As the rest of the UK recovers from an overdose of electoral politics and Boris Johnson settles back into Westminster life, London is shaping up for next year’s Mayoral contest. From a PR perspective, it’s always a fascinating election, and whoever wins in 2016 will inherit a city that is undergoing change on a massive scale.
It doesn’t seem so long ago that inner London was a place that people dreamed of escaping from; grimy, crime-ridden, with failing schools and crumbling infrastructure. Now, in a post-2012 Olympics universe, this is a highly desirable global city with property prices to match. London’s low- and middle-income families, unless they are already in secure social housing or bought their property years ago, are being squeezed from the city. In terms of improvements, there are few who would want to turn back the clock on London, but the resulting economic polarisation, and its impact on the people who live here, is a huge comms challenge.
In local government, this kind of thing is very much our problem. We’re not just responsible for clean streets, bins and parks, but for supporting cohesive, confident communities – places that feel good about themselves. Comms has a huge role to play in promoting a positive story of place, celebrating diversity, bringing people together and creating a shared narrative that reflects the values of local people.
In Hackney – a place that has changed beyond recognition in the past decade – we are conducting a major outreach exercise, listening to the views of thousands of people, hearing their opinions on change and how it has affected them. And we’re using comms to listen to other people’s stories, as well as to tell our own, to shape the way we respond to change.
With work such as this, success is hard to measure. It’s not like recycling tonnage or foster-carer recruitment numbers, the usual things that get wheeled out to show the value of good comms to local government. Those things have a direct impact on the bottom line and we can happily tick the box marked ‘ROI’. But how do you measure the impact you are having on the way people feel about where they live, the opportunities available to them or the emotional impact of rapid social and economic change? As resources shrink, it is even more important that we can show the worth of what we do, and these are questions we must work hard to answer.
Local government has a responsibility for the wellbeing of the places and people it serves, and part of that is about forging a confident and coherent story of place in which local people can believe. As next year’s Mayoral hopefuls jostle for position, this problem faces them all: how to create a narrative for a city undergoing such fundamental social change – a story that celebrates London’s successes while acknowledging the profound changes and challenges that success has wrought?
Polly Cziok is head of comms and consultation at the London Borough of Hackney