Seeing red: Local government needs to regain trust, not lose it

Stop telling us to 'spin' says Cormac Smith, chairman of LGcommunications.

Cormac Smith: chairman of LGcommunications
Cormac Smith: chairman of LGcommunications

I love my work in local government, but my job – like any other – has its frustrations. Here are two that make me cross on a regular basis.

Being asked to ‘spin’ is one of them. It used to be that ‘spin’ was an industry insider’s term and not in the lexicon of the public at large. But thanks to a new breed of political communicators from the mid-90s onwards the term entered common usage and quickly became synonymous for all that was rotten and dishonest. The very concept of spin was subsequently responsible for a significant undermining of trust.

So why oh why do supposedly intelligent people ask me and my colleagues to put ‘a good spin’ on everything from staff redundancies or cuts in local services to simply explaining ineptitude or bad behaviour?

We must not do spin – can’t you get it through your heads? The public is on to you, your own staff are on to you, and you are simply losing their trust.

Good communication is not a panacea for bad news. Used honestly and consistently it can help build trust and understanding, but we must back up our words with actions.

The other thing is that everyone is now a comms expert. Local government is a unique environment where dozens of professions work side by side to provide services for local people.

I would never dream of telling an environmental health officer, transport engineer or social worker how to do their job.

Why, then, do so many of these people think they understand comms and, every day, come to me and my colleagues with their preconceived and misbegotten ideas about how they think we should communicate on behalf of them and the organisation?

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