Swingeing COI job cuts mean the end of the road for state-bankrolled “nudge”

It’s difficult not to sympathise with Mark Lund, chief executive of COI, as he contemplates the grim future facing his department.

When I interviewed him for Marketing Week last year, it was clear he accepted that substantial cuts were on the way. But even he, hands newly on the helm of one of the UK’s largest advertisers, can have little dreamt that, rather than circumnavigating a few reefs, he and his crew were going to be driven onto the rocks by a team of professional wreckers (aka Francis Maude and the Cabinet Office).

“Decimation” does not do justice to the future of the COI. Its fate is four times worse than that, with 40% of its staff expected to lose their jobs. That’s 287 people out of 737. Everyone is going into consultation, and that includes Lund himself.

He may not lose his job, but he might well wish he had done. For what is the COI’s role likely to be, post “restructuring”? It will, of course, continue to be a significant media buyer and specialist marketing services consultancy by appointment to Her Majesty’s departments of state. But gone, to all intents and purposes, is the higher strategic mission of reforming society through a lavishly-funded behavioural economics programme (or “nudge,” to put it in the vernacular). The budgets have simply vanished. And so, soon, will the people capable of managing them.

Might they ever come back? If they do, Maude’s axe-wielding makes it clear it won’t be any time soon. This is the really bad news for COI roster agencies, who may have interpreted the draconian restrictions imposed earlier this year as merely a temporary measure, to be relaxed once the economy ticks up. Maude, minister of the Cabinet Office, has made it abundantly clear that this Government is not an adherent of taxpayer-sponsored “nudge”. The days of “wasteful and unnecessary spend on marketing and advertising” and “spending millions of pounds on expensive projects are over,” he tells us.

Over, that is, until the next general election campaign in about four years’ time, when the Government will suddenly find the urge to trumpet all its achievements. But COI culture will have been so traumatised, and its skills so bled, that I doubt it will be up to the challenge by then. The surge, when it comes, is more likely to emanate from the marcoms teams within the departments of state that contract themselves to the COI. Richly ironic if so, because these self-same teams have – for the past ten years – fought an intermittent and losing battle with the COI over mastery of the budgets.

2 Responses to Swingeing COI job cuts mean the end of the road for state-bankrolled “nudge”

  1. […] Nowhere, right now, is the fallout more visible than in the marketing communications community, which is savouring the bleak disparity between political rhetoric and reality encapsulated in permanently truncated public sector budgets and a crippled COI. […]

  2. […] Clearly the future of the Central Office of Information, which has been around since 1946, is even more precarious than I – or I suspect its chief executive Mark Lund – had imagined. […]

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