Call for change in handling council reputation at LGcommunications Academy

A long-term campaign to boost the reputation of councils and improve customer satisfaction is failing, a comms expert has claimed.

Richard Stokoe: London Fire Brigade’s head of comms
Richard Stokoe: London Fire Brigade’s head of comms

At this week’s LGconference Academy, London Fire Brigade’s head of comms Richard Stokoe hit out against ongoing efforts to improve opinion around public services.  

Warning of further possible redundancies in the sector, he argued that comms teams should be downplaying expectations of what a local council can provide.

Stokoe was speaking at the three-day conference in Birmingham organised by the association representing comms in local government.

To a packed conference hall Stokoe said that the campaign, launched by the Local Government Association and taken forward by LGcommunications had not delivered.

‘I was one of the people saying how great the campaign was going to be but I was wrong – seven years of the reputation campaign has not worked,’ he said.  

The campaign is based around key rules, including building trust and confidence among the public and showing that local governments are improving services.

However, Stokoe claimed local government voting results showed apathy remained high, with voters picking candidates on national party lines rather than local issues.

He also pointed to drops in calls to his fire teams during a well-publicised strike as an example of the public acting more responsibly when it knew it could not rely upon the service.

In the light of swingeing local government cuts, he argued that lower expectations of services meant that people looked after themselves, and were impressed when these expectations were surpassed, he said.

Following the talk,  LGcomms’ newly elected chairman Cormac Smith agreed with Stokoe's message around expectation management but disputed that reputation was not important.

‘We’re over-promising and under-delivering. If anything we need to under-promise and over-deliver,’ he said.

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