Building a strong connection between public services and citizens is the most critical part of the job in local government. Success or failure often rests on it.
This is not just about trust and reputation: it is much more about using the influence curve it creates to inspire, motivate, equip and enable, and make changes.
The role of communications is integral to this challenge but what we are seeing is a dilution of communications skills and less recognition of the importance of the job. Local Government Association research shows that the councils struggling to build an effective bridge with their communities are the ones without proper strategy, narrative and leadership skills in place.
Across many part of the country, it feels like the head of communications is an endangered species at the time when the skills are needed the most. A council without effective communications leadership is like a ship without a navigator. We are here not just to help chart the choppy seas that define reputation, we are here to help set the destination, while engaging, involving and inspiring our own staff, partners and communities to be part of that journey.
Success not only depends on the ability of the navigator to have the right skills, experience and nous; it also relies on having the right conditions in place.
That is why LGcomms, with the LGA, the Society for Local Authority Chief Executives & Senior Managers, and the Public Relations & Communications Association, has produced a best practice strategic communications guide for local government. It sets out what good looks like and the skills and relationships in place.
It talks about the components of modern communications leadership and the value of leadership when comes to acting as a trusted advisor, pre-empting problems and designing solutions around complex areas where the public’s active support and involvement in the delivery of public services is fundamental.
The best politicians rely on sound and evidence-based communications advice to help formulate policy. This is not a luxury because get it wrong and the cost of failure is immense, not only in terms of reputation but also in having to spend the resources on re-engineering policy.
The most-high performing strategic communications teams will not only act as the trusted advisor, they will help bring in investment. They will use data and insight to manage demand on services and using the power of digital communications to strengthen relationships and inspire action in the role we all have to play in what success looks like on the ground.
Strong strategic communications has never been more important to local government. The councils that are prepared to invest the right skills, leadership and conditions will see a return on that investment many times over.
Simon Jones, chair, LGcomms