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IT'S NOT JUST GOOD TO TALK - IT'S ESSENTIAL

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It says something about the distance still to travel in making local authorities seem relevant to people's lives th...
It says something about the distance still to travel in making local authorities seem relevant to people's lives that a quarter of members and senior officers still do not see communication as a major strategic factor in building a successful council. If talking to people is not a central part of the work of a public body, then what is?

The Local Government Association's survey of local authority communications has a wealth of interesting - in some cases eye-opening - information about how councils go about one of the most fundamental aspects of their work. And for the most part, its findings are encouraging and a tribute to the professionalism of communications staff and senior managers in local government today.

The LGA's chief executive, Brian Briscoe, rightly hails as a step change the rapid growth in public relations activity, the development of improved relationships with local people and the local media, and the willingness of so many authorities to take up the challenge set by the IdeA communications benchmarks.

But the weaknesses which emerge from the report are obvious. Fewer than half of those taking part in the survey regard effective monitoring and analysis of communication initiatives as important, and fewer than a third think it important to learn from campaigns. No authority would build a road or adopt a policy on care home inspection with such a disregard for the evidence, so why must communications staff work in the dark, unaware of what works and what doesn't?

And, while 48 per cent of local authorities have had to implement their crisis media plan at some time, a third still have no plan to implement.

Perhaps the most encouraging findings to emerge from the survey are the commitment on the part of many authorities to adopt best practice in their communications, and their willingness to invest new money in making them work.

The task for those working in authorities where this is not the case is to convince senior officers - and members - that communications is not a bolt-on added extra, but an integral part of the role of a public body.

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LGA survey finds local government is putting its money where its mouth is

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