OPINION: Councils need a PR strategy for job cuts

A recent survey has shown that more than two-thirds of councils are preparing to make job cuts in the next year. Understandably, these councils are struggling to balance providing a first class service to local residents with increased demands and less cash from central government.

It is not an easy climate in which to operate and comms operations will have to do ever more to justify to the bosses that they are integral to the council as a business. In addition, handling the PR for redundancies is neither pleasant nor easy.

With one in 20 people across the country working for councils, the perception of the brand in a large part resides with the staff that are employed.

Poor handling of redundancies will cause resentment in the workforce and almost inevitably spreads a damaging perception of a council through social networks - such as people grumbling down the pub with their mates.

An example I heard recently depressed me no end. One local authority, which will remain nameless, had to make a number of redundancies. Instead of putting in place a comms plan that looked at how to deal with its stakeholders, media, and most importantly, the staff, it simply sent out letters sacking them.

Not only that, but these letters were sent out two days before Christmas. Imagine the scene of a council employee huddled round the Christmas tree opening the post in front of their children only to find a note saying 'you are sacked'.

The image of a cold, heartless and faceless organisation would be multiplied tenfold in their minds and then that perception spreads to scores of friends and family.

Redundancies will never be easy, but unless comms people, rather than HR people, are put in charge of the strategy managing the way people are let go, then the council's reputation with local people will be almost irreversibly tarnished.

Sensitivity, timing, honesty and accuracy are crucial to prevent painful redundancies turning into a mass-walk out of all staff. Poor and unplanned early communication will lead to far worse brand and image implications in the medium term, and it could take years to bounce back.

Richard Stokoe is head of news at the Local Government Association

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