Resist the cuts

Central and local government has invested significantly in communications over the past decade, but in 2006 the agenda will shift from quantity to quality.

Local government faces a particularly tough grant settlement. The Gershon efficiency reviews are in full swing, and council chiefs will be demanding more for less to meet harder performance tests.

Communications will come under close scrutiny as budgets come under pressure – and it will be an easy budget cut to make unless we can demonstrate value for money. I'd offer three tests to meet the efficiency challenge this year.

First, can you demonstrate how you add value? For example, Cheshire County Council is getting its senior management board to agree a dozen campaigns for the coming year, giving clarity to desired outcomes. Too often, plans list vague commitments such as 'influencing the public', rather than smart objectives such as increasing recycling or foster care .

Second, could you share comms services with another authority? The joint marketing work in Derbyshire between the county council and district authorities offers a model. And the council/police partnership in Richmond-upon-Thames shows how the latter can engage with the community via council expertise.

Third, does the structure of your comms reflect best practice? Hillingdon Council is disbanding departmental teams because it recognises that centralised comms delivers focus and value for money, saving the authority £200,000. Before the changes, departmental communicators outnumbered the central team: a product of job creation rather than rigorous planning. 

These are all realistic objectives for local government PROs, and unless we deliver efficiencies they will be forced upon us as the climate for public services gets tougher.

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