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COUNCIL PROs BACK CALL FOR COORDINATED PUBLIC SERVICE CHANNEL STRATEGIES

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Council public relation officers have backed the proposal from the e-envoy's office that all public sector bodies s...
Council public relation officers have backed the proposal from the e-envoy's office that all public sector bodies should have a channels strategy for service delivery.

The Society of County and Unitary Public Relations Officers (SCUPRO) says

the proposal builds on the existing practice of councils adopting

communications strategies and plans, as well as Implementing Electronic

Government (IEG) statements.

The society also supported the e-envoy's proposition that public sector

bodies should coordinate their channel strategies with each other.

Successful local public sector partnerships have already, said the society,

formed the basis for the DTLR guidance on Local Strategic Partnerships (LEPs).

The society was responding to the office of the e-envoy's consultation

document on 'Framework for Channel Strategies: Delivering government

services in the new economy' (5th November closing date).

Michael Baker, SCUPRO secretary, said: 'PR and communications team have a

central role within local authorities for compliance with the DTLR local

authority publicity code and to maintain a mix of channels - traditional and

electronic - to avoid social exclusion with new electronic channels. They

also have a key role in advising authorities on compliance with other

regulatory, professional and advisory media frameworks.'

Framework for Channel Strategies, Consultation Document

Response from the Society of County and Unitary Public Relations Officers (SCUPRO)

The Society for County and Unitary Public Relations Officers is the national voice for communications and public relations (PR) teams in UK local authorities. These teams have a direct influence over or are responsible for a wide range of channels between the authority and its citizens and customers. They include traditional and electronic channels.

Best Value demands that local authorities consult their communities on way services are delivered. The new duty to develop a community strategy with a vision for local communities means that local authorities need to consult the public and other partner organisations to develop the strategy. Local strategic partnerships will also expect improved consultation between partners and consultation with local people. Effective communications with the public, together with and between stakeholders are a vital part of this work. Local authorities are striving to be better communicators.

Local authority communications and PR teams are working increasingly in partnership with other public sector bodies providing services to users and citizens in their locality. The thinking of local authorities is now very much guided by the requirement under the Local Government Act 2000 to develop local community strategies, drawn up in consultation and partnership with citizens, local stakeholders and communities.

It is good practice for local authorities to develop a communications strategy, plan and protocol to reflect the need for public awareness of its roles as service provider and community leader. They can take account of the social, economic and cultural diversity of local communities and state the specific provision for audiences with special needs, such as people with sensory disabilities. The society recommends that they be drawn up in consultation with local communities, councilors and council staff, then published and publicised locally. Local people need to know how two-way communications with their council can take place.

The society supports in the consultation document Proposition No. 1 [page 8] that all public sector bodies must have a channels strategy for service delivery. This builds on the existing practice of councils adopting communications strategies, protocols and plans, supported by Implementing Electronic Government (IEG) statements.

The society also supports Proposition No. 2 [page 8] that public sector bodies should coordinate their channel strategies with each other. Again this builds on the successful track record of local public sector partnerships, which formed the basis for the Department of Transport, Local Government and Regions (DTLR) guidance on forming Local Strategic Partnerships (LEPs).

PR and communications team are generally considered to be accountable within local authorities for compliance with the DTLR local authority publicity code and to maintain a mix of channels - traditional and electronic - to avoid social exclusion with new channels. The communications and PR teams would also take a lead in determining authorities' approach to compliance with other regulatory, professional and advisory frameworks.

Proposition No 4 [page 8] recognises the need to manage the mix of electronic and traditional channels, but the society would argue that the policy framework should also reflect the need for compliance with the various regulatory frameworks and accountability for management of these processes. If intermediaries, such as local public service partnerships, represented central government services to the public, they would also have to comply with the conventions and guidance on central government publicity. From the society's experience this is a high order function, which demands considerable knowledge and experience if public confidence is to be maintained.

The society would argue that there should be a presumption in favour of localised intermediaries [Proposition No 8, page 9] for public bodies delivering services in the locality. Localisation is critical, in the society's opinion, to ensuring future customer confidence and reassurance in the new channels [Proposition No. 7, page 8].

PR and communications teams in local authorities are responsible for managing and promoting the local governance and service brand. The credibility and recognition of that brand is based on locality, visibility, access and accountability. Localised intermediaries could benefit from that brand affinity.

Compelling local content would also be a significant driver to Influence the behaviour of citizens and customers towards the use of new channels. Local authorities already have significant roles in aggregating and distributing local content related to local service delivery. Localised intermediaries would need expertise in dealing with the content management, publishing law, and intellectual property and rights issues.

There is a strong case for local authorities to be designated as the accountable body for coordinating locality channel strategies and for local public service partnerships to become the intermediaries for local services delivered to the public.

The communications and PR teams within local authorities have much of the necessary knowledge, expertise, skills and networks to make local channel strategy formation and coordination a reality.

No new legislation would be needed to support this approach. The Local Government Act 2000, the DTLR guidance on promoting the powers of well-being, the DTLR guidance on preparing community strategies and the DTLR guidance on local strategic partnerships are already in place and being operated.

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