Keep talking in tough times

MARCH 04, 2011 12:03 AM| no comments

As we all know local authorities in the UK are bearing the brunt of public sector spending cuts. Local Government is seeing funding cut by 28% with much of it front loaded. The Local Government Association estimates councils face a funding shortfall of over 6 billion pounds over the next four years.

But whilst we’ve heard a lot of noise on all this, the reality is that these cuts have yet to truly bite. Councils are now signing off budgets for 2011/12 with millions of pounds of savings forcing them to slash frontline services. Birmingham City Council for example has recently announced a record budget reduction of £212 million.

And it’s not just cuts to frontline services of course. These budget cuts mean significant headcount reduction. Jobs are going. And this of course intensifies the pressure – town halls around the country are under siege.

But that’s the problem. In tough times we need more engagement with citizens rather than less. What’s come through to me is that this, bizarrely, has nothing to do with money. Take Channel Surrey for example – Channel Surrey is a community based Internet TV channel for the people of Surrey. It uses many free tools – websites, social media etc – and it’s reporters are all local people. And because they’re taken from lots of different groups they provide a real chance to engage widely with the community.

Channel Surrey is distributed through video players on a whole host of community sites. Which again adds to the opportunity to engage widely. And whilst there is some cost involved to professionally film this content – so it feels like ‘proper’ TV – it’s really a small amount of money.

So the good news for councils throughout the country is that there are many new ways to engage with all members of their societies. And now more than ever there is a real need for them to do this. Lets just hope they do.

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