SCUPRO CONFERENCE: Two councils take their PR private

Two councils' PR teams are being taken over by a private firm in a

controversial move to reduce costs.



From May, communications at Middlesbrough and Bedfordshire County

Councils will be provided by Hyder Business Services (HBS) as part of a

ten-year partnership involving the transfer of pounds 560m of support

services.



However, the deal, the first of its kind in the UK to include

communications and PR, has been greeted with unease by some council

communications chiefs.



'Communication is the heart of a council. It is central to everything it

does,' said London Borough of Ealing head of communications Clive

Caseley.



'This is an interesting experiment but I feel uneasy having it dealt

with by an outside agency.



'There is a tendency for the private sector to have a more short-term

focus, with many staff on short-term contracts. I don't see how this

could work in the long term for a council.'



Speaking at last week's Scupro conference, Bedfordshire County Council

head of communications Hywel Jarman defended the deal.



Jarman, who is set to take up a corporate communication role at HBS,

believes other councils will soon follow.



He said: 'This presents great scope for investment, opportunities for

staff and could herald a new approach to communications.'



Media co-ordinator Mike Clark, who heads a 15-strong team at

Middlesbrough, said: 'We haven't been privatised. This is a partnership

that will help us develop in ways we couldn't have done before.'



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