Luke Blair: Localism provides interesting challenges

The new drive towards this thing called localism poses some interesting challenges for communications professionals in the public sector.

Luke Blair: 'The public sector PR department as it is now will no longer exist'
Luke Blair: 'The public sector PR department as it is now will no longer exist'

Localism in theory means that more services are delivered locally, away from central government control, and more autonomy is handed down to the borough, district or even parish level.

The enormous organs of state in Whitehall will loosen their reins so that delivery becomes the responsibility of tiny micro-units taking on services at ward-by-ward level.

In this context, how will communications work? Is each local area going to commission its own communications professional, working within a small community neighbourhood?

Are bunches of communities going to outsource their communications to small, expert PR outfits, some of them perhaps set up as social enterprises?

The answer I think is that all of that will happen. But I also think localism will mean no single person, unit or department being responsible for communications any more.

As services become delivered at an ever more local level, and local people themselves become more and more responsible for what they themselves want, and commission, so too will communications become the responsibility of everyone.

After all, why should a local newspaper talk to a press office when the service it wants to know about is being delivered by a specific community, on its own terms, with its own quasi-independent elected leaders?

Surely the people to talk to will be those leaders themselves, directly?

There will no longer be any point in a bolted-on unit through which all media enquiries, for example, have to pass or be filtered before the service deliverers or policy decision-makers are reached.

Nor will there be any point in a single communications department seeking to create and control messages across a large geographic, party-political or service-based area.

Instead, communications will be seen merely as a skills area or academic subject, in which local leaders will expect to be trained or schooled, as an integral part of doing their job properly.

It will become more of a discipline, part of a range of expert skills, embedded within and espoused by local leaders, and less of an occupation, vocation or calling in itself.

Of course, there will always be those who are better communicators than others, and many public sector leaders, whether at national, regional or local level, will still need to rely heavily on professional communicators who are better at doing it than they are.

But I believe the gradual breaking down of the old barriers, departments and silos of government, driven by a powerful combination of the economic climate we are in and this new thirst for localism, will see the old, traditional public sector structures breaking down as well.

The public sector PR department as it is now will no longer exist. New models will be found, more rooted in local communities, and more embedded with local people.

Localism could spell the death of public sector PR as we know it, and the rise of a new, more localist brand of community PR.  

Luke Blair is a director at the London Communications Agency

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