Public Sector: Local govt comms must be flexible

When you ask someone to think of local council comms, campaigns to promote free school dinners and recycling are among the first things that spring to mind.

Mention the emergency services and people think of fast-paced efforts to fight fires, catch criminals and save lives. Government targets and public expectation mean those traditional boundaries between the two sectors are being broken down. But are our communicators ready to embrace this new way of working together?

Both areas can bring valuable skills to the public sector table. Emergency services are experienced in crisis management, dealing with fast-changing situations and providing accurate information to reassure communities. Local council communicators can provide expert guidance on how to navigate the political minefield, getting the buy-in from the highest levels for that vital campaign that will change the lives of residents.

There are examples where it is already working effectively - road safety is an area where the police, fire, health and local councils have developed consistent messages to cut road deaths and injuries. The same approach now needs to be applied across other areas that concern our communities, satisfying government targets and residents.

That is why last year the CIPR Local Government Group agreed to widen its membership to include anyone working in, or for, local public services. And why at our annual conference this year there is such an emphasis on partnerships.

An effective PR professional should have skills that are transferable between sectors. If we want to have a diverse and experienced profession, we have to be open to new ways of working.

As an industry, we can lead the way, setting an example and proving that 'partnership' is more than just a buzz word.

- Richard Andrews is communications officer for Hampshire Police Authority and a member of the CIPR Local Public Services Group committee.

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