As we complete the last throes of negotiation about the settlement to councils, finalised on 22 February, a new issue, data protection, has arisen again.
The new data protection reforms will take effect on 25 May and there are significant fines for getting it wrong (though the Information Commissioner has sought to assure people that the law is not simply about fines).
The rules are probably intended to prevent some junk mail, but will not be effective in reducing non-EU emails or those unwanted ones that come from a different address every day.
It seems that the downside for us councillors is that we will need to produce evidence of the public positively opting in to receive our information newsletters. We have long been required to only have people opting in and only keeping the information for as long as it is required. The council registers with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), and some members have registered individually for an annual fee to cover themselves. New is the requirement to provide evidence of opting in. This may mean again asking permission to keep people’s addresses and have a reasonable time period for how long they are kept.
One option is to focus more on social media where people opt in to follow you, and, depending on their data settings, will receive an email each time you write. You may have seen big organisations such as the RSPB starting a campaign to get non-members to sign up to information by whatever means they feel is most convenient. The short time before the deadline is an opportunity to campaign to re-engage with your communities and gain further support and maybe membership with you. Many of us will need to remodel our engagement strategy with our communities.
The general member advice is always to keep communication going with residents. How to communicate may need a rethink and a concerted effort to find innovative ways of encouraging people to sign up to communicating with you! It may be more of social media and/or judiciously delivered newsletters on environmentally-friendly recycled paper.
Councils who need to keep data, such as pensions due, will be allowed to hold the relevant personal information even if the person does not opt in, according to our legal advice. It is worth asking your council what the impact will be on the council.
We will have to see how it pans out, but here is a good reason to get engaged with your community again! Good luck!