Local government PROs have hit back at Tory plans to cut PR spend that emerged this week.
The Conservative Party conference saw both shadow communities secretary Eric Pickles and shadow chancellor George Osborne recommend sweeping comms cuts.
Pickles said a Tory government would reinstate weekly refuse collection, which would be paid for by ‘scrapping a series of unelected quangos and local government bureaucracy’ – in which he included ‘town hall promotion’.
But LGComms chairman David Holdstock hit back: ‘Actually, high-quality communications is the key to engaging residents. If you’ve got that in place, the residents will understand what their council tax is being spent on.’
Holdstock added that most councils had already made significant savings by centralising comms teams.
Mike Browne, chair of the CIPR Local Government Group and head of comms at Haringey Council, said: ‘Effective council communications reaps rewards in terms of resident satisfaction and service take-up.
Most councils are already active in promoting civic involvement. A thriving third sector can often deliver local services more cost-effectively, so investment in promoting civic involvement can reap ¬financial dividends as well as community ones.’
The Tories estimate savings of £34m could be made by scrapping the Government’s Community Empowerment white paper, which includes a duty to promote civic involvement and democracy.
Meanwhile, in his keynote speech, Osborne promised to freeze council tax bills for two years, funded by ‘a substantial reduction in government spending on expensive private sector consultants and advertising’. This would eventually save £1bn per year, claimed Osborne.
The Pickles plan
A briefing note put out by the Tories says scrapping the Community Empowerment white paper would save £32m per year
The briefing note says the white paper imposes a duty to ‘bankroll a publicity budget to promote the council, on top of existing advertising’
It argues: ‘This spin and officialdom is unnecessary’