The public sector has seen huge budget cuts over the past five years with local government cut more than most. One communications head ponders on what the latest cuts mean for those in local government communications.
by Paul Morris
The Chancellor’s spending review hammered another nail in the coffin of local government. As one commentator predicted, several councils will go bust in the next year because there are no more buildings left to sell, services to close, savings to capture or staff to slash.
Our resilience has been stretched to breaking point; enough is enough, was the tone of his message.
This paints both a worrying and confusing picture for our residents, many of whom depend on their local council in one way or another.
As leisure centres, children’s centres, libraries, museums, day centres and other community essentials shrink their offer, or stop completely, where does that leave those people who rely upon them?
There was a time when we offered so many services it was recommended we produced ‘A-Z of services’ guides to help our citizens navigate through them. Now we face the opposite challenge. How do we explain what’s left?
Our challenge as communicators in the coming year is four-fold, in my view...
1 Re-communicating the council’s role and vision in light of a heavily diluted service offer and reduced capability. We need to be honest about our limitations and clarity of message will be important.
2 Engaging our communities better in how they can support us where there are gaps. Build a cooperative spirit and be bold about asking residents to do more. Use people assets like community champions as advocates and message carriers, and give them the tools to do so. Digital will be crucial in this.
3 Emphasising the need for community involvement to build resilience, especially in areas like community safety. Our campaigns must talk more about shared responsibility and being a good neighbour.
4 Work more closely with partners, stakeholders and the private sector to capitalise on channels, share assets and save on resources.
On the last point, we have delivered two campaigns recently for council clients where the cooperation of partners and stakeholders was essential in their success. Mapping stakeholders – both in the public and private sectors - and auditing their printed, people and digital assets at planning stage means you can deliver your messages in a cost effective way. In the campaigns we did, we got access to channels at universities, hospitals, surgeries, businesses, shops, schools, churches as well as the usual public buildings, like libraries and leisure centres. All of these will have websites, intranets, e-newsletters, mailings, blogs, text messaging and other systems to increase your reach and save you cash.
Likewise, they will have people who can act as message carriers, including councillors, and staff who operate in front line roles.
In one campaign, we developed a scheme whereby 100 members of the community were selected to receive training around spotting people impacted by domestic and sexual violence in an effort to build resilience within communities. This means you have an informed network you can then engage with to share news, good practice, messages and support. It’s using the assets at your disposal in different ways.
Council communicators are some of the most talented, creative and resilient people working in PR. We’ll need those qualities now more than ever as our employers get to grips with an uncertain future.
Paul Morris is Head of Creative & Business Development, Lambeth Communications