Public Sector: Local councils to tackle poor results

Many heads of comms thought last week was the end of the council exam season. Performance assessment scores were released by the Audit Commission showing local performance generally improving.

But this week the new reputation scorecard compiled by the Local Government Association (LGA) for every chief executive will not be good news. It will make many local authorities face up for the first time to poor comms performance.

It will bring into stark contrast the gap between the relatively high scores of many individual services and the lower reputation achieved by the council as a whole. This is in part due to the system of measurement. The Audit Commission focuses on assessing individual services, while the issues that drive overall reputation, such as perceived value for money and the effectiveness of comms, are less well measured. Of the 13 top rated councils, at least six are less than impressive communicators.

If you are one of those authorities identified by the LGA as being a poor performer, you need to talk to your leaders, identifying goals and then setting performance measures.

You must unify a disciplined central team, rather than continuing the model of decentralised comms, practised by around half of councils.

The chief executive of Stockport Council recently set out five roles he believed comms teams should offer - managing the brand, handling reputation, promoting internal change, running external campaigns and facilitating community consultation.

This is wise advice but the leader of the same council also offered a sixth ingredient: 'passion for the area'. This is often lacking from local communicators, perhaps as a result of a fear of entering the political fray. But it is essential if we are to be credible advisers to the leadership.

It is a credit to local government that it is undergoing this process of self-assessment. The daily challenges of managing a city or county are immense. Following the lead of local government, it is now time for an assessment of central government comms to test whether they really offer value for money. Those reports would make interesting reading.

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