Ashley Wilcox: It's the residents who lose out in publication cuts

In the week that a new poll has revealed that public levels of satisfaction and involvement in local authorities have declined significantly we find out that the secretary of state for communities and local government is marching ahead with his Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity. And that is only going to make the situation worse.

'Residents who need services most will miss out': Ashley Wilcox
'Residents who need services most will miss out': Ashley Wilcox
The Code is pushing ahead and banning council publications produced more than four times a year even though organisations such as the CIPR, Local Government Association and LGcomms have all responded to the consultation proving that council publications inform residents of the vital services many of them need, and improve satisfaction with council services.

Backing this up was the Commons' Communities and Local Government Select Committee which said that council publications were not a threat to local newspapers.

But this all seems to have been ignored and the publications ban and a ban on using lobbyists will eventually become statutory by April.

So this leaves us with an even greater challenge to communicate what is happening in councils and other local public services during these financially challenging times. Times when our residents need our services most and so need to be informed how we can help improve their quality of life.

Public sector communicators are used to challenges and finding creative and innovative ways to communicate. But whatever we do there is still a massive gap and the problem is that residents who need our services most are going to miss out. Council publications are a tried and tested direct communication tool that reaches hard to reach groups. Our communities are going to lose out.

We now need to persuade our local newspapers to up their game and promote local public services. But will they take on this community role. Are they going to tell residents of changes to refuse and recycling collections? I doubt that very much and anyway, are they the answer with dwindling readerships?

Many of us are now using social media effectively to inform. But again we aren’t going to reach a wide enough audience?

We will continue to run traditional campaigns to let residents know of service changes but nothing is as effective in getting the message out to our diverse communities or effective in terms of cost as a council publication.

However, sharing best practice and knowledge is something we are good at as a sector. We will innovate and ensure we communicate with our residents in the best possible ways. This may be a setback but a setback we will take on the chin and dust ourselves down and get on with the day job of keeping people informed.

Ashley Wilcox is chair of the CIPR local public services group

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