Public Sector: Scotland leads the way in recession

The impact of the recession on the private sector is clear for all to see - where once there were customers, eager to part with their hard-earned cash for houses, cars, holidays and handbags, now there are some empty high streets and permanent sales.

In the public sector, recession can have the opposite effect. Economic downturn increases the demand on the services we provide, while simultaneously squeezing the money we have to provide them. Whether it is the newly unemployed seeking housing benefits, or the couple who have decided to ditch the private gym and use council facilities, people are looking to their local authorities for assistance in tough times. This presents a new challenge for public sector communicators, but also an opportunity to connect with new audiences.

At a local level, the resource implications of the economic downturn are potentially severe. With the inevitable increase in family breakdown, pressures on social workers and health professionals will intensify. The reputation of local social care services has taken a battering in recent months due to a run of high-profile child abuse cases. Here in Edinburgh, we have dealt with a number of child protection issues in the media and will be sharing the lessons learned at this year's CIPR Local Public Services Group Conference, 'Thriving and Surviving', which we are hosting from 14-16 October. The conference will put the spotlight on the challenges we face in the economic downturn and dealing with the coalface issues of public service.

The conference will also look at areas where Scotland is leading the way, such as dealing with alcohol abuse. New initiatives in Scotland could see the drinking age raised to 21 and a minimum price per unit. If this becomes law, then the task of engagement will fall to public service communicators. This will be a huge comms challenge and Westminster and Whitehall will look north to gauge the impact of our work.

- Joyce Nisbet is part of Edinburgh council's corporate comms team and sits on the national committee of the CIPR Local Public Services Group.

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