A report by the Group Manager – Communications and Engagement.
The Portfolio Holder presented the report confirming that when the South & East Lincolnshire Councils Partnership was formed in October 2021, the Partnership Business Case had identified opportunities to bring together strategy, policy and services across the three Councils, which had the aim of improving services, achieving savings and ensuring resilience.
One of the first service reviews to be concluded was for the ‘Corporate’ Directorate, and that included the creation of a single Partnership Communications Service. Whilst working together informally since the Partnership formed, the team formally came together as single service in November 2022, creating the opportunity to fully align the communications approach. In the 2023/24 Annual Delivery Plan, approved by Council in March, it was identified that a single Partnership Communications Strategy would be brought forward for consideration to provide a framework for how the Partnership communicates with internal and external audiences going forward. The report tabled the Strategy for input through the scrutiny process.
Strategy was shaped on the CORE purpose
Operational effectiveness of Council services,
and it covered the four primary communications disciplines of Strategic Communications, External Communications, Internal Communications and Media Management.
The Portfolio Holder drew members’ attention to their future media training needs and confirmed that members could request specific training and bespoke sessions would be convened. The strategy was a public facing document which would be on the website for public viewing and it would be subject to monthly evaluation reports. It was also the intent to work alongside the Partnerships Insights and Transformation team to conduct an annual residents’ satisfaction survey which would be benchmarked against the LGA Standards. Moving forward it was intended to include the team in the decision making process and for them to be consulted from the inception of a project to help to shape how it would be represented. Furthermore, members needed to be aware of the importance of seeking briefing notes from the team, in advance of any media interview they intended to undertake. The team were working informally and had proved as much when the late Queen Elizabeth died and with the speed of media coverage it meant they were on call 24/7 for the Council at that time, for its civic responsibilities in place at such an event.
Committee deliberation followed which included:
Committee praised the quality of the Strategy and the fact that it was a forward facing document which would be evaluated monthly. There was agreement to the suggestion that the Councils’ media plan be circulated to all members for their information. A suggestion was made that all press releases be issued to all members as some may have experience of the subject matter, but it was noted that it would not be practical with the number of members involved and also the sensitivity of timing issues. However, members were encouraged to contact the team direct to offer their support when they had either significant experience of something on the media plan or of media training during their careers.
Addressing the initial training a member noted that it would have been more viable to have asked members what they needed, as there were varying degrees of media experience across the membership, and a more individual focus would be preferable moving forward. Additional comments included the need for training in respect of handling hostile situations whereby members were confronted whilst out in the town, and put on the spot to answer questions. Concern was also noted at the misrepresentation of members’ answers following interviews and statements and it was acknowledged that it was difficult to seek a redaction once printed.
Members were reminded of the offer to provide briefing notes for any type of media interview and encouraged to ask for them. All members had a role in their position as a Ward Member and were asked for comments or to accept an interview, and when an immediate response was asked for – to refuse and agree a time when a full response would be provided, allowing time for a briefing note to be provided. The Portfolio Holder advised that in their role as Leader of the Council they did not feel compelled to agree to all interviews especially those that did not serve the Borough or the Council and urged members to consider the same.
Caution was urged at the intention to hold an annual residents survey with concern that responses could often be misleading dependent on how the person was feeling when the filled it in. It was agreed that any survey needed to be structured and presented in a way that gave the resident an incentive to fill it in without bias, and on seeking the appropriateness of their offer to assist in the compilation of the survey due to their own depth of experience in producing them, a member was advised that their offer would be welcomed when the Council looked to start to draft it.
In conclusion the Chairman commended the report and noted his pleasure at the front facing document which would allow much more inclusivity and engagement with residents and questioned the possibility of the scope for a focus group to support the strategy.
That the Corporate and Community committee having considered the strategy, have provided comment to shape its further development.