OPINION: Tiers mean tears for co-operatives

Readers of local gover­n­ment press will have seen recent headlines pronoun­cing 'Two tiers go to war', as councils fight among themselves over plans for local authority restructur­ing. No surprises there then. 'Less tiers and more tears' might have been equally apt.

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.

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