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Please, Mr Pickles, give town halls a break

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Eric Pickles lambasted town halls and other institutions for spending money with external advisers on lobbying central Government. He extended this attack to stakeholder communications. The Local Government Association quite rightly defended local authorities for their activities due to the complexity of working with central government.

Communicating with and to central government is a highly complex business. We have been fortunate to work with and for many highly professional and switched on civil servants but, with no core standards in place or training about how to treat external callers let alone suppliers, agencies or NGOs who are working to deliver on behalf of Government, our experience is by no means universal.

Trying to communicate with central government and work your way through the myriad of departments to find the right person could be a lot more costly than working with an organisation who know how to do it already.

Communications and marketing for that matter is often viewed as something everyone would by able to do…we call it the Wimbledon effect where after watching Federer, many people believe they can replicate his standard of play. Sadly the industry has also been associated with “spin” - we hate the term as it does not help anyone. Clear, well thought out communications which are relevant to the individual are memorable and drive action where needed is what we advocate. Honesty is always the best policy.

Government sometimes bring marketing and communications skills to projects too late. Communications professionals are brought in because the projects team or civil servants recognise that this area is vulnerable and projects with significant investment can be in danger of failing because of a lack of consultation, or because consultation has been handled without any depth.

Communications are simply too technical as they are being driven by the technical experts to audiences who may not need to or don’t understand the technical or academic aspects but are front line deliverers of services.

Communications are often done to those most expert or vociferous on any subject. Those closest to the government department, and all sorts of interested and valuable people and organisations, are sometimes ignored.

Government press offices are sometimes unable to be proactive because of the volume and scope of work they have. Working alongside them to help deliver and manage the positive messages and alert them to risks which can be easily mitigated can be invaluable.

Proper planning and implementation of stakeholder management, costs a fraction of any project budget but is a genuine investment which can mean the difference between success and failure of projects which have cost millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.

This applies equally to local government, and the town halls which are close to their communities recognise this. They already have considerable expertise on communicating and consulting locally but sometimes trying to work out how to drive messages back to central government is too difficult without support. Mr Pickles can you give them a break?

Rosena Robson is a director at Verdant Consulting

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