8. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he has been consulted or if he has been involved in the rollout of the new communication strategy across government; if the Office of Government Procurement has been involved with the procurement of outside communication services; the amount spent on outside communication services through the Office of Government Procurement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. (Question 47261/17 asked on 09 Nov 2017)
Deputy Dara Calleary: Communications and the communications strategy of the Government is a topic of much interest at the moment. The Minister made an allocation to the Department of the Taoiseach during the budget process which we understand will be used to reform communications within Government. The previous Government made significant investment in film production and that ethos seems to have extended into the Taoiseach’s office in recent weeks as there are more videos from within Government on Twitter than there are episodes of “Coronation Street” at the moment. Could the Minister outline whether the Office of Government Procurement was involved in the process, and how much is being spent by each Department currently on communications and public relations?
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: Following due consideration and discussion, the Cabinet decided that a strategic communications unit, SCU, should be established in the Department of the Taoiseach, based on international best practice, and with the citizen at the centre of its work. I attended one meeting with the SCU, which took place on 19 October. The director of the unit briefed me, the Secretary General and senior officials from my Department on the work of the unit. The director outlined the role it will play in improving effectiveness, efficiency and cross-government co-operation to foster and develop a whole-of-government approach to communications.
The Office of Government Procurement is currently running six procurement processes on behalf of the Department of An Taoiseach in respect of the strategic communications unit. The first is a request for tenders for the provision of research and insight. This was published on the eTenders website on 19 September 2017. The second is a request for tenders for the provision of brand identity and design services. This is being run as a mini-competition under the Office of Government Procurement framework agreement for creative and digital campaign services. The invitation to tender issued at the end of September 2017. The third is a request for tenders for the provision of digital media creative services. This is being run as a mini-competition and went to tender on 26 September. The fourth is a request for tenders for the provision of integrated creative and digital campaign services and also went to tender on 26 September. The fifth is a request for tenders for the provision of media strategy planning and buying services. This went out to tender on 4 October. Finally, a request for tenders for the provision of marketing pitch specialist services, which is a mini-competition, went out to tender on 22 September 2017. All these procurement processes are currently at evaluation stage and no contracts have yet been awarded. Expenditure relating to each of these contracts is a matter for the Department of An Taoiseach.
Deputy Dara Calleary: God be with the days when the leader of the country could look into his heart and know what the people were thinking. The Minister has referred to research and insight, branded entities, digital media creative services, digital campaigning services, media strategies and marketing pitches.
I realise the Minister cannot give me the breakdown of all of this for procurement reasons, but what is the combined amount of money that will be allocated? What is the total amount of money being spent on communications and public relations throughout all Departments?
The Minister has held talks with the new head of the strategic communications unit. The new head is an exceptionally gifted individual who has done an extraordinary service to the State in his work during the 1916 commemorations. Did the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform set him targets for money he might save for the Government in terms of the overall communications bill?
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: I do not have the answer for the Deputy in respect of the total value the State spends on advertising and communications throughout the State. That was not contained in the Deputy’s original question. However, I will get the answer for him. I believe that when I provide the answer, the need for efficiency and streamlining in respect of how we do this work will become apparent.
A wide number of State bodies go out and procure advertising and communications. I am certain that it is possible to secure greater efficiencies than we do at the moment. That is the reason I support the work under way in respect of media strategy planning and buying services as well as the work under way in respect of development, provision of brand identity and design services. Too often, I have seen Ministers from this and other Governments stand up to represent our country with a plethora of organisations behind them, all of which are branded and spending taxpayers’ money separately but all trying to do the same thing.
When I met the head of the strategic communications unit and discussed the matter with him, I made clear to him that one vital area on which we can make progress is how we deliver further efficiency for the State in how we procure advertising and do communications. This is not on behalf of this Government but on behalf of the State. Money can be saved.
Media planning and buying is now a career option in organisations outside Government. Certain people do only this work. It is a whole area of efficiency into which we have to tap to save money. This is vital for how we procure communications to give citizens information to which they are entitled.
Deputy Dara Calleary: Presumably in the establishment of the strategic communications unit, like the establishment of any new Government unit or service, a business case was made. It would have pointed out that the unit could bring its skills to bear in terms of bringing these efficiencies on Government communications. Presumably in the business case savings were projected or figures were presented to the Minister or the Department for sanction of the appointment of all the various people who are part of the unit. Presumably it showed how much it would save or could potentially save. Was a business case presented for the establishment of the strategic communications unit either to the Minister or to officials within the Department by the Department of the Taoiseach? What proposal was presented to sanction the establishment of the strategic communications unit? Did it come from within the Department of the Taoiseach or from another Department?
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: A decision was brought to Government in respect of the matter, and it was one I supported. The recommendation came from the Department of the Taoiseach. I do not believe any other Government body or agency was involved. As part of that there was focus on how much money we are spending on advertising and on the procurement of communication and the opportunity to centralise and do that work in a better way. As I have said to the Deputy, I will come back to him with details on the value of all communication at the moment and the types of efficiencies and opportunities that exist to spend the money better. The figures are available; it is simply that the details were not asked of me today.