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Birmingham council ‘only employs 28 comms experts’ – Manchester has 77

Birmingham council ‘only employs 28 comms experts’ – Manchester has 77

🕔21.Apr 2015

Birmingham city council may be the country’s largest local authority but it employs far fewer communications experts to get its message across than the likes of Manchester, Leeds and Bristol.

A survey by the media magazine Press Gazette places Birmingham mid-way in a league table for press officers and other communications staff, employing only 28 people in those roles.

Manchester city council has almost three times as many as Birmingham and the most of any authority in the survey, with 77 communications roles.

This was followed by Leeds City Council on 47, Bristol City Council and Sheffield City Council, both with 43, and Glasgow City Council and Kirklees Metropolitan Borough Council in Yorkshire, with 40.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance hit out at what it described as “an army of taxpayer-funded propagandists” employed by local government at a time of severe public spending cuts.

Press Gazette used the Freedom of Information Act to ask 435 city, borough and district councils across the UK how many people they employ in their communications departments.

And the 405 councils which answered the FoI in full have revealed they employ 3,453 people in PR, communications and marketing positions between them.

London has at least 427 press officers and marketing staff working across its local authorities. This is more than four times the entire editorial staff of London’s main local newspaper Evening Standard.

The 3,453 total is more than double the 1,500 communications staff employed by the 20 central government departments.

A Birmingham city council spokeswoman said there were six employees in the press office, 9.8 in design, print and photography, four in internal communications, publications and social media, five in marketing and three managerial positions.

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance said: “It looks like blatant hypocrisy for council officials to complain about necessary savings whilst they keep so many PR staff on the books.

“Whoever is in government after the election must crack down on this army of taxpayer-funded propagandists. Hard-pressed taxpayers expect their money to go towards frontline services, not spin doctors.”

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations said effective communications was “fundamental to modern, high-value and cost-effective local public services”. CIPR President Sarah Pinch said:

It should be of no surprise to anyone that such numbers of public relations and communications staff are employed by city and local councils, who provide frontline services to over 60 million people.

Each and every publicly funded authority has a responsibility to deliver a first class service to their communities. It is vital that residents understand what services are available to them and how to access them. In order to deliver this effectively, engaging in two-way open, honest and transparent dialogue must be managed through the expertise of professional and accountable public relations practitioners.

The Press Gazette and Taxpayers’ Alliance have shown a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose and role of a modern public relations team. The year is 2015, not 1985 – and PR simply does not only exist to serve the beck and call of the national, local and regional press.

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