OPINION: All hail a regional renaissance

Apart from the Great White sharks menacing the Cornish beaches, the silly season didn't happen for the Government News Network (GNN) this year. Instead our regional communicators were busy dealing with the stories that dominated the news agenda this summer - the floods and the foot and mouth disease outbreak.

Haslam: GNN board director, Central Office of Information (COI)
Haslam: GNN board director, Central Office of Information (COI)

It's a pity that it takes an emergency - and a Parliamentary recess - to move the media's focus away from a metropolitan one, to the real issues that are affecting local people.

However, other recent events should give cause for optimism to anyone working in press and PR at a local level.

Firstly, there was the appointment of a team of regional ministers each with a specific remit to get closer to the issues that affect and concern people in a particular part of the country, and to ensure their voice is heard in Westminster.

Then Prime Minister Gordon Brown appealed for more people to nominate their local ‘unsung heroes' for honours - rewarding those who really make a difference in their local communities.

Even the Treasury has weighed in with publication of its Sub-National Review, outlining plans to devolve greater powers from Whitehall to the regions and give local authorities a bigger role in ensuring economic opportunities for all. Is a regional renaissance finally upon us?

I seem to have spent half my working life persuading my Whitehall colleagues about the importance of working with the regional media, which researchers have regularly found to be more trusted, valued and widely read than the nationals.

The regionals have raised their game with the incorporation of ever more blogs, audio and video feeds and citizen journalism on their websites. During the recent flooding in Gloucestershire local papers The Citizen and Gloucester Echo provided constant updates on their joint website with advice on things like where to buy supplies, get access to clean water and which streets were closed.

Relevance and immediacy have never been more important factors to public sector communicators, and it is here where local media hold the trump card. Exciting times are ahead.

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