High-profile PR firms given high-profile bashing over council appointments

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Yesterday came the news that Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is to launch an attack on councils which have hired public relations firms. Mr. Pickes is set to initiate a scathing assault on the “outrageous” practice of town halls hiring PRs today.

“It is a waste of taxpayer’s cash,” said the Communities Secretary, speaking in yesterday’s Express newspaper, “cutting this pointless practice should help councils protect frontline services.”

It seems to me that this outburst of opinion over the hiring, and it now seems possible firing, of PRs is slightly hypocritical. Only this month, a brand new comms department was formed within the central government created Sentencing Council. As head of the communications department, Helen Stear’s role will be to increase public awareness of sentencing practice and reform.

How can Mr. Pickles be so negative about the hiring of PRs by local councils when central government affiliated bodies are doing exactly the same thing?

Hypocrisy aside, the communities secretary has chosen the on-trend tactic of focussing on the cost of hiring PRs, which, in a recession is bound to get people’s backs up. What he has not addressed, however, is the vital role which PR firms play in attracting local investment. Without the communication skills of PRs, communities are likely to attract less attention, which means less tourism, less money for essential public services and a much more fragile local economy. The truth is, PR firms are able to communicate policies and practices to the public, whilst putting local areas on the map in the eyes of central government. Council-hired public relations firms can have an uplifting and stabilising effect on an area.

PR thrives because it is effective. In the case of local government offices, it enables councils to gain enough attention to win support for major projects of vital importance to their residents. That’s not what I’d call “outrageous”.