PUBLIC SECT0R: Bigger may not be better for council comms units

The size of a council's communications function is a poor basis for

judging its ability to communicate, according to Government research to

be published next year.



The study of 14 councils' communications departments is being conducted

by pollsters Mori for the Department of Transport, Local Government and

the Regions, under that department's junior minister, Nick

Raynsford.



It is being carried out in conjunction with the Local Government

Association, the Improvement and Development Agency and the Audit

Commission.



Sources at Mori compiling the list of councils whose teams will be

analysed, said it was already becoming clear that 'there is little link

between size of a communications team and ability to function well'.



Mori director of social research Ben Page said: 'We are investigating

all 14 in great detail and trying to understand common factors in good

communications. It's already plain that you need a basic team of staff,

but that over and above a certain bare minimum - say, five people -

there is very little correlation between expenditure and

effectiveness.'



Marina Pirotta, founder of MPC - one of two public sector firms that, at

the end of the process will be paid by the DTLR to advise the poorly

communicating councils - said that often vast sums of money are wasted

on ineffective communications technologies.



Representatives of the combined bodies this week agreed the final list

of authorities to be assessed. They comprise eight that are thought to

set 'a good example' and six that, in the words of one source close to

the process, 'face major challenges'.



Camden Council in London, Birmingham and Poole in Dorset are thought to

be among the 14 selected for assessment, but no names were released from

the list of underperforming councils.



The assessments will be used as case studies in a communication toolkit

to be put out for consultation early next year. A final draft will be

published at the LGA conference in July.



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