Communications at the heart of devolution conference

BrumNewStreetInitial thoughts

I was lucky enough to attend this event in Birmingham at the impressive City Hall. I don’t normally venture north of the Thames so this was an adventure for me from the outset.

Devolution is a hot potato at the moment and I can’t say I’m an expert – I understand the theory, but I know that there is a lot of discussion and it’s early days across the country.

I wanted to find out how other comms bods were approaching this and how such a complex and nebulous concept could be approached with stakeholders, staff and the local community.

In the context of George Osborne’s business rates announcement and the upcoming comprehensive spending review at the end of the month, this has become an even more interesting topic.

Brum THThe big day

This Local Government Association and LGComms event was chaired by Solihull’s Chief Executive, Nick Page and kicked off with some scene setting from the LGA and an explanation of their Devonext initiative. There are some great resources on the website, which you can visit to get the lowdown.

We heard a couple of case studies from Greater Manchester and Cornwall and the day was topped off with a media perspective. Experiences to date shows that devolution deals usually happen within short timeframes and transparency is really important. A clear and consistent narrative can help with this. The right resources also need to be in place ASAP and utilising existing comms networks are key.

Devolution or whatever we decide to call it can provide great opportunities for the organisations and communities involved. Some of the more contentious issues that require some careful communications messaging and engagement include:

  • taking on a directly elected mayor – in the regions
  • geographic divides and perceptions that may exist
  • councillor buy in and approval
  • Deciding on a name for a combined authority…

What did I learn?

As with most complex local government communications campaigns, there are lots of audiences to consider. Additionally the messages will vary based on your area and strategy. Some key audiences to think about clear WIFM messages for are:

  • partners, including statutory services, universities and regional organisations who need to be on board from the outset
  • councillors and MP’s
  • staff’
  • businesses and of course
  • the general public.

Making this real means talking about what improvements this will make to opportunities for jobs and training, access to housing and improve transport links.

What next?

The London councils devolution and public services reform paper gives more detail on the current thinking in London and only time will tell how this will develop.

I plan to talk to people at Lambeth and colleagues in other boroughs about this and their plans. It’s not going to happen overnight but it’s worth thinking about messaging, especially in context of our budgets and finances. I will also keep my ear to the ground on what’s happening across the country. I’ll report back here and on Twitter.

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