PUBLIC SECT0R: London PRO lends hand to Serb local govt

A London council comms boss is helping local government officers in Serbia improve their PR.

It has emerged that Westminster City Council comms head Alex Aiken has already made five visits to the country to assess the comms needs of a number of local authorities, including the city government of the capital Belgrade.

This work - funded by the International Republican Institute, a US non-profit pro-democracy body, part-funded by the USAID programme - has now resulted in a 50-page document, authored by Aiken and called 'Citizen-Focused City Government'.

Around 10,000 translated copies of the guide - backed by Serbia's local government minister, Rodoljub Sabic - will be circulated to local government officers within weeks, according to Aiken.

'Serbia needs to turn government from being used and seen as a repression tool to being a service to its citizens,' said Aiken, who spent 15 days in Serbia between November last year and April this year.

'Journalists think politicians are lying to them all the time - much more so than in western Europe. There's no tradition of media training, or of reliable information sources.

The guide concentrates on issues such as customer care and internal communications.

'As an Englishman working on behalf of the Americans, Serbia is quite a tough place to work, considering we were bombing their country a couple of years ago,' added Aiken.

This is the third IRI project Aiken has been involved in. He worked as a PR consultant on projects in Poland in 1994 and in Macedonia in 2000.

Also, at the end of last week, Aiken headed to Bratislava, Slovakia, to advise the ruling conservative Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) party on its media strategy in advance of the September general election. This was aided by the UK government-backed Westminster Foundation for Democracy.

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