Public Sector: Richmond promotes Smith amid tax fight

The London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames has made Cormac Smith its comms chief as it tries to boost government funding and relieve residents' council tax burden.

The former deputy head of comms, who took up the post this week, said: 'We feel Richmond gets a bad deal from the Government in terms of funding.

Our residents have the highest council tax in London and the lowest government grant settlement.'

Richmond has to raise 50 per cent of its revenue through council tax - on average, councils have to raise 25 per cent, according to Smith.

'There is a perception that Richmond residents are affluent and do not need services. but there are pockets of deprivation,' he said.

As part of a unique arrangement, the council outsourced its comms team to Westminster City Council in April 2003.

Smith was seconded from Westminster, where he was a press officer, from the start of the deal, but remains a paid employee at Westminster and continues to report to its head of communications, Alex Aiken.

Aiken covered the head of comms role at Richmond since the PR team was outsourced following a critical Audit Commission inspection in 2003.

Smith will manage Richmond's seven-strong communications team until the contract, worth £400,000 a year, ends in May 2006.

At this point, the contract will either be extended, put out to tender or taken in-house, according to Smith.

If Westminster fails to retain its contract, Smith said he would not necessarily return to its team.

'I hope to be in the frame whatever happens but the objective is to retain this contract for Westminster,' he added.

Smith is in charge of internal and external comms and tourism and film marketing.

Richmond has previously been the location for blockbusters such as Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, The Hours and Iris.

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