The research – entitled “The (local) state we’re in” – covered 65 local authority Chief Executives and 40 elected Council Leaders across the UK as well as an online survey of 2,010 UK adults aged 18+ which was carried out from 16th to 19th March 2012. The results of the public opinion poll were weighted to nationally representative criteria.
The headline finding is
that local authorities have successfully delivered against an ambitious programme of financial savings over the last year, without any marked reduction in the quality of frontline services. It further highlights a strong level of confidence within councils about being able to repeat that performance in the year ahead. There is notable nervousness however of further financial pressures beyond the current spending review period
There’s a useful section in the research looking at communications in local government. It identifies a difference between perception among senior local government people and the reality about how well informed the public is about why councils are making savings:
Our surveys also uncovered a mismatch between the perceptions of both leaders and chief executives on the one hand, and the public themselves on the other, about how well informed the public are on the reasons councils are making savings. Over half of chief executives and three quarters of leaders said that they thought the public very or quite well informed about the reasons that the council was planning to make savings. By contrast, only one quarter of the public thought that they were very or well informed.
While there was little variation between men and women, there were significant differences across age bands, with only 19% of 18-34 year olds saying they felt very or quite well informed, compared to 27% of 35-40 year olds and 31% of those over 55%.
The report speculates the reason behind this apparent discrepancy could be the wrong choice of communications channels. While there’s nothing to suggest this isn’t the case, personally I suspect that part of the discrepancy could be down to a lack of objective evidence being used by communicators to demonstrate the impact that their work is or isn’t having.
I know I can be boringly repetitive on this, but communicators need to get better at using evidence to understand the baselines of perception and reputation as well as showing what difference they’re making. If this evidence isn’t reaching top officers and politicians then they have no way of knowing what people really think and will base their opinions on their own perceptions and contacts with residents.
The research also gives some interesting perspectives on social media. It recognises that while the sector has rapidly adopted social media in the past years, most social media deployment to date in local government has focussed on exchange of information rather than underpinning broader improvements to efficiency and effectiveness.
The analysis suggests that social media can help local government in three ways – where:
- there is a broad community of interest who would find value in being connected together, having access to information and the advice, support and opinions of others
- there are tools or useful applications that can be provided to help individuals or groups to make decisions or progress through an activity
- support to an individual or group can be delivered through a social or digital media channel, or the connection made between need and service provision.
The research can be downloaded free (registration required) from the PwC website here.