Public sector PR must be nurtured carefully

This year has seen some truly outstanding examples of public sector PR. In terms of sheer creativity and effectiveness, few private sector campaigns have matched Greenwich Council's drive to improve the eating habits of local children, most notably through its involvement in Channel 4's Jamie's School Dinners.

Equally, the response of London's emergency organisations, hospitals and transport services to the terror attacks of 7 July showed unseen levels of professionalism at a time of confusion and frantic demand for information.

But celebration of a new, golden era for public sector communicators would be somewhat premature. This week we report that internal comms experts have been drafted into two major government departments - HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions - where job cuts are planned (p 6).

Both culls, part of the civil service reform programme, will involve restructures of the very comms divisions that are expected to maintain morale and articulate controversial areas of policy.

Our feature this week (p 27) examines some of the pressures that bear down on public sector PROs - not least the fact that their work is minutely scrutinised, and the sensitive issues with which they deal are often seized on by scandal-hungry hacks.

But it also reveals the calibre and determination of many of the people now employed within this area. Despite the pressures, public sector PROs often express exceptional devotion to their organisations and to their work.

Thanks to the growing potency of the state under New Labour, and the administration's passion for presentation, public sector PR has been one of the fastest-growing areas of the industry in this millennium.

Let's hope that the same politicians recognise some of the sterling achievements here. And the media, while quite rightly scrutinising, will also take account of the unique pressures these PROs are now under.

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