Public Sector: Local services need to converse

At the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) Local Government Group Conference last week I was struck by a number of things, not least the importance of local public services talking to each other.

We heard from colleagues in fire, police, health and the voluntary sector about their issues and challenges. Earlier dialogue between councils and partners could have avoided issues that eventually played out publicly in ways that did not help anyone. With local government's scrutiny role, early dialogue about planned changes can be crucial.

This is one of the reasons why we agreed at the conference to widen the remit of our CIPR group to cover local public services rather than just local government. If comms colleagues across the sector are talking to each other then our internal networks can often oil the corporate wheels and make connections.

Another reason for the change is that we will all be held accountable for local outcomes under the new Comprehensive Area Assessment, which will be introduced next year. At the conference we heard from the Audit Commission about its latest ideas for reporting its findings to the public. The concept of using red flags to highlight areas of concern may or may not be part of the final judgment, but we can be sure that we will be jointly held to account for what local public services are achieving together.

The Local Government Awards indicated the connections being made between local public services. A fire service, a police service and a council partnership with a PCT were all recognised at the ceremony.

Much continues to be made of the new financial environment we are entering. As the crunch starts to bite, the two things we can be sure of are an increased demand for support from public services and a decrease in available real-terms budget to deliver this.

Sharing information, ideas, expertise and even resources across local public services will be an increasingly important way to help us meet our financial as well as our performance pressures.

Mike Browne is chair of the CIPR Local Government Group and head of comms at Haringey Council.

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