Elected mayors, devolution and #50shadesofred

Devo Next stamp

The LGA and the CIPR’s Local Public Services Group put on a cracking event looking at devolution and communications in Newcastle today

Chatham House rules, that nice Mr. Holdstock from the LGA said, but in true communications fashion that doesn’t mean you can’t write a blog about it.

Around 50 communications and policy professionals from across local government, the NHS, transport and the private sector heard about the progress of the Greater Manchester devolution experience, the aspirations for the UK’s core cities and the great work the North East Chamber of Commerce is doing to promote the region.

The phrase ‘visionary political leadership’ was used in relation to the new mayors – just once – but that was enough to get people thinking. To me it reinforced the fact the quality and vision of the first raft of mayors will be critical in shaping this.

In communications terms that means three things

  • Learn to walk before you try to run – getting the basics – a working website, visual identity, simple protocols and wait for it – a strategy – in place are essential for any new combined authority – before you start communicating about how wonderful it is
  • Plan and prepare for the unknown – but accept you can’t control it. Mayoral candidate announcements, government policy changes and good old fashioned ‘events’ will all blow best laid plans off course. Deal with it. Re-evaluate, focus on your objectives, and keep engaging.
  • “You’ll have to learn to love policy” and “embrace your inner policy wonk” – maybe not the news that a lot of communications professionals want to hear, but Will Mapplebeck, Strategic Communications Manager for the Core Cities programme is dead right. Communications and policy have never been more closely entwined. We want policymakers to be good communicators, but it is time for communicators to rise to the challenge and become good policymakers – real influence.

I’d tell you more but Chatham House rules mean otherwise.

Thanks for stopping by


PS – there were some nice tools and tips for inspiration as well. Here’s two of my favourites below:

  • the LGA’s DevoNext resources hub (just don’t call it a toolkit) – some handy animations and communications tools for engaging with staff and the public around devolution
  • #50shadesofred – check out the Indpendent’s take on London Fire Brigade’s great social media campaign to engage with its community