OPINION: Start by getting our websites right

The PRCA set public service comms three challenges at the recent PRCA Annual Conference. Delegates from the consultancy side of the industry agreed that the public sector needed to tackle electoral apathy, reduce 'spin', and demonstrate value for money.

Alex Aiken
Alex Aiken

One area where this challenge is particularly relevant is the use of e-comms. A new report by the Commons' Public Accounts Committee is highly critical of government websites for their effectiveness and value for money.

The report says that, despite spending £200m, a third of websites do not meet the Cabinet Office's own user accessibility standards and fall short of their private sector counterparts.

This illustrates a wider problem with the sector's comms. We do not routinely consider objectives before setting out on tactical implementation and cannot properly evaluate the standard. Government websites show a preference for information we want to impart, rather than what the public want to know. This is partly why public trust is lacking, spin is perceived and the electorate are consequently apathetic.

Dealing with this problem requires heads of public relations to inject an urgency and passion into quality of delivery as opposed to the quantity of output.

Getting websites right would be a good area in which to start. We should not tolerate IT-led standards but set a fresh agenda using new media tools to regain trust through relevant and accurate information online.

This should start with accessible service standards, survey results and feedback and implement new ideas such as local crime mapping and detailing tax and spending online.

More generally the PRCA challenge requires that public service communicators should be angry advocates for better comms. There is an opportunity for the private sector too. Local government needs articulate champions.

Why don't more PR people stand for election? Wouldn't they find the challenge of running £50m service budgets to change lives for the better more fulfilling than servicing £5k a month retainers for dull consumer products?

Alex Aiken is director of comms at Westminster City Council

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