Three ways to improve local public sector communications

LGA director of comms David Holdstock looks at Sustainable Transformation Plans (STPs) and suggests three ways in which they could revolutionise public sector comms.

Parlez-vous public sector comms? asks David Holdstock
Parlez-vous public sector comms? asks David Holdstock

Over the last five years, many of us have been advocating for a more joined-up approach to local public sector communications.

The advent of STPs (Sustainable Transformation Plans), seem to be a golden opportunity.

At the very least, a chance to join up the social care and health parts of public sector comms.

Who knows, get that right and we might even start to talk to police and fire colleagues, local business and charity communicators.

Real devolution in action with communicators leading the way.

So, first things first, unless you’re working in one, an STP might sound a bit like a foreign language or something that shouldn’t be talked about in polite company.

STPs are in very simple terms a way to better join up social care and health.

In even simpler terms, a way to use all the resources available in a local area to keep people in their own homes, close to their family and out of hospital.

Better care, a better use of the money and a way to ease pressure on hospitals.

So STPs are a good idea in principle, but what about the communications?

1. Tell the story

What is the narrative and vision? We need to be joining up the national story with individual local stories and examples.

2. Address culture and language

Currently, local government and health comms are miles apart.

We have to move away from working in silos and come together to address the needs of communities.

Let’s not speak the language of institutions, based on different buildings. Let’s all speak with one voice to help improve lives.

Talk of care pathways, vanguards, whole-system approaches and multi-disciplinary discharge teams are a million miles from this.

People just want to know what we’re doing will be good for families, improve the way they are looked after and save the public purse money.

3. Involve local people

Third, if we’re going to get this right and make it work we need to truly engage the public and move away from a top-down approach to one involving local people, making local decisions.

We also need to help identify the political challenges and how we begin to address these.

It’s puzzling that there’s still a tendency to overlook the key group of people who make the most important decisions about their local area and are the most trusted to do so - councillors.

They’re still too often a bolt-on rather than front and centre in the discussions.

This is not unlike the protestations I hear from communications professionals – "They only come to us after the decisions have been made to ask if we can send out a press release".

So let’s all play to our strengths.

Councils are skilled at engaging with their local communities. Through their councillors, they are leaders of communities with invaluable local knowledge and insight; the voice of communities.

Few people would argue against the value of having public sector communicators working together for the benefit of local areas.

It’s about working together on issues affecting older people, children and housing, not working in different buildings with different cultures, different priorities and different approaches.

There are huge opportunities, but only if we get this right.

David Holdstock is director of comms at the Local Government Association

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