With a response from three-quarters of local councils in England and Wales, including some of the smallest district councils, the LGA survey is the most comprehensive analysis of the state of communications in local government in recent times.
Other key findings of the survey include:
- 76% of councils said communications with the media and the public had been agreed as a corporate priority
- 74% said members and senior officers see communications as a major strategic factor to build a successful council
- 21% said that they are at, or are working towards, Level 3 of the IDeA's benchmarks for communications. 46% say they will be at or working towards Level 3 in a year's time (see page 26 of the report for explanation of Levels)
The increasing focus on communications is yet further underlined in supplementary research by the LGA's press office into the development of its Public Relations Officers Forum, which revealed a massive 39% increase in public relations departments from four years ago, when the last analysis was conducted.
LGA leaders said the association was committed to helping authorities develop their communications function by discussing targets, exchanging good practice ideas, and raising the importance of communications with elected members.
Brian Briscoe, LGA chief executive said: 'I am delighted that these results highlight a real step change in the growth of communications in local government. This is good news because it indicates that local authorities understand the importance of communicating with local people.
'We know from recent research (see notes below) that there is a gulf of perception between what people think of their local services, and what they think of their local authority. Publicising the good work that local authorities do will help bridge this gap, and will encourage more people to get involved in local democracy.
'It is clear that there are real opportunities for the communications function to play an increasingly influential role within local authorities, and I am pleased that most authorities have agreed communications as a corporate priority. The objective now is to ensure that it is seen as a core competency and not just a soft option', he said.
Nick Walkley, senior best value consultant at the IDeA said: 'We are committed to providing support to local authorities, and will be delivering a programme of work across the IdeA through the productionof toolkits and good practice guides.'
Carl Welham, chair of the IPR Local Government group, said: 'This is a positive trend. Public relations in local government is about people knowing who provides their services and how to comment on, and get information about them. PR plays a vital role in communicating directly with the community.'
The survey is part of a broader programme of work on communication in local authorities from the LGA and IdeA, in partnership with the Audit Commission and the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions. The LGA's annual conference next July will focus on communications in local government.
1) A full copy of the research report, including case studies, is available on the LGA's website.
2) The questionnaire was sent to local authorities in March 2001. 313 local authorities responded as well as 15 fire authorities and 2 police authorities.
3) Full details of the Improvement and Development Agency's communications benchmarks are available on page 25 of the survey report.
4) Research by MORI for the People's Panel demonstrates that local people are satisfied with many individual services (for example, there is a satisfaction of over 80 per cent with schools), but often show lower levels of satisfaction with the council overall - typically around 50 per cent on average.
5) The Public Relations Officers Forum is a password controlled website solely for the use of local authority public relations officers in England and Wales. For further information contact Lynne Eveson on 0207 664 3225
6) The Modernising Local Government Agenda introduced by the government over the past four years, challenges local authorities to be more citizen focused and improve communications with the public and local partners.