Comms boost for congestion scheme

As the second major congestion charging scheme to be established in the UK hit the news this week, I noted once again how important good communications had been in helping to deliver this key local authority goal.

Communicating the benefits of the Manchester scheme clearly, simply and persuasively has been vital to its progress so far. It has been communicated not just to the complex web of stakeholders across the region, but to far broader audiences in the UK and further afield.

As I write this, early on in the week and just before the Parliamentary announcement, the signs are good.

Just over five years since London's congestion charging scheme was launched, the UK may finally be taking its second major step towards a transport system where you really do pay more fairly for how, when and where you want to use your car.

Those head-in-the-fuel-tank opponents objecting to the scheme have succeeded only in demonstrating their lack of understanding of how the scheme will work, when it will be introduced, and who will actually pay when it does come in.

There will now need to be further, sustained comms work - away from the initial announcement and subsequent media excitement - if stakeholders are to be aligned and benefits promoted, right up until 2013 when the scheme starts.

Local authorities in the region will, of course, be feeling distinctly nervous, at a time of political unrest and distinct lack of confidence in the current government.

All the more reason, then, to ensure that investment in comms does not fall back once media attention has gone away, so that nervous supporters do not feel neglected and anti-road-pricing campaigns do not take a firmer grip.

One rather key stakeholder in particular may be feeling the need for support from communications experts or, perhaps more to the point, from local voters.

Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly, who stood up on Monday to give the go-ahead for the controversial scheme, has a Parliamentary seat in the Greater Manchester region (Bolton West) and a majority of just 2,000.

These days, that is a very slim majority indeed. Luke Blair is a director at London Communications Agency.

Luke Blair is a director at London Communications Agency

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