Agenda item

Corporate Communications Strategy

To consider the report of the Chief Officer Commercial.


Consideration was given to the report of the Chief Officer Commercial.


The Chief Officer Commercial advised that this strategy had been considered by both Scrutiny and Executive during the spring but had been delayed being considered by Council due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  A number of the aspirations were contained within the strategy which had been escalated over the last 6 months.  The importance and the power of the social media at such a difficult time in being able to release key messages at speed to residents and being able to respond to requests for information during a time of emergency had been recognised.  It was noted that digital and social media were very powerful tools and provided a two-way communication process for the Council and its residents.


The overall objective of the strategy as detailed in paragraph 2.4 of the report was to deliver excellent, innovative and cost effective two-way communications, building a positive reputation and increasing trust and confidence that the Council was delivering services that met residents, businesses and visitor’s needs.


Much of the information gathered to provide the content of communications had been gathered from regular attendance at Directorate Management Team meetings and the Communications Team was working closely with each director to identify early engagement with services on managing communication campaigns and opportunities.


There were six ambitions or themes which would drive the communications delivery led by the Corporate Communications Team and these were outlined in paragraph 2.6 of the report.  Each of these ambitions had a set of actions that made up a programme of work which would be scrutinised over the next five years.  The following correction was made to paragraph 2.7 of the report namely that, reporting on the delivery of the work programme would be undertaken on a quarterly basis via Corporate Overview Scrutiny Committee (not annually as reported) and would be reported into Council on an annual basis.


RESOLVED accordingly.


The Chief Officer Commercial concluded by outlining the options for recommendation contained in paragraph 3 of the report.


Use of Digital Communication Channels – a Member expressed his concern that the Council’s reputation in terms of communications with the public was ‘shot’ at this time.  Residents who tried to telephone into the contact centre had an average wait time of between 45 minutes to an hour and the self-service ‘app’ did not always work effectively at all times.


Support for Elected Members and Staff - the Leader of the Labour Group commended the strategy and said that he had seen an improvement in communications in the last few years.  The plan as outlined in paragraph 2.5 also aimed to support Members and staff but pointed out that there was an onus on Members, particularly lead Members to speak up for the Council.  He relayed a conversation that had taken place with a journalist from BBC Radio Wales asking for him to comment on the impending local restrictions and had been advised by the journalist that leading Members had not been willing to participate.  He said that this was not good enough during these dire times – there was an onus on Members of the Council and in particular, the leadership to communicate. 


Agenda Paperwork - another Member expressed his concern that he had not had sight of the reports being discussed at this meeting and said that as the Council was currently operating remotely it was essential that Members were provided with this information.  He pointed out that the ICT provision was inadequate and unreliable. The Chair confirmed that Members had access to the information a week before the meeting took place.


Communications - a Member commenced by stating that she was aware that these were dire times and that services were extremely stretched but said that if there were serious issues happening within wards and the County Borough, then Members should be kept updated and be provided with this information immediately – the Member gave the example whereby a local school had been closed in her ward and she had been bombarded by residents with concerns.  A further incident related to a Corporate Communication message which was published before parents were appraised of the situation the head teacher. 


The Member continued by stating that Members were elected to work on behalf the public and should, therefore, be kept abreast and fully informed of anything that was happening particularly in their individual wards and the borough.  Members could then relay this information onto concerned parents which would subsequently prevent an influx of calls to the Council. The Member concluded by stating that she had put the concerns relating to school communications and was awaiting a response from officers.


Another Member stressed the importance of legal notices being communicated to the public e.g. planning applications as more and more people were moving to the internet to access this type of information.  In addition, he said that the website should also contain new stories and it was important that the website was accessible not just from desktops and mobile devices but that it worked in conjunction with the current ‘app’ in order that news could be delivered to the residents in this format.


Leader of the Council’s Response - The Leader of the Council agreed with the comments made by the Leader of the Labour Group and said that if requests were made to Members to make statements to the press then they should do so.  With regard to the BBC Radio Wales interview, he confirmed that he had only received one request from the Communications Team to make a comment following a meeting that had taken place with three other Leaders involved in lockdown situation and Welsh Government Ministers but unfortunately, he had been involved in a further meeting directly thereafter and there had been a deadline for responses to be received by. 


With regard to the comments made around communications he said that whilst he agreed to a certain extent, he could not agree that the whole of communications were ‘shot’ – this was a strong word and whilst there some aspects that needed improvement, to brand all of communications as ‘shot’ was absolutely wrong.  Whilst he shared similar concerns with regard to the area referred to, this would form part of the review that the Chief Officer Commercial would be undertaking to improve certain areas. A great deal of emphasis and focus had been put on communications and engagement over the last few years and this had been particularly good in some areas – the strategy would address those areas most in need of improvement and hopefully during the coming months and years, Members and residents would witness those required improvements.


The Member referred to his earlier comments and advised that he was relaying the concerns of residents and for clarity had said that ‘particular’ areas of communications were ‘shot’ and not the whole of communications. Residents were not contacting the Council via the telephone due to the considerable amount of waiting time.  He concluded by stating that he believed that in the eyes of the public, the reputation of communications had diminished.


The Corporate Director of Education (Interim) advised that the Council was clearly in an emergency response situation and the Education and Communications Teams were doing their absolute utmost to communicate in what was a very dynamic position to key stakeholders regarding the school closure situation.  Also he pointed out schools were key partners in distributing messages to parents and it was in their hands to release that information.


In relation to the school referred to, he advised Members of the reason why there had been a slight delay of between 10-15 minutes for the Head releasing the information to parents.  With regard to the original request that had been received in relation to the Council’s approach to responding to Members regarding school closures, this was due to be discussed at CLT who wanted to take a consistent approach going forward in circumstances that may arise in the future and he would respond to the Member accordingly.


It was unanimously,


FURTHER RESOLVED, subject to the foregoing, that the report be accepted and Option 1 be endorsed, namely that the Communications Strategy and associated work programme be agreed.


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