Britain's second largest advertiser – the government – aims to impose a more professional approach to state-funded advertising by the Civil Service.

Cabinet Office minister Douglas Alexander announced Thursday that COI Communications (the administrative interface between the government and its roster of advertising and marketing agencies) is to test the media buying market over the next year. This is intended to ensure that campaigns are bought cost-effectively and within a unified media framework.

However, insiders say the move is also meant to end the internecine warfare that erupted last year between the COI and the Department for Transport after the latter set up its own creative agency roster and media buying arrangements.

At a meeting Thursday, attended by COI chief executive Alan Bishop, head of the Government Information and Communication Service Mike Granatt, DfT communications director Charles Skinner, and Dick Emery, chairman of the Advisory Committee on Advertising, it was agreed that the DfT's existing agency contracts would run to the end of their term.

As a tradeoff, however, the breakaway will return to the fold next year following the media review. Asked for evidence that its solo stance had provided a better deal for taxpayers, the DfT’s Skinner got all coy, claiming that the details were “commercially confidential”.

The COI is believed to have spent around £160 million ($255.04m; €227.65m) of taxpayers’ money in 2002 – slightly less than 2001 when it overtook Procter & Gamble as the nation’s biggest ad spender. However, the 2002 data will exclude part or all of the DfT’s adspend.

Data sourced from: BrandRepublic (UK); additional content by WARC staff