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Varya Shaw reports from the IPR conference in Birmingham ...
Varya Shaw reports from the IPR conference in Birmingham

Scheme to help PR officers chase top jobs

The next generation of chief executives could come up through council press offices, following the launch of a mentoring scheme.

Senior managers will mentor communications officers in a bid to provide them with a clearer career path, under plans set out by the Institute of Public Relations and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives.

The scheme is open to communications officers who are already in a position of responsibility, involves four to six meetings and is free.

The institute's local government group vice chair Mike McCabe said: 'We do feel that the more traditional professionals in local government such as legal, finance and human resources have had much more clear career development paths.

'This is one piece in the construction of a clearer development path for communications professionals.

The initiative comes at a time when councils are finding it hard to recruit to management positions.

Only this week LGC columnist and SOLACE director general David Clark writes: 'There is leakage from our industry at a senior and middle-management level.'

The scheme will:

- Help communications staff develop their potential for leadership roles

- Promote the contribution of PR professionals to local government

- Educate existing top managers about their own practice.

Each mentoring relationship will be confidential and individually tailored. SOLACE continuous learning scheme representative Danny Chesterman added: 'Mentoring can just draw out that bit more and help you to act on that which you already know.'

Scrutiny helps air complexities

Scrutiny boards can help convey the complex nature of council business, said Camden LBC assistant chief executive (communications) Deirdre College.

Talking about the way modernisation affected councils' communications function, she said: 'Should we be showing people our dark underbelly? My time in the private sector says not. But councils aren't quite so simple. Other people out there don't understand councils aren't so simple.

'Although I think promoting reputation is essential you have to think about what you're doing to show there are complex things in government, both good and bad.

'The more you promote your reputation the more you may confuse people about what you're doing.'

Scrutiny provided the chance to air such complexities: 'We have decided to do publicity about scrutiny. It's a useful part of council business.'

For example, Camden backed down from its controversial decision

to close libraries after criticism from the scrutiny panel.

The public reaction 'gave me great faith that scrutiny doesn't need to be a schizophrenic process,' said Ms College.

PR must engage with best value

Communications officers need to get more involved in the best value inspection process, according to the Audit Commission.

Best value inspection service PR manager Jennifer Tankard urged staff to sit in on mid-inspection'interim challenge' presentations, which give councils the inspectors' early findings.

She said: 'It's a really good opportunity to get an idea of what the report is going to say. If it is not critical you can stop worrying about it and get on with other things. If it is you might want to know about it.'

She stressed that part of the point of best value was to engage local communities. But good communications could let the government know services were improving, she added.

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