Meet the 'credit crunch challenge'

This week the TUC made a brave case for more public spending but this is unlikely to be matched by the promises at the party conferences in the following weeks.

This is in stark contrast with a year ago, when the debate was still around further investment in public services. So, as politicians respond to households whose incomes feel squeezed, there will be more scrutiny of public spending.

This presents local government with a major reputational challenge. Faced with tough funding settlements and increased scrutiny, councils will look to cut back and limit tax rises, and PR spending may be an easy target.

This will happen just as the new - and flawed - 'Place Survey' polls many thousands of UK citizens on their opinion on local public services. Given the gloomy public mood the results may be worse than expected.

Responding to these challenges will require imagination and a focus on issues where PR can have an impact. There are four initiatives local teams should be developing to meet the 'credit crunch' challenge.

First, focused campaigns. There are a few critical areas where demonstrable action satisfies the public, specifically value for money, customer service and the state of the streets. Credible campaigns in these areas will drive up confidence in public services.

Second, try the 'ten per cent test'. Take advice from the Taxpayers Alliance and reduce spending - or raise income by ten per cent.

Third, recycle publications. A typical authority will spew out around 1,000 publications over the year. Reviewing and reducing these should be a priority.

Fourth, unify communications teams. There has never been a credible case for decentralised communications and the current climate is a good time to argue for a focused centralised team with a clear remit, delivering financial savings.

Local public communicators have enjoyed a decade of generous funding. The next few years will test whether the skills built up over this period can be adjusted to delivering more for less.

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