Despite being one of just 22 local authorities to gain an ‘excellent’ rating in the commission’s recent comprehensive performance assessment report, PR was highlighted as a major weakness.
The council has now hired Marina Pirotta Communications to carry out a review of PR and comms efforts at the council. A report is expected to be presented by the end of July, with recommendations acted on by the end of the year.
Head of strategic services Gerry Sevenoaks, who oversees communications, said changes being considered are the setting up of a central team covering online PR, internal comms and strategy, and the creation of a more senior level, strategic communications post.
The current most senior PRO is communications officer Jack Taylor, who heads a three-strong press team.
Sevenoaks said this team was mainly reactive and he wanted to see more proactive efforts. He also wants to see improvements in communications with residents and staff, and the introduction of the first council newspaper is being considered.
He added: ‘I’m not into empire building and just saying we should have extra posts for the sake of it. What we need to have is the right structure in place to look at communications more strategically.’
The Audit Commission’s report pointed out that while service provision is among the best in the country, residents’ perception of services is still low. It found that although the borough is one of the safest in London in terms of crime rates, ‘there is a strong fear of crime among residents’.
The report also highlighted that ‘residents felt that consultation on issues was sometimes token and that feedback could be poor’.
It did praise the council, however, for recognising the need to improve communication.