COMMENT: Platform - Why we should take pride in this public property. It’s time for local government to ditch its dusty image and start presenting itself as a confident and dynamic industry, says Carol Grant

If local government was a brand on a supermarket shelf, what would it be? My answer once got me into trouble with a group of council PR officers.

If local government was a brand on a supermarket shelf, what would

it be? My answer once got me into trouble with a group of council PR

officers.



I told them it reminded me of a product that unblocks drains - it works

a treat, but no one can remember its name and it languishes at the back

of the cupboard under the sink until the next time you need it.



That’s a pretty poor image for an industry that’s worth pounds 65

billion a year.



Local government needs to recognise the importance of brand

management.



Many companies are now positioning themselves as the providers of

business solutions and local government needs to do the same.



When you think of council services, what do you think of? Town halls,

dustbins, council tax? Or well educated and confident children, clean

air, thriving local economies? Local government touches the lives of

every one of us, and provides the local answer to just about every

national question you can think of.



So why the gap in perception? What happens to makes such a vibrant and

important part of community life seem so dull? Some of the problem lies

with local government itself - years of funding cuts and central

Government interference have given some councils a siege mentality. A

recent MORI survey criticised local government’s performance in keeping

the public informed. British Telecom scored a 79 per cent rating. Local

government lagged in mid-league with 38 per cent. Talking to ourselves

is no longer an option.



It’s also about confidence in the product. The same survey found that

only a third of the public believe the public sector is worse at

communicating than the private sector, compared to nearly two-thirds of

public sector workers. As any psycho-babbler will tell you, other people

won’t love you if you don’t love yourself.



The Local Government Association, after less than a year in business,

has made a good start. Its members think its biggest success has been in

promoting a positive image of local government. But the key lies in the

500 individual local councils that make up the LGA , a third of which

still do not have a dedicated PR function.



Some of these councils will say that PR and local government don’t

mix.



We deal with real issues, they’ll say, not PR gloss. We’re providing

services, not selling baked beans. Keep your fancy ideas and let us do

the real work.



Exponents of this view can be found on exhibit in the Natural History

Museum. The rest of us recognise that unless we connect with the public,

we’re irrelevant.



Peter Mandelson recently urged local government to have ’more courage,

more confidence’ in promoting its unique role. We must grasp this

challenge in an increasingly competitive communications market.



Whether communicating with their own residents, the private sector or

MPs at Westminster, local councils need to be sure they are at the

cutting edge of good communications practice.



’If they haven’t heard it, you haven’t said it’ should be the guiding

principle. Local government needs to talk in a language people

understand, and be proud of what it does to make all our lives

better.



Carol Grant is director of communications and public affairs at the

Local Government Association. The LGA conference ’Today and tomorrow:

the future of local government communication’ takes place on 12 March.



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