Cessation of the Council Publication Known as 'Voice' (Agenda item 8)
Report of Ian Sherwood, Executive Member for Communications, Organisational Performance, Development & Public Protection.
The Executive Member for Communications, Organisational Performance, Development and Public Protection presented the report and Dominic Chessum, the Joint Marketing and Communications Team Leader was in attendance to answer any questions.
Members were informed that this was a decision that Cabinet had agonised over for a long period of time. Not everyone had agreed with the decision to cease the publication of ‘Voice’ at the meeting held in May 2013 but since then the magazine had been in suspension which had allowed further validation of communication channels. Now was the time to stop as there were other ways to communicate to the public, and the views of the residents as to how they ranked the importance of ‘Voice’ compared to other services through the ‘Could We Should We’ consultation, which was to cease the publication to achieve savings, should be acknowledged. There were, in his opinion, less and less published publications as people nowadays were inclined to use social media as their preferred means of communication. He pointed out that the key to communication was through Elected Members by keeping Parish and Town Council meetings informed, or by communicating through the Parish magazines. He knew that not everyone would be in favour of the recommendation but he asked for Members to support the cessation of ‘Voice’.
Councillor Williams said that he still received many publications from various bodies which he welcomed as all were very informative and were all doing a specific job. He felt that ‘Voice’ was a publication that had allowed the Council to communicate and should be continued even if it was published just twice a year.
The Executive Member for Corporate Services and Quality Assurance stated that he had been consistently opposed to the cessation of ‘Voice’ as he knew how important the publication had been to many of his constituents. He pointed out that the satisfaction levels had actually increased when the publication had been upgraded. He was well aware that most people preferred to read a magazine rather than visit the Council’s website. He said that whilst he understood the reasons behind the decision, he thought it was too soon and would therefore be voting against the recommendation.
Councillor North had always been a strong advocate for keeping ‘Voice’ as not everyone had access to computers; however, she pointed out that since the suspension of the publication, she had not received any comments about what had happened to it. She felt that Breckland Council had a good Communications Team but wanted to know how the Council proposed to get its communications across in future.
Councillor Chapman-Allen thought that Members were missing out on a very valuable point; there was a great deal of difference between towns and villages. In towns you were more likely to hear about what was going on in Breckland rather than if you lived in a village. There were also many residents in her Ward that did not have access to computers and many would not contemplate attending Parish meetings. She felt that the ‘Could We Should We’ consultation had not been well represented and she therefore hoped that ‘Voice’ would be reproduced as it had been a valuable means of communication.
The Deputy Leader said that Shipdham had a monthly Parish magazine that she always contributed too by writing what was happening in Breckland Council. Schools were always provided with information/flyers about holiday activities so there was on-going communication but in a different way.
The Opposition Leader admitted to reading ‘Voice’ cover to cover but found nothing new as he had read it elsewhere and therefore supported the recommendation as there were other far cheaper ways to communicate. He also reminded Members of the feedback from the ‘Could We Should We’ consultation.
The Executive Member for Communications, Organisational Performance, Development and Public Protection thanked Members for all the valid points made. He questioned the point made by Councillor Chapman-Allen in relation to the consultation representation and assured Members that prior to the ‘Could We Should We’ there had been a two page survey included in the actual ‘Voice’ publication so everyone would have had the opportunity to put their views forward. He felt that Councillors were far more important than a magazine and could promote local news in their Wards in a much better way.
Option 1 - Do nothing
The publication remained in suspension and the Council did not realise any possible savings from the budget
Option 2 – Permanently cease publication of the magazine (recommended)
Take the remainder of the budget for publication for financial year 2013/14 as savings and remove the budget line from the communications budget for the 2013/14 onwards
Option 3 – Bring ‘Voice’ out of suspension
Continue to publish the Council publication with the number of editions to be agreed by Members. It should be noted that if Members were to agree a number of publications above 4 per year, this would not only remove the option of making efficiency savings, but it would also require growth in the budget.
- Substantial year-on-year savings would be made by ceasing publication of the Council magazine.
- Modern communication channels including social media have now been validated. Combining these new communications channels with traditional communication methods and ensuring parish/town councils and parish magazines were kept informed means any negative effects from ceasing the magazine could be adequately mitigated.
- Ceasing the magazine also ensured continued compliance with the government’s direction for councils to demonstrate the cost effectiveness of their communications.
Following a vote, it was
1) the production of the Council publication known as ‘Voice’ cease with immediate effect; and
2) the remainder of the budget for the publication in the financial year 2013/14 be taken as savings and be removed from the communications budget for 2014/15 onwards.