Today’s autumn statement has shown once again that local government is barely a discussion topic nationally, let alone a priority.
As politics is increasingly dominated by Brexit, the economy, Trump, and the sacred cow that is the NHS, what is the role of local government and the communicators that work within it? Is the local council still as relevant to people’s lives as it once was?
This decade will see council budgets reduced by as much as 40 per cent, with only a ripple of public dissent. At the same time demand for services is increasing, and the mantra that councils and their services have no choice but to change is making little impact on the public’s consciousness.
So in this brave new world, where do communicators fit in? The digital revolution has meant that there are more options available to communicate and engage than ever before, but are these just shiny toys and no more?
As the proportion of councils’ spend on adult and other essential services continues to increase, alongside demand, can councils still justify keeping ‘nice to have’ communications teams?
Although these questions are part of the role of playing devil’s advocate, it has never been more important than now for communicators to market themselves, their colleagues, and to prove their worth.
In days gone by communications and marketing teams were associated mostly with reputation management and day-to-day media relations, with the wide range of other functions relegated to Cinderella status. Thankfully, things have moved on, although sadly the elected member and senior officer obsession with media still remains.
Also, communications and marketing were often seen as ‘add-ons’, more often than not brought in to key projects at the last minute or not at all. Again, thankfully things have moved on, with communications becoming more integrated in most local authorities.
So, in spite of all these advances, how can communications teams justify their existence? The answer should be simple, by always being relevant and only working on things that help to make residents lives both easier and better. By doing this you will help to ensure that local government, and yourselves, do matter.
If your work doesn’t fit these criteria, then you’re probably wasting your own time and tax payers’ money. As communications teams continue to shrink it is vital that irrelevant activities and vanity projects are shed along the way. Easier said than done when big egos are involved, but not impossible.
And if you are successful in making your teams wholly relevant, and ensuring that your work is meaningful, useful, and helpful, then you need to make sure the right people know about it.
You need to run a meticulously planned and highly effective internal campaign for elected members, senior officers, and budget planners to spell out in clear and simple terms just what it is that you and your colleagues bring to your council and the area and people you serve.
If you do these things then the future for communications teams should be both bright and secure. If you don’t, then you’ll only have yourselves to blame.