell James, as a ‘professional spin doctor’, the PMOS said no. Mr James was a very talented communications professional. He was joining Government in a senior capacity with a breadth of experience in communications, both in a FTSE 100 company, in an important public service organisation – the BBC, in Government itself and as a partner in a private sector PR agency. The appointment had been made through open competition and by a selection panel which had included the Independent Civil Service Commissioner and the Cabinet Secretary. The universal view of the panel was that Mr James was the best candidate to do the job, and their recommendation had been accepted by the Prime Minister.

Questioned about his own new job, the PMOS said that he was moving posts to become the new Head of Strategic Communications in Downing Street. His colleague (Tom Kelly) would continue to be PMOS and would do the press briefings Monday to Thursday. The Chief Press Officer would do them on Fridays. Both he (Godric Smith) and his colleague (Tom Kelly) would continue to be of equal status, but would do different jobs. Asked if that meant he would no longer be briefing the press, the PMOS said yes. After six long years, he would be hanging up his briefing boots. He joked that when you got to the point of telling your kids that no bedtime was not an option, it was time to do something a bit different. Asked if Head of Strategic Communications was simply Alastair Campbell’s old job with a new title, the PMOS said no. There were two elements to the Communications Directorate: the day-to-day media handling and longer term planning. His focus would be on the latter. Asked where David Hill fitted into the new set up, the PMOS said that Mr Hill would continue to be Director of Communications.

Questioned about the possibility of televised press briefings in the light of such a recommendation from Bob Phillis, the PMOS said everyone had recognised that the Phillis recommendations were sensible which was why we had accepted them. However, it should also be pointed out that the recommendations had also called for more ministerial involvement in briefings – something which we had no doubt all political correspondents would value enormously. We would be taking forward the proposals in due course, and consulting with the Lobby’s representatives.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Search for related news

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