Public Sector: Local councils' chance to shine

In the inevitable pre-election stand off between political parties about spending and cuts, local government has played a starring role.

While George Osborne has hailed the financial efficiency of some Conservative councils as a model for national government, Labour politicians have highlighted the success of councils such as Hackney, about to propose a freeze on council tax for a record-breaking fifth successive year.

All this is very good news for the reputation of the sector. While councils were once seen as the home of waste and bureaucracy, it now seems that Westminster and Whitehall are looking at town halls up and down the land in their search for our old friend prudence.

However, talk of spending cuts in an election climate often sends a chill through communications departments. Comms teams know full well that their budgets are a prime target for cuts in manifesto pledges. Now is the time, more than ever, for us to prove our value, not just to our organisations, but to the residents we serve.

When there was a major fire on the Olympic construction site a couple of years ago, most of London could see the giant plume of smoke in the east and many feared a terrorist attack. Before the newswires picked up the story, our council switchboard was jammed with hundreds of residents asking what was going on. In uncertain times, people turn to their councils for advice, information and reassurance. In a recession the need for clear, accessible comms is greater than ever, as residents seek advice on debt, jobs and housing. Strategies to raise the reputation of our councils and local areas come into sharper focus, as we strive to attract inward investment, jobs and visitors in a challenging market.

We are here to support and champion the needs of our residents, and to let them know what we can do for them when the going gets tough. That is something that should never be undervalued.

Polly Rance is head of media and external relations at the London Borough of Hackney and a member of the CIPR's Local Public Services Group Committee

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