Local government must lead in crisis

The worsening economic downturn brought about by the global credit crunch means that it is time for decisive leadership from local government. Every area of the country is feeling the effects, and belts are already being tightened as family budgets come under pressure.

The extraordinary events of this financial crisis offer a serious challenge to all local authorities. The response requires clear leadership from public bodies, and heads of communications have a key role to play in ensuring that their council's response is visible and effective.

The likelihood of a prolonged economic downturn could have serious consequences for local communities. Jobs are obviously at risk, and many firms are already laying off workers. Crime tends to rise in times of recession and economic tensions can endanger community cohesion.

Although local government can't solve all these problems, it can reassure and bind communities. We can lead the drive to mitigate some of the worst aspects of the credit crunch. Local authorities have a critical role in ensuring community cohesion by keeping people talking, and we have a crucial responsibility in generating economic development by promoting our localities for jobs and tourism.

We also have an important part to play in showing that public service understands the difficulties individuals and families are facing. Heads of communications should be explaining to fellow managers that the mood of the country is changing and they must develop a corporate narrative that recognises these difficulties.

The story is simple: people are hurting and local authorities must demonstrate how they are driving value for money through their organisation and are making savings. We must show we are on the side of residents by cutting out waste and effectively promoting our areas to generate new economic prospects.

The concept of communicating place may seem like a luxury in good times, but in bad times, it is essential. There has never been a better time for local government to take on its community leadership role.

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