The dust is settling from the local elections. Whether under new political control or not, councils will now have to face up to the reality of their financial position. The first wave of cuts felt tough but most councils were able to make them without cutting into the bone. In this – the second and more brutal wave – many councils will have to cut deep into the marrow. To bring residents with them on a difficult journey they will have to have a difficult conversation with residents. Those that either duck the tough choices or make the tough choices but avoid the necessary engagement and communication will pay a high price. Here is TCC’s post-election guide to keeping residents onside during the budget cudgels.
- You can never overestimate resident’s knowledge of what you actually do or underestimate their potential for anger when you say you can no longer afford to do some of it.
- Start any conversation with the big picture and set out the principles that will guide you in your judgement.
- Demonstrate that you are taking tough choices yourselves. What are you doing on expenses? What are you doing on pay? What about the numbers in top tier management? What waste have you cut?
- Do polling before you start a consultation, so you know where your residents currently stand on all the key issues.
- Magnify the voice of those who do not have one – such as recipients of adult social service – and project it to the wider public.
- Do not treat your residents as one homogeneous group but don’t micro segment either. The best segmentation we know is values. Mosaic or Acorn tell you where people are, not what they think.
- Language matters. The language that appeals to you won’t necessarily be the language that appeals to your residents. Your segmentation model should help you understand this. Develop one overall narrative that everyone can sign up to, internally and externally.
- Make polling a large part of your consultation. Be transparent and use the polling outcomes to challenge the views of the vocal minority by showing them that their views are not widely held.
- Juxtapose one tough choice against another, so residents are not given permission to pick fantasy choices that defy the budget arithmetic.
- The message is only credible if the messenger is. Use residents and advocates to convey the message not just politicians and make sure your channel and message strategy are more imaginative than press releases and leaflets with worthy expositions of the inner workings of local government.
Nick Pecorelli is an Associate Director at The Campaign Company.