Councils finalise plans to pool comms resources to save money

Councils across the country are pressing ahead with plans to achieve efficiency savings by sharing comms functions.

Wielding the knife: Osborne's review left councils reeling
Wielding the knife: Osborne's review left councils reeling

With much of the public sector still reeling from last week's Comprehensive Spending Review, council comms teams are finalising money-saving plans to pool resources with other local public bodies such as primary care trusts (PCTs) and police forces.

However, there remains uncertainty about how this will work, and many councils plan to combine this model with the Westminster Council 'agency' approach, under which councils sell their comms expertise on the open market to claw back money.

Northamptonshire County Council head of comms and marketing Faye Scadden said partnerships were unavoidable: 'We don't have a choice, for the next financial year anyway.' Northamptonshire is seeking ways to merge comms with those of the police and PCTs, but is also considering moving to an agency model.

Brighton & Hove City Council is proposing a more wide-ranging model that would create a 'comms hub' of local authority, PCT, NHS, council, police and fire services. But head of comms John Shewell remains in the dark about the final set-up. He will submit the proposal to the local public sector board on 2 November.

Former Glasgow City Council head of public relations John Brown warned that press officers could struggle to serve several councils simultaneously and credibly with different policies and political masters.

Brown, who now freelances for public and private sector bodies, added: 'It's easy on proactive initiatives, if you want to promote health messages or cycling. But it's much more difficult if there's a tragedy or a problem.'

Councils also believe they can save money on their magazines. Thurrock Council interim head of comms Phil McCusker said his authority was planning to scrap its local publication and instead form a partnership with a local media company.

McCusker said: 'We spend money on advertising, so how do we form a partnership with one of the local media suppliers? We're going to pitch it out now.'

HOW I SEE IT

- Toni McConville, Director of community engagement, Brent Council

We've been looking at how we can save money, and we're expanding the department to include a wider remit and focus on customers and community engagement. We think it's the right model for us. It takes it to the next logical step.

- Faye Scadden, Head of comms and marketing, Northamptonshire County Council

We've worked with the PCT on health campaigns and we want to develop that. You could have joint media teams and separate marketing and internal comms functions, or you could have a joint marketing team but keep media teams separate.

 

£81bn - Cuts to be made across public sector over four years

Source: Comprehensive Spending Review

28% - Cut to local authority budgets over the next four years

Source: George Osborne speech 21 Oct

10-25% - Expected cuts to council comms budgets

Source: PRWeek discussions with comms teams

30% - Cuts to DCLG budget

Source: Comprehensive Spending Review.

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