Communications work in the public sector seems to be under attack again this week. Firstly our old friends the Tax Payers’ Alliance criticised the NHS for employing “spin doctors”, followed by DCLG Minister Brandon Lewis complaining that a number of councils were breaking the Recommended Code of Practice for Local Authority Publicity.
The Tax Payers’ Alliance claimed that in 2013 the NHS spent £43 million on employing 826 PR staff and went on to state that “taxpayers expect the health budget to be spent on real doctors, not spin doctors.” This is a ridiculously simplistic argument which ignores that fact that much NHS communications work is in the area of health education. Campaigns on everything from smoking cessation to raising awareness of cancer risks not only save lives but also actually reduce public expenditure in the long term.
Eric Pickles and his DCLG team have been waging war on local authority PR departments for some time now. In particular Pickles seems to believe that Councils should not be spending public money on civic newspapers and magazines. This seems to me to ignore that fact that, with local newspapers across the country suffering from alarming circulation falls, Council publications are often the only way for residents to get information on what is going on in their community.
Having spent much of my communications career in either the NHS or in local authorities, I believe that these attacks are misguided. Communications professionals in public sector organisations do a worthwhile job in providing the public with valuable information and advice; they don’t deserve to be used as a political football.