Speak to any chief executive about key challenges facing local government and you will invariably get one of five responses: managing demand, investment and growth, business transformation, commercialisation and forging a different relationship with our communities.
Underpinning these is the challenge of how we adapt to the new landscape around us and to make the most of the opportunities that public sector reform and devolution brings.
Consider carefully and you will realise that good strategic communications lies at the heart of every single one of these challenges.
Yet we have to think deeper and wider about our job than ever before, bringing in behavioural science, understanding more about the complex layers of interventions that go into place-making. We need to move from internal comms to enabling middle managers to be real champions and leaders. We need to be commercially minded ourselves, spotting opportunities to maximise income while marketing traded services. Finally, and most importantly, we have to move beyond the written word by getting closer to our communities than ever before, motivating, encouraging and inspiring change.
Yet are we equipped for this, do we have the right skills and ethos and can we take our organisations with us on this mission?
This is the key theme of this year’s Public Sector Communications Academy, which will take place in Leeds on 18-19 October.
This year is the 100th anniversary of organised government communications. While you can argue that local government communications can be traced back to the days of the town crier, it was only in the 1990s that we started to get serious about the power of strategic communications, moving from one-man band press officers to teams that linked in with policy work, community insight and intelligence. It was only then that we really started to understand our communities.
My fear is that unless we step up to the five great challenges, we are in danger of going back to the dark days of one-man band PR teams and that will be a failure for local government as a whole. Your communication teams are no doubt feeling the pressure to change and evolve but they don’t have to do this on their own. There is a huge amount of knowledge and best practice from all corners of the world that can be tapped into at Academy, while growing their own support groups and networks.
That is why the Academy is so important this year and why it is so important that your communication teams are there.
The Public Sector Communications Academy will be held at Cloth Hall Court, Leeds on 18-19 October. It is organised by LGcomms in association with the Government Communications Service and the Local Government Association. LGC is a media sponsor.
You can register for Academy by logging on to www.lgcomms.org.uk.
Simon Jones, chair, LGcomms, @SimonDJones