These past two weeks has been like nothing else before in terms of communications activity at Northamptonshire CC.
There is crisis management and then there is this.
This, however, isn’t a reflection on the sheer scale of media demand, political column inches and narrative-setting in a time of crisis and perpetual political cross-fire. Rather, this is actually about how the passing of this Section 114, despite how unsettling it is, has represented a genuine and profound opportunity to engage with local and national audiences about the wider issues of funding of public services and the state in which they find themselves in 2018.
In my personal life people, have genuinely wanted to discuss with me the issues facing local government; recently I chatted casually with a neighbour about the virtues or otherwise of unitary governance as a solution. That’s not a common conversation while taking out the bins.
Where the council has had to stop doing things because of the section 114, people have noticed and don’t like our withdrawal from whatever space that is. Our universal service offering is being recognised now we are forced to withdraw it. I have to admit, I was taken aback at the response to our decision not to renew our webcasting contract, meaning our latest cabinet meeting was not broadcast on our website. Who knew our webcasts were this popular?
Of course, I am not so naïve as to misunderstand which way this is likely to play out. All the indications are that many people will use the section 114 to illustrate a failing council as opposed to a sector-wide financial crisis finally coming to fruition. I understand that. It is broadly inevitable and will be very destabilising to our organisation.
However, we should also be aware, as we communicate and navigate our way through these waters, that our position may have finally alerted the slumbering giant of public opinion to the very real impact local services have on communities and that these services are now facing a game-changing crisis.
Simon Deacon, head of communications and marketing, Northamptonshire CC