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State of the nation

Jo Miller, Chief Executive of Doncaster Council and President of SOLACE, and LGA chairman, Lord Porter of Spalding (CBE), introduce our Future Communications hub.

Future Comms digital banner

Foreword: LGA chairman, Lord Porter of Spalding (CBE) 

Our role as leaders in local government is to put the interests of communities first. Communications plays a key role in ensuring we do this.

The last few years have seen huge changes in the way we communicate, but this has also brought its challenges. Local media – the traditional method most councillors have used to get their message across – is in decline. Communications teams and budgets in most councils have shrunk.

So what should a good, modern communications function in local government look like? How can effective communications help us meet our priorities and support us as political leaders?

Councils will play a key role in bringing certainty in uncertain times. In order to achieve this, we need to inform, engage and listen to our communities.

Good communications helps us to deliver the everyday services that people need and value – from telling people about bin collections to letting parents know their child has a place at school. But it also plays an increasingly crucial role in transforming and saving lives. Put simply, we can’t encourage often hard to reach people to lead healthier lifestyles, or get vital information out in times of crisis, without an effective communications function.

A healthy local democracy is built upon councillors campaigning for and representing their communities. They need to be kept informed in order fulfil that role. To be strong and ambitious leaders of our places, we need to ensure our residents, staff, businesses and partners are communicated with effectively.

Strategic communications advice is something we as leaders value. But we rightly have high expectations. It is important we understand the core skills and attributes that are needed in our communications teams so they can help us deliver our priorities.

Helping to make sense of these important challenges is the aim of this resource, which draws on the very best practice from councils across the country and contributions from leading communicators. It will be regularly updated to support you in developing and improving your communications.

Foreword: Jo Miller,  Chief Executive of Doncaster Council and President of SOLACE

Communication isn’t something that we “do” in local government; it’s fundamentally about who we are. 

Ultimately, we are about our connections with the people we serve so the value of good communication must be embedded in our DNA. We have only to reflect on responses to recent emergency incidents to recognise that our effectiveness as communicators plays a huge role in how our communities are able to respond to and recover from moments of crisis.

Our credibility as public service leaders has always relied on making sure that our residents, partners and colleagues feel that we are listening, keeping them informed, engaging with them in decision-making and working with them to tell the stories of our places. But if the “why” of communicating has not really changed, the “how” has grown ever more complex and the “when” ever more urgent. 

Our residents now access information and seek to share their own views in a far greater range of ways than ever before. The 24-hour news cycle has led to an expectation of lightning-quick public responses on even the most complicated or sensitive issues. And as austerity has forced councils to make harder and harder choices about cuts to services, our residents quite rightly want a greater understanding of the assumptions behind the options we explore and more of a say on the final decisions that are taken.

That is why my Solace colleagues and I were pleased to work with the LGA to gather these fantastic examples of how our approaches to communication have adapted and evolved as the world around us has changed too. We know that there are many more great stories out there that we could not fit into this short guide. I hope that you find this a useful tool.