It seems to me that the agenda of co-operative working, sharing services and, where possible, saving money, should be about a great deal more than structures and tiers. Communication has a vital role to play in helping to forge and sustain effective partnership working, and in making things easy for local people.
The time has come to go further, by seizing the agenda and beginning to deliver more effective PR across traditional boundaries. Even if we only look at English local government, there are 238 district councils and 34 county councils with overlapping geographic areas. They are funded and governed separately to carry out different functions, but to what extent should they always appear to be competing? Does every one need its own residents’ magazine or its own press office, for instance?
When we add the 43 police forces and 376 ‘crime and disorder partnerships’, 47 fire and rescue authorities, 130 Primary Care Trusts, and other bodies, you might begin to see where this is going.
There are, of course, good examples where functions are beginning to be shared, and perhaps it is time for comms professionals to stop fighting their own corner and think more about pooling expertise, jointly procuring supplies and services, and sharing resources to provide real value for money. Some are beginning to lead the way, but more need to follow.
Over the next year, NHS Primary Care Trusts and local authorities will be expected to consult on the establishment of Local Involvement Networks – a further example of the need for joined-up communication. Regardless of how the debate around local government restructure is resolved, this has got to be the way forward.
If local government and other public bodies want to enjoy real autonomy from central government, then this kind of work must be got right. And where better to start than communications?
Lorraine Langham is co-founder and managing director of Verve Communications.