Stoke-on-Trent City Council pays £25k to hire PR gurus
CONSULTANTS have been hired at a cost of £25,000 to advise a cash-strapped council on how to manage its image.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council has drafted in the external support to review its £729,000-a-year PR and communications department.
It comes after the Labour-run council warned residents to prepare for city-wide cuts of £23 million in 2013/14.
Consultants from Westco, which sells services on behalf of Westminster City Council, are to review the council's communications policy until the New Year before reporting on their findings.
An interim manager has been appointed to run the department.
It follows the departure of £75,000-a-year assistant director of commuications, Dan Barton in January, who has since become head of corporate communications at West Midlands Police. Council and Labour leader Mohammed Pervez told The Sentinel he would review the authority's 'communication strategy' after seeing his party lose the Springfields and Trent Vale by-election to the City Independents in July.
Cabinet member Andy Platt also blamed a 'poor PR job' over the reaction of Stoke residents and traders to the authority's relocation to a new £40 million civic centre in Hanley's Central Business District.
John Davis, aged 77, of Bentilee, chairman of North Staffordshire Pensioners' Convention, said: "The three quarters of a million they spend on PR is already wasted when so many cuts are being made, and bringing in consultants is just barmy.
"If the council has a problem with its image it's because they've brought it on themselves with ridiculous decisions.
"I could tell them how to improve their image in two minutes, by using common sense and not wasting money like this."
Councillor Abi Brown, Conservative leader on Stoke-on-Trent City Council, said: "I'd cautiously welcome a review of the communications department because clearly they don't always get it right.
"But you've got to question whether this is really the most prudent use of £25,000."
Charlie Stewart, the city council's assistant chief executive, said: "The council is working to review its overall communication strategy, including all aspects of internal and external communication and spend on third party contracts.
"The review has a remit of improving the way the council engages with various stakeholders including investors. It is also briefed to deliver savings in this area.
"As part of this remit, interim management arrangements have been put in place following the departure of the assistant director of communications earlier this year."