Survey highlights fears over cuts to government comms budgets

One in three heads of communications at councils across the country expects their budgets to be cut in the coming year, with a significant number predicting a "great decrease", according to the Local Government Association (LGA).

The financial fears of public sector comms teams are revealed in a new survey by the LGA of more than 100 heads of comms at councils and combined fire authorities across England and Wales.

Conducted in November 2018, the poll highlights how resources are a key issue across the sector.

The LGA report, released this month, states: "One third (33 per cent) of respondent councils will likely have their non-staffing budgets reduced in 2018/19, whilst 53 per cent of budgets will remain approximately the same, five per cent report a moderate increase, and eight per cent did not know."

Concerns over budget cuts are having an impact on the ability of comms teams to do the job expected of them.

Internal change and transformation programmes, council reputation, economic development and regeneration, resident engagement, and behaviour change will be the biggest comms priorities over the coming year, according to the report.

But four out of 10 comms heads are not confident that they will be able to meet these comms challenges, with not having enough staff (84 per cent) and insufficient budgets (53 per cent) the biggest reasons cited.

One third of respondent councils will likely have their non-staffing budgets reduced in 2018/19.

LGA heads of comms survey

Other factors blamed for the lack of confidence were priorities or targets that are unclear (33 per cent) or unrealistic (24 per cent).

Top comms techniques for local authorities

In terms of communicating with local people, placing stories in local media, using Twitter and updating council websites are the top three tactics used by almost all comms teams (97 per cent).

Other commonly used comms channels include Facebook (96 per cent), public consultations (81 per cent), e-bulletins and e-marketing (72 per cent), and YouTube (71 per cent).

Face-to-face meetings were cited by two-thirds (66 per cent) of respondents, followed by Instagram (61 per cent) and printed council magazines (57 per cent).

Online council magazines (39 per cent), messaging apps (eight per cent) and Snapchat (five per cent) are the least popular comms channels.

Measurement is lacking

When it comes to evaluating the work that they do, many comms teams are not doing enough, warns the research.

Just 10 per cent regularly measure and evaluate the impact and effectiveness of their campaigns and channels to a "great extent."

More than one in three council comms teams (36 per cent) measure and evaluate to a "small extent" or not at all.

And a significant proportion of councils do not have a comms strategy aligned to corporate priorities, with just 76 per cent having such a strategy in place, according to the research.

In the report foreword, David Holdstock, director of comms at the LGA, writes: "We need to include insight and evaluation as key components of every campaign. If we can’t demonstrate impact, communications will not be seen as a key service."

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