Council elections - officer headache or transformation opportunity?

By Mark Adams-Wright: Managing Partner for Local Government and Education, Telefónica UK

It’s May 5th. That means local elections are in full swing – Councillors armed with leaflets, social media campaigns and big plans for citizen engagement. You might reasonably believe that local Council employees can’t wait for it all to be over, but is that truly the case?

Elections often herald change. In their first hundred days of office, new Councillors tend to bring a buzz of enthusiastic ideas – implementing new policies, building new strategies, determined to make a real difference to their communities.

Does this change really strike fear into the hearts of Council Officers and their staff?

My personal experience of working in a Council tells me that the myth of battling Officers and Councillors is just that: a myth. With the Local Government Association representing both politics and Councillors, as well as taking centre stage on issues and concerns that Councils face every single day, the harmony between politics and council activities is more aligned than ever. And it’s strengthened by the common goal of delivering excellent services to residents across the UK.

As belts are ever tightening on the budgets for Local Administration, one constant theme remains – that the need for constant, high-quality communication is at the heart of everything that Local Authorities do.  With the increased pressure on Local Authorities to deliver more with less, the organisation must manage front line services while drastically reducing overall costs. Effective communication is at heart of the challenge.

Will the new Councillor read policy documents on a desktop computer on an assigned desk, or will they read it on a smart device on the move? How will Councillors choose to communicate with the modern-day resident? Whatever the answer to these and other communications questions, it’s clear that communications will need to be consistent and unified.

When a Councillor first takes office, will they demand a unified communications strategy? Are they even thinking about unified communications? Does your communications strategy match your digital agenda and make unified communications a clear reality?

A unified communications strategy can range from using a file-sharing solution like Box for safely sharing and accessing documents for completely up-to-date information, to deploying a communications platform such as Skype for Business to enable people to communicate quickly and easily.

Strong communications platforms encourage people to reach out beyond their existing networks, interact in ways they haven’t before, and become more social in the way they work. This can extend beyond the confines of the Council walls and out into the community. I want to enable Councils, Councillors and residents to be able to communicate with each other in the most efficient and effective way, improving local decision-making and democracy.

From this year’s elections onwards, let’s extinguish the old myth. The opportunity for transformation is front and centre, and communication will remain at the epicentre of local politics and administration. Flexible communication can help everyone work better together. If you want to find out more, visit our public sector catalogue or tweet me @markadamswright.