LGA offers crisis help to councils

The Local Government Association (LGA) is helping to form a crisis comms group to advise councils under heavy media scrutiny, with Doncaster Council the latest authority to be thrust into the spotlight.

The plans were originally drawn up in response to last November's Baby P scandal in Haringey and the group will be launched on 2 June.

The initial participating authorities include Essex, Westminster and Hillingdon. Along with the LGA, the councils have agreed to jointly provide 80 days of advice and manpower to any council going through a major emergency.

Essex head of media and marketing Giles Roca will chair the group, supported by LGA vice chairman Edward Welsh and Somerset head of comms Simon Clifford. The Department for Communities and Local Government is also expected to be involved.

The service will include a standing committee, library of best practice and agreed resources, supplied by participating authorities, that can be used to support public authorities that face major reputational threats.

The news comes days after Doncaster Council was attacked in the media for failing to prevent the deaths of seven young people through abuse or neglect since 2004 - echoing the media storm in Haringey over the death of Baby P.

Last month Ofsted branded children's services in Doncaster as 'inadequate'.

Initial reaction from crisis comms experts suggests that Doncaster's response, led by head of comms Gerry Moore, has been an improvement on Haringey's.

Bell Pottinger head of issues and crisis management Alex Woolfall said: 'Doncaster's response has been better in the sense that it didn't deny it had a problem or argue that no-one was to blame. Instead, it has acknowledged there is a problem, voiced support for the Government-led review and been open about past difficulties with children's services and its efforts to address these.

'That's a good initial response and the media coverage has therefore been a lot less savage than that meted out to Haringey.'

Woolfall added that Doncaster's next challenge was to pull out every stop to protect vulnerable children in its area and be seen by the outside world to be doing so.

Meanwhile, a local government comms source said: 'It's still early days for Doncaster -but it seems to be a lot better than Haringey. It has been offering apologies and doing proper crisis management work. But it will take a few days to see how it plays out.'

HOW I SEE IT - Gerry Moore, Head of communications, Doncaster Council

We called a press briefing in Doncaster the day after the story broke. I didn't call a press conference because I didn't want our people backed against the wall by the media. We have not refused any interviews, and we've reacted very quickly. If you put the barriers up, the vacuum gets filled by others.

One of the key things we've been trying to get across is that the Ofsted report only reported up until March 2008. We've brought in a new director of children's services since then.

At Haringey they got caught in the headlights, and were not saying enough quickly enough.

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