Friday, 9 March 2012

Why does the government need expensive branding?

I've just been over on the DMossEsq blog enjoying the item, "Reading the Riot Act at the Cabinet Office", which I strongly recommend: it's a terrifying critique of the delusional thinking behind the attempt to force us all to use online government services in the near future (when, as DMossEsq points out, ten million of us aren't even online yet). Following the link provided to the Government Digital Service website I discovered that the service's shoutline (strapline, logo, slogan, descriptor, proud boast, whatever) is: Putting the public first in delivering digital public services.

Tosh like this always reminds me of an old Harry Enfield sketch featuring a parody of early TV advertising for an imaginary washing powder, Sudso, whose slogan is Sudso - It Washes Clothes! In this instance, I should have thought that a better slogan for the Government Digital Service might have been: Wasting Your Money Because We're Completely Out of Our Depth.

By trying to ape the marketing strategies of private sector companies, the twits who came up with GDS's slogan beg the following question - who the hell else, apart from the public, could they imagine "putting first" in delivering digital public services? The nation’s pets? The private sector companies who will be making an absolute fortune from setting up services that won't work? The public sector employees who "work" on these services? (I'd put my money on the last one, actually.)

I am sick of those who work in government pretending it's all wildly exciting and cutting-edge and sexy. It isn't meant to be any of those things. It's meant to be dull and solid and dependable, because we are all affected by what these people do: we don't want massive ambition and frenzied experimentation from civil servants. And if their aim is to pick up awards at trendy technology industry gatherings, they should resign and join the private sector, where they’ll be gambling with shareholders’ money – not ours

The GDS slogan had me trawling the web to see how other bits of the government are selling themselves. Of course, why they feel the need to market themselves remains a mystery – as DMossEsq points out, it’s not as if we can choose to use a competing service. And who paid for all these ridiculous branding exercises (actually, it was you and me, as usual)? 

The majority of departments and agencies either have no slogan or mission statement, or opt for a purely descriptive one along the lines of Sudso (for instance, Business Gateway tells us it offers Practical information and help for Scottish businesses – dull, and probably inaccurate, but how else would we know what they're meant to be up to?)

Here’s a selection of those departments and agencies that have decided to waste our money bigging themselves up:

The Department of Transport: Our vision is for a transport system that is an engine for economic growth, but one that is also greener and safer and improves quality of life in our communities. They really must have been on hallucinogens when they came up with this drivel. 

ACAS: Promoting employment relations and HR excellence – well, no, you’re a bunch of self-important lefties who’ve done your best to keep alive the industrial relations model which made the 1970s such a glittering decade for British prosperity.

Treasury Solicitors Department: Law at the heart of government – Er…? 

CPS - Fair, fearless, effective – And there we all were thinking they were unfair, cowardly and hopelessly ineffective - I presume the police don't call it the "Can't Prosecute Service" for no reason.

Equality and Human Rights Commissioncreating a fairer Britain. Oh Lord! Don’t get me started!

Food Standards Agencysafer food, better business. I think most of us could have guessed that their job wasn’t to make the food we eat less safe: the agency’s title sort of provides a bit of a hint. As for “better business”, what’s that doing there?

Ofgempromoting choice and value for all gas and electricity customers. They really have got to be kidding!

GCHQ - GCHQ provides intelligence, protects information and informs relevant UK policy to keep our society safe and successful in the Internet age. Huh? I thought they were spies.

Health and Safety Executive HSE’s job is to prevent people being killed, injured or made ill by work. To comment would be the equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel, and I refuse to stoop that low.

Department for International Development - We lead Britain's fight against global poverty, delivering UK aid around the world. This isn’t a slogan. I found it in the  “what we do” tab. And I’m not sure it makes sense, because India, after we’d given the country £293m of our money, turned round and said they didn’t need the aid, and promptly awarded a juicy military contract to France. 

No wonder the NHS is in such a mess. Visit their website and it’s called NHS Choices (well, I suppose we could choose to go private) and the slogan is Your health, your choices. Answers on a postcard, please, to Scott Grønmarkwriting stuff to create a warm, cuddly, loving, perfect world…

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