Public Sector: Still a long way to go on local trust

The latest National Survey of Public Attitudes on Standards of Conduct in Public Life makes for a fascinating read and one that everyone in the PR sector should study.

The report digs deep into the public perceptions over the past four years of public sector professionals, national and local politicians, journalists and company bosses - and is even more compelling following the recent news concerning Haringey Council and the death of Baby P.

Unsurprisingly, it finds that doctors, head teachers, the police and judges top the scale for the trust that people hold in them. However, further down the list it finds that local politicians, whether councillors or MP, are trusted far more to tell the truth than government ministers or broadsheet journalists.

The good news is that trust in local public sector bodies, be it councillors, councils or local MPs, is rising compared with similar surveys done in the past four years. However, there can be no complacency as the figures are still below 50 per cent. There is still a huge mountain to climb if councillors and councils are to take pride in the trust that the public shows in them.

For local government and councillors, we are still in the realm of failing to explain to people what they get for the money spent on council tax each year. From branding to leaflets, press releases to internal comms, it is all too often the case that it fails to talk to people in the plain English that is needed to explain what people can get for their money.

People would be furious if they did not know what services their money was paying for and how they could use them. If a company used the sort of language that is familiar in the public sector then that company would go bust. Many of their potential customers would not understand what the product actually did.

If, in these dark economic times, PR people are going to be able to justify their budgets and their jobs to their bosses then they will need to show what value they are adding to the council. Every budget in any public body will be scrutinised to the nth degree and unless tangible results can be shown, then PR will be the first to get the chop.

Richard Stokoe is head of news at Local Government Association.

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