Public Sector: Comms is key to satisfied residents

The New Place Survey data published by the Government last week confirms that well-informed residents are more likely to be satisfied with their council and feel it offers good value for money.

In the top 50 authorities by satisfaction, only three had an informed level of less than 39 per cent - the average for authorities. This is the third national poll since 2006 to confirm that local government communications help to enhance understanding of and satisfaction with local services.

One way of highlighting this is by looking at the impact of council publications. Councils without a magazine or newspaper have lower levels of satisfaction (43 per cent) than those with one (46 per cent). Half of residents in areas with a council publication since at least the 1980s are satisfied with the services provided - five per cent higher than the national average.

This shows publications are long-term investments and that, if they are abolished, opinions of local authorities could fall. Potential savings are probably better directed at the number of editions. Three-quarters of authorities produce no more than six editions a year, with council satisfaction on average 46 per cent. For those with seven to 12 editions, satisfaction is 43 per cent. This suggests most authorities should concentrate on six or fewer editions a year to deliver real value for money. For the three per cent with 24 or more editions a year, satisfaction is only 47 per cent.

The presence of two Norfolk authorities in the top five authorities for 'most informed residents' may show that innovative partnership communications carried out by county and the districts in recent years are having a positive impact on public perceptions.

The survey highlights a perception gap between the comms ratings for local public services as a whole and councils. Local authorities tend to score higher ratings for resident comms; 62 per cent said they understood how council tax was spent, but only 39 per cent said they were informed about local public service provision. The challenge for all health, police and council communicators is to work together to drive up the scores and satisfaction with public services.

Alex Aiken is a director of comms at Westminster City Council.

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