Public Sector: Study shows communication crucial for council reputations

Councils' ability to communicate with their residents is more important than the quality of individual services in determining overall satisfaction levels, an exhaustive new study reveals.

The Local Government Association (LGA) study also indicates that government-backed participation schemes giving residents more control over council budgets have less impact than council press offices.

The LGA analysed best-value performance indicators from England's 388 councils and concluded that good information services are the key to high satisfaction levels.

LGA reputation campaign manager Ben Dudley said: 'The councils with the strongest reputations have one thing in common: they also score in the top ten in each council category for how well informed residents feel they are.'

Meanwhile, just half of the councils with the strongest reputations fall into the top ten for quality of services.

'Councils are always focused on improving services, but in terms of raising resident satisfaction, it has little to do with it,' said Dudley. 'We need to be better at communicating to people. It's not about spin.'

The LGA's analysis of the best-value performance indicators found that overall satisfaction among residents across all councils ranged from 43 per cent to 77 per cent.

The district council with the highest satisfaction rating is also the one whose residents feel best informed. But when it came to services, that council was placed 93rd out of all 238 district councils.

In addition, the county council with the highest satisfaction rating came joint third for informing its residents. However, that council was also in the bottom half of the table for services.

The LGA would not disclose the names of the councils concerned.

The research appears to call into question the value of communities secretary Hazel Blears' plans to bring participatory schemes to all councils, giving residents a say in how council budgets are spent. It shows that participation is 15 per cent less of a factor in satisfaction than communication.

The research ties in with the LGA's reputation campaign, which has been set up following findings that council reputations have gone down across the board during the past three years.

A recent study by communications consultancy Karian and Box could indicate one reason for the decrease in reputation.

The study, entitled LG07, showed that only a third of council communicators play an active role in advising on policy, while 80 per cent are focused primarily on managing publications.

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