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Local government public relations officers have been challenged to 'live up to the demands of the emerging politica...
Local government public relations officers have been challenged to 'live up to the demands of the emerging political agenda.'

Speaking at the Institute of Public Relations weekend school in Harrogate on Saturday, the chief executive of Kirklees MBC, Robert Hughes, who is also vice president of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives said:

'Communications is central to everything we do in Kirklees. Decision making and communication are the two key twin tracks needed from our managers.

'Having a positive and dynamic public relations policy is central. Too many councils see public relations as an extra, a propaganda tool, but it must be central to the council's vision.'

Mr Hughes, who has a background in public relations, made an impassioned plea for communicators to have an influence at board level in local authorities, as modelled in Kirklees.

'What Kirklees does today, others will copy tomorrow,' he said.

His comments were backed up by Sheffield City Council chief executive Pamela Gordon and Alan Whitehead, professor of public policy at the Southampton Institute.

Pamela Gordon said: 'The necessity to be close to the people is common currency in political terms ... public relations is at the centre of our change initiative. Public relations officers need to be empowered to lead and advise across the board.'

Alan Whitehead discussed the changing role of the public relations officer - becoming less 'explanatory' and more 'mediatory'. He said public relations officers would become advocates for local government rather than 'spin doctors'.

The out-going chair of the IPR local government group, Peter Swarbrick, endorsed the views of the speakers and said he looked forward to closer working relationships with Solace and other 'agents of change' in enabling public relations officers to rise to the challenge.'

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