OPINION: Fresh outlook for local authorities

The last budget from the current Chancellor marks the start of fresh challenges and uncertain times for local authorities. The certainty of a new Prime Minister with a new agenda this summer will require renewed lobbying and effective communi­ca­tions from local government.

In particular the conclu­sions of the Lyons Review with its promise of a supplementary business rate and greater local powers offers tangible reward for local govern­ment, tempered by the know­ledge that implemen­tation is a prize to be won after the next general election.

Over the past five years the localism agenda has given hope to councils that their aspir­ation to build vibrant communities will be met. But any new government will have new ambi­tions and fresh focus. The budget did demonstrate that one hallmark of the new administration will be a dem­and for greater efficiency; to do ‘more for less’.

Corporate services, such as commun­ications, will be an easy target for superficial eff­iciency gains. In response, heads of commun­ica­tions must deploy public relations that eng­ages local MPs as a con­duit to government and offers national case stu­d­ies of effective service provision. The twin chall­enge of demands for efficiency and the drive of a new government means that lo­cal leaders, chief executives and their head of communi­ca­tions need to develop a clear local strategy for lob­bying government and contribute to the Local Govern­ment Association’s national campaign. In turn the LGA needs to move from promoting the mechan­ics of the reputation campaign to prov­iding the business case for efficient commun­ications. 

This means that local authorities need clear comm­­unications plans that predict, promote, partner and prevent. They need to plan ahead and identify opportunities and threats. They must pro­mote the work they do and involve and brief MPs, ministers and shadow ministers about pro­jects.

As we approach the general election local gov­ernment needs to provide brilliant local exam­ples of best practice and deliver great national lobbying to enhance powers and protect resources. In this sense the expected change of Prime Min­ister this summer marks the start of the gen­eral ele­c­tion lobbying campaign for local author­ities as much as it does for Brown, Campbell and Cameron.

Alex Aiken is Head of Communications for Westminster Council

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