Martin Reeves, president of council leaders group the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE), said local authorities were facing a critical six months in which to make the most of their existing PR teams ahead of further budget cuts.
‘We have examples of first-class practice, but we are having to fundamentally change what local authorities are about. At the moment, we’ve got a very mixed bag,’ said Reeves, who is also Coventry City Council CEO. ‘There is still a lot of very traditional work going on and we’re nearing a crucial six-month period in terms of having the debate about where we go from here.’
Reeves highlighted ongoing cost-cutting, which the Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast will lead to 900,000 public sector job losses between 2010 and 2018. Pointing to an even tougher 2013 and 2014, he said authorities had to start sharing best practice and collaborating as soon as possible.
Reeves warned of the folly of remaining static in the face of the ‘biggest challenge ever’ presented by budgets being slashed and major reforms in areas such as welfare and health.
‘What will end up happening as resource for comms continues to erode, is the trust between local authorities and their stakeholders will grow weaker and we could get disconnect,’ he said.
‘There’s been a shift. In the past, by and large, PR and media activity has been to ensure local authorities are able to have conversations, protect their reputations and let people know what is going on.
‘The future of comms is not about an authority, but about the place it is in and that must be reflected in a far more collaborative approach. Those with a stake in an area need to share an aspiration and drive singular conversations on that basis.’
SOLACE has been working with LGcommunications and the Local Government Association to help reassess messaging in the changing public sector landscape.
Local authorities praised by Reeves for leading the way in best practice include Westminster, Leeds and Sheffield city councils.