Islington Council appears to have been sucked into a timewarp as
the newly- elected council turns local government PR into a political
football, in a move reminiscent of the late-1980s. Here we have a Lib
Dem-run council flying in the face of current local government and
central Government thinking on communications, by dismantling an
innovative and forward-thinking communications structure put in place by
the previous Labour-controlled authority.
It was only in June last year that Islington chief executive Leisha
Fullick brought in Westminster Strategy to provide crisis management
support in the wake of a damning Ofsted report on the borough. The
agency’s role was subsequently expanded as Westminster Strategy was
asked to carry out a communications audit and recommend a communications
structure that would enable the council to provide an immediate response
to criticisms and crisis situations.
Acting on Westminster Strategy’s recommendations, Fullick appointed
former Consolidated Communications Board director Fiona Nicol to the
newly-created role of communications and marketing head. Attracting such
private sector talent was a major achievement at a time when others
councils were still struggling with senior recruitment.
Now, only 11 months later, Islington is undertaking a review with a view
to cutting its PR department by half; although the jury is still out as
to which half this will be and whether any exodus would include
Perhaps most tellingly, the jury is also still out on what actual cost
savings can be achieved by such an exercise.
This is yet another blatant example of an ill-conceived attack on spin,
launched with an eye to the voter. But what does Islington hope to
At a time when the Government is placing increased emphasis on opening
channels of communication with customers, Islington says it is looking
for a cheaper option. And at a time when other councils such as
Liverpool and Birmingham are leading the way in terms of creating
coherent branding for councils through the centralisation of
communications and the realignment of corporate communications alongside
customer relations, Islington is moving in the opposite direction by
decentralising and placing responsibility for communicating messages
back in the hands of individual departments.
The only result of this piece of politicking will be to short-change
Islington’s tax-payers in terms of the amount of information they
receive about the borough and to place a greater burden on staff in
other departments who should be concentrating on the services which they
were employed to run.