Helen Ashley: Navigating change in the new landscape

Last week, Eric Pickles, the new minister for Communities and Local Government said he wanted to devolve power from Whitehall. He also told the Local Government Association that he wants to strengthen the democratic legitimacy of local councils.

Helen Ashley: Local public services conference
Helen Ashley: Local public services conference

Although the rhetoric seems positive with talk of driving down power to a local level, with government departments announcing initiatives designed to remove local accountability, this seems far from the reality.? 

Will the Government’s plans to take schools away from local authorities, break up PCT’s so GP’s can commission services and make foundation trusts standalone, fully commercial businesses – really lead to a strengthening of local democracy and accountability?

And what will this mean for hard-pressed communications professionals charged with managing communications around local public services? Communicators who are already facing the challenges of communicating change, managing communications around increased demands for services, all at a time when the sector is facing cuts to frontline services.

This year’s theme for the CIPR Local Public Services Conference which takes place in Brighton 20 – 22 October, couldn’t be more apt; Navigating Change.

It will focus on shaping a new model of communications in local public services, exploring issues such as partnership working and enhancing local democracy and citizenship, with keynote speakers including Alastair Campbell, Paul Mylrea, Head of Press and Media Relations at the BBC and Peter Bingle, Chairman of Bell Pottinger.

Communications teams across local public services (who are facing cuts to staff and budgets themselves) are being tasked with helping their authorities adapt to a new landscape.

With plans to devolve power to individuals within the community such as parents and active citizens who may want to set up schools and professionals like doctors, who will decide on health priorities in their local areas, we are looking at a whole different conversation.

Helen Ashley is media spokesperson for the CIPR Local Public Services Group and runs Issues PR.

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