It’s not always easy, when you work for an organisation that forces people to hand over at least a grand a year in tax, not to mention extra money for parking permits, planning applications, library fines, business rates and other charges.
And having fleeced the Great British Public of their hard earned cash, what do we do? If the Daily Mail is to be believed we dig up the roads for the sheer hell of it, slap parking fines on innocent people, say no to perfectly harmless leisure pursuits on the grounds of health and safety, fail to take kids into care, leave kids in care for too long, indulge in all manner of pettifogging bureaucracy to justify our ‘gold-plated’ pensions. And the list goes on.
So given this inauspicious backdrop, is there any point in beating the same old drum about all the great things that councils do? Do we have any hope of turning the reputational tide in the age of austerity? As councils are forced to cut service provision, surely our relationships with our citizens will become more strained?
The LGA’s #OurDay tweetathon last month was a fresh effort to illustrate to said British Public, the many and important roles carried out by local councils and the difference they make to citizens’ lives every working day. In numerical terms at least it was a resounding success. A total of 10,161 tweets reached a potential audience of 768,227 people. 3,967 accounts tweeted or retweeted the updates.
But was anyone on the outside really listening? The actual impact of a campaign like #OurDay is difficult to quantify. However, in Hackney, at least, it had at least one measurable, and unexpected, consequence. I had not anticipated what an excellent staff engagement tool it would prove to be. With only a day’s notice, Hackney staff came on board right away, sharing the day to day stories of their working lives.
There was the customer service staff member who helped a 101 year old lady find her birth certificate, the local archivist who found a photograph of a resident’s grandfather’s house that had been destroyed in the Blitz, the community librarian taking craft books to a housebound woman, the council workers who closed a crack house with the local police, the cycle instructors training kids to ride bikes, the registrars performing marriages and civil partnerships, the street sweepers, the graffiti removers, the domestic violence worker helping a woman find safe refuge, and many more.
The feedback we had from staff showed how much they appreciated the chance to shout out about the daily work that they do, and how being part of #OurDay made them feel valued. At a time when staff morale is a serious issue for all local public services, exercises like this, that celebrate the contributions made by everyone in our organisations are very valuable.
And #OurDay did something for me too. The stories I read, not just from our staff in Hackney but from councils up and down the land, were inspirational. They reminded me what a fundamentally important role local government plays in the fabric of British society, what a difference our services make to the daily lives of millions and how we as communicators have an important role to play in promoting those services, widening access to them and in celebrating them.
Now more then ever, when some local authorities are facing almost crippling financial pressures and many of those services are under threat, we should be proud to be banging our municipal drums. The media may be new but our message is as it has ever been: What did the council ever do for you? Quite a lot, actually.
Polly Cziok is Head of Communications and Consultation at the London Borough of Hackney and Acting Chair of the CIPR’s Local Public Services Group
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