PUBLIC SECT0R: Westminster hit squad is called in to aid Richmond

Westminster City Council's PR team has been drafted in to overhaul Richmond-upon-Thames Borough Council's comms function.

The year-long deal - understood to be a first in local government - will see Westminster PROs managing Richmond's comms and handling a Best Value review of communications, which will start in June.

This three-month review will be the first activity Westminster PROs will undertake in the deal, which has come under criticism from local Lib Dems at Conservative-controlled Richmond.

Concerns focus on the reported £80,000 cost to Richmond, including £20,000 for the review, and £60,000 for additional management support.

Details of the arrangement include the full-time posting of Westminster senior media officer Cormac Smith at Richmond. Also, Westminster comms head Alex Aiken will spend one day a week working for Richmond, with other PROs drafted across 'as and when necessary', according to Aiken.

Richmond's most senior PRO, communications manager Emma Anderson - who oversees a team that comprises just a senior comms officer and a part-time press officer - will report toAiken.

Aiken said the aim was to boost Richmond's media relations 'at a London level', in addition to assisting in the development of a new magazine for residents and boosting the councils' internal comms.

Discussions between the two councils began following the Comprehensive Performance Assessment - the council league tables published last December - which identified communications as an area in which Richmond should improve.

IPR Local Government Group chair Pat Gaudin welcomed the deal: 'There are already some areas where local government comms networks share best practice. This partnership is one step further'.

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