Unsurprisingly, most of the media coverage of the Government’s
devolution plans has focused on its proposals for national assemblies in
Scotland and Wales, and the terrifying prospect of a race between Ken
Livingstone and Jeffrey Archer to become the first elected mayor of
Less well documented has been the accompanying increase in
responsibilities across a broad sweep of local government activity.
These changes bring increased accountability to local authorities, which
are being asked to find ways of increasing turn-out at local elections
and measuring their own performance on providing services. This in turn
creates a need for greater PR input and guidance.
This trend was predicted in a Platform piece in these pages by Newport
County Borough Council chief executive Sandy Blair last October, in
which he urged both local government PR professionals and external
advisers to help authorities adapt to their new roles.
True to his prediction, we are now seeing a raft of new PR appointments
at local authorities. This week, for example, we learn that
Middlesborough Borough Council is seeking its first head of
communications (page 1), and last week’s issue carried news of a similar
post at West Sussex Council, as well as advertisements for PR positions
at two other local authorities.
Local government has sometimes been unfairly dismissed as a PR
backwater, but that image is changing. Just as the stature of in-house
PR professionals in the commercial sector has increased (to the point
where one consultant commented this week that many consultancies now
trail in their wake), so we may now be seeing a similar rise in the
fortunes of local government PR.