Public Sector: Cut comms and risk reputations

How better to celebrate 'Improvement and Efficiency Week' than with a bloody great headline about two-thirds of councils being ready to make job cuts?

Well, that is what Local Government Chronicle did last week, based on the findings that 68 per cent of local authority chief executives would cut staff to achieve efficiency savings.

I have to say I sympathise with those CEOs. Running a local authority is a tough challenge at the best of times, no matter how leafy, wealthy or healthy the area - and there are not many with all three of those in Greater London, my stamping ground.

But, as a comms consultant, you would expect me to cry out at this point: 'Whatever you cut, do not start with comms.'

Because we have seen, too many times, comms budgets being the first in line when the savings axe is being swung around.

What inevitably happens, as sure as night follows day, is that the local authority, police force or primary care trust starts to see its reputation suffer, as cuts bite, services stretch, taxpayers become increasingly dissatisfied - and comms staff struggle.

Sometimes there are more generous funding rounds in subsequent years, sometimes not.

But whatever the money does from one financial year to the next, canny public sector bodies maintain a consistent level of comms expertise because they know full well that when times are tough, it is harder, not easier, to maintain reputation.

Indeed, many in the public sector find agency or consultancy resources useful, precisely because they can turn the tap on or off, according to how much comms help they need.

Of course, I am not for one moment suggesting that comms teams should be cut to pay for consultancy fees. For most public sector bodies, it is vitally important that knowledge and loyalty are fostered and kept in house.

But I am urging public sector CEOs facing a tough financial year ahead not to be short-sighted when it comes to comms. Cutting corners on your reputation will cost you more over the longer term, not less.

Luke Blair is a director at London Communications Agency.

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