Public Sector: Baby P case forces changes at councils

Local government comms chiefs across the country are considering sweeping changes in the wake of the Baby P tragedy.

As Ofsted this week issued a damning report into Haringey's handling of the case, council comms teams agreed that immediate steps should be taken to manage the fall-out should they experience a similar case.

Essex County Council head of media and marketing Giles Roca and a number of other comms chiefs from leading authorities are developing plans for a support system to provide PR help to councils with big crisis cases in future.

And London Councils director of communications Ceri Edwards is holding a meeting of London council heads of comms next week to discuss how councils can improve their crisis responses.

Newcastle City Council director of communication and marketing Peter Holt said that an extra press officer has been brought in for a few months to handle day-to-day press office management while press office manager Andrew McKegney focuses on the department's readiness to handle a crisis.

Holt said ideas being discussed included ways in which the comms team could use mutual support arrangements with neighbouring authorities. Another idea is having marketing people taken off less urgent campaigns to assist the press team.

Brighton & Hove City Council head of corporate comms John Shewell said his own comms team was preparing for any serious case review.

'We said to the social services team that they might have a case that's miles apart from Haringey, but the current climate is such that the media are hungry for these stories,' said Shewell.

'The main lesson we have learned is the importance of providing swift and decisive responses in times of crisis. The other lesson is about being honest, admitting mistakes and explaining what will be done to address these.'

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