Friday, 25 April 2008

The Army appoints new PR director

For some time now the Chiefs of Staff and the Government have been saying that the British public need to re-engage with the Armed Forces, that a gulf has opened up between them and that bridges, if not needing to be built, at least need to be repaired. The National Recognition Study was even launched to come up with ways in which the rapprochement could be made, in which the general public could be encouraged to show their pride in and respect for Britain’s Armed Forces and in which the service community would again feel that they are valued and respected.

However, with a just little coaxing from the media, people in towns and cities the length and breadth of the country have been turning out in their thousands to welcome home the guys from Iraq and Afghanistan. At Christmas time thousands of parcels were sent to the troops on the frontline from well-wishers who had no idea who was going to open them but who only wanted to let the guys know that they were thinking about them and that they cared. Millions of pounds have been donated by private individuals to a whole range schemes aimed at raising funds for causes benefitting both current and former servicemen and women.

The Army has recently appointed a new head of public relations. Nick Gurr, the new Director General of Marketing and Communications (DGMC) who will be responsible for the Army’s press office and for overall communications policy and strategy. The new DGMC has already recognised that he does not need to combat negative public feelings about the Armed Forces: “The public love the armed forces and regard them very highly”. What he thinks is lacking is “an understanding of what they do, why they do it and how they do it” and of course that’s true; the public does need to know what the troops are achieving in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo and why so many soldiers are sacrificing their lives in their name.

But the public also wants to know why there continue to be frequent reports of equipment shortages on the frontline; why so many defence projects suffer from expensive delays and overruns; why are service personnel and their families still having to live in slum-standard accommodation; why are compensation payouts so abysmally low. The public wants to know why the Government is failing in its duty of care under the Covenant. And it wants to know because the Government is the agent of the people and its failure means that ultimately it is the people themselves who are failing.Let’s hope that Nick Gurr will bring more openness into the communications between the MoD and the public. The unrestricted flow of information is the lifeblood of democracy. The public’s acquiescence in the governmental direction of public affairs and its management of state institutions depends on the truthful accounting of activities conducted in the name of the people. Such openness will bring more confidence in and achieve a greater consensus about what the forces do, why they do it and how they do it.