Thursday, 22 October 2009

Nottingham City Council in 'Dodgy Communiations' Shock....Again

The Evening Post has reported that NCC has been criticised over it's communications, in particular the Stalinist banners that get hung up all round the Market Square.

The District Auditor said that the ones hung up on the Council House earlier this year saying "2 stars, Improving well" were "borderline legal". Cllr Chapman interprets this meaning that the DA " happy with the current initiative". My bullshitometer has just exploded.

Before this latest incident came up I had been thinking of writing about the previous two incidents in 2005 and 2007 when NCC had been told off for having dodgy banners about the place, however it didn't seem very current and I put my rather limited energies into more recent matters.

As one of NCC's 'Statements of Internal Control' notes, the Audit Commission had issued statutory recommendations regarding unlawful publicity materials issued in 1999/2000. Later criticisms of banner campaigns during early 2007 (the notorious 'Proud' and 'Ambitious' campaigns), a mere three months before the local elections led the AC to conclude that the statutory recommendations had not been complied with, leading to NCC introducing further action. In March this, the 'Standards Committee' further discussed publicity issues when it considered NCC's response to proposed changes to the Code of Practice on local government publicity.

So why do they keep getting caught out? The issue has been discussed to death and it's not as if publicity is short of resources. It has a budget of about £2.7m pa and its own senior officer at Director level.

Frankly, if all the Audit Commission is ever going to do is write a stiff letter it's hardly surprising if councillors play fast and loose with the law. JoCo and his mates are hardly known for their reticence and the opposition on the council is just too small (and in the case of the Tories too useless, at least the Lib Dems do at least make an effort to challenge things, it was them who complained about the recent publicity issue). The Commission needs to hold senior councillors to account on this issue. In 2007, after one of the earlier incidents, Nottingham seriously bucked the political trend in the local elections, returning an increased Labour majority. Coincidence? I don't think so, these things have an effect.

However, I can't help wondering if that Director, Stephen Barker (we've had fun with him on here before) is also a big part of the problem. He is known to be close to JoCo and the inner circle and also appears to be close to the Sheriff, accompanying him on his recent US junket chasing Robin Hood. Such personal closeness to the politics may result in his judgment being impaired in terms of the political neutrality of the communications initiatives that he is in charge of. It is part of the role of senior management to provide advice on such issues.


Anonymous said...

Interesting how people judge success. Nottingham trumpets its two star rating yet I listened to the Chief Executive of Northampton Council recently describing how she had inherited a two star council and was working to improve it. She clearly saw the real meaning of a two star rating: 'pretty bad, must do better'.

Strange then (or perhaps understandable in the peverse world of local politics), that the City Council should go to the (almost illegal) lengths they have to suggest that their two stars mean they are doing well.

Andy said...

Their tactic relies a lot on people having no idea how the Audit Commission's ratings work. Saying you've got 2 stars is pretty meaningless when you don't know what the maximum is (ie 4) but people will relate to the 'improving well' message, which is separate from the star rating.

I think getting 2 stars means that you are in the bottom 20% of authorities these days as well which strangely wasn't mentioned on the banners.

And as I've said before, it's a mystery why NCC got judged as 'improving well' when the overall ratings actually dropped slightly but that's the Audit Commission for you.

Unknown said...

I'm waiting for the day when JC starts appearing on these banners; Big Brother style. Mind you Cllr Chapman seems to be the public face of the council. Maybe JC sits in his office Blofeld style, planning on how to take over the whole county.