Spotted in Francis Maude’s article on Comment Is Free yesterday (8 Feb 2010):
Then came the first instance of Labour breaching the impartiality of government’s communications; we discovered that “Building Britain’s Future”, a brand conceived and promoted by the civil service, is used extensively on the Labour party’s website.
From PR Week article dated 29 October 2009:
Whitehall comms experts have denied any revolt. Permanent secretary for government communications Matt Tee insisted Building Britain’s Future was a government brand, and said he would ensure it was not used by the Labour Party… ‘I am clear that Building Britain’s Future is a government brand – if we reached a position when someone else used it, I’d have to consider the risk that citizens could be confused about where the messages are coming from.’
Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) director of comms Russell Grossman said: ‘All civil servants are keen to ensure the line isn’t crossed into political sloganeering. This slogan doesn’t cross that line at all – The Labour Party hasn’t used this.’
And finally, on Puffbox.com in July 2009:
Earlier this week, I saw this… the front page of the Labour Party website. And there it is, right up front – ‘Building Britain’s Future’ in large letters, the same logo in the corner.
Sorry Mr Maude. Sorry PR Week. Sorry Mr Grossman. Sorry Mr Tee.
It’s still there, by the way.
If you take any interest whatsoever in stuff the government puts out, you’ll have seen the Building Britain’s Future logo a lot lately – it’s even replaced the big 10 on the Number10 website‘s header. It’s a cross-department brand intended to show the government has a positive programme of work in these negative times.
It’s a risky strategy, given that we’re less than a year away from a general election – inviting potentially unhelpful use of the word ‘manifesto’ (eg Guardian). And yes of course, it’s sailing close to the wind, like all governments do on occasions. But in and of itself, I don’t have an inherent problem with government packaging its plans for the next year (and beyond) under a pretty logo.
Then earlier this week, I saw this:
That’s the front page of the Labour Party website. And there it is, right up front – ‘Building Britain’s Future’ in large letters, the same logo in the corner.
Now look, I’m not naive. Of course ‘Building Britain’s Future’ is an attempt to reinvigorate the Labour administration. Of course a governing party will always have one eye on its electoral chances, all the more in the final year of the Parliament, all the more when they’re badly behind in the polls. But this is pushing their luck too far.
The BBF website links to the Cabinet Office terms and conditions, which state quite clearly:
Copying our logos or any other third party logos from this website is not permitted without approval from the relevant copyright owner.
So is this an infringement of copyright by the Labour Party? Or a breach of the Civil Service Code, clause 14 – using official resources, specifically graphic design, for overtly party political purposes? Was permission sought to re-use the logo, and was permission granted? (I’ve emailed the Cabinet Office to ask, and will let you know if/how they reply.)
It’s fundamentally wrong that these questions should even have to be asked. Labour should do the decent thing, and get the logo off the website immediately. The Civil Service should think carefully about political impartiality, and stand up in its defence if necessary.
Update, 30 July: I’ve received the following response from the Cabinet Office: ‘We are happy for another website to highlight government initiatives, provided that it is clear that they are government initiatives. The Building Britain’s Future story has been carried by a number of third party organisations in this way.’
That doesn’t quite answer the question I posed, as to whether Labour ever asked permission. And if there’s a page explaining these different usage rules for the Building Britain’s Future logo, exempting it from the standard T&Cs, I haven’t found it.