We need clarity on what we do

Top salaries in the public service will remain in focus next week as the Budget sets out the state of the national finances. The need to demonstrate value for money is high on the agenda of all parties and PR may be an easy target.

It is not surprising, then, that the highest levels of pay for directors of communications have recently been highlighted.

However, it should be a source of concern that salaries and responsibilities vary so greatly across local government.

Research from councils shows the average salary for the senior communications post was £61,000 in 2008 and the span was remarkable – nearly £100,000 – with salaries ranging from £34,000 up to £130,000.

While the higher salaries tend to be in London and at the county councils, there doesn’t seem to be any consistent agreement on what constitutes a head or director of communications role.

Across the country there is a plethora of senior communications roles. Some cover customer service and consultation. Many have nominal responsibility for marketing, and an increasing number cover digital communications. They demand various attributes from the post holder yet too few include a holistic responsibility for reputation, oversight of research and a meaningful role in developing strategy in the role.

There will always be differences in pay based on the scale of the job, but there should be a national standard for the role to focus on common objectives, enable evaluation of effectiveness and allow the next generation of heads of communications to understand what they have to do to progress.

The sector is trying to meet this challenge through the LGcommunications ‘Commission on Senior Roles’ and the CIPR’s ‘Second Steps’ programme. The commission, which will report in May, will offer a set of objectives that should serve as a yardstick to measure an effective head of communications.

Transparency for the taxpayer and credibility for our colleagues means we must position our top roles as senior executive posts contributing to the corporate agenda, not simply managing a press office.

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