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Public notices: the case for radical reform

October 29th, 2012 | Posted by Mary Yang in E-Government | Events | GovDelivery | UK Government

This is a guest post from Rob Dale, Online Engagement Lead, at UK government think-tank, LGiU (Local Government Information Unit).

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Local authorities in the UK spend up to £67.85m every year publishing public notices in local newspapers.The individual cost of publishing a notice can reach over £20 per column cm in some publications, upwards of three times the cost for other adverts. This is resulting in a weighty burden on councils.

Local authorities are crying out for change. We surveyed 110 councils for our recent report on the issue and found more than 90% of respondents want the legal requirements reformed. One commented that current standards “are an out-of-date anachronism of a pre-electronic age”. The head of communications at Brighton & Hove said they were a “total waste of public money”.

In terms of cost and time effectiveness, the success of reaching and engaging an audience and assessing feedback, the vast majority of residents rated the current system as bad or very bad. It is clear that councils are not getting value for their money.

LGiU wants to see a mixture of subtle and radical change:

  • Councils should be free to decide where it is best to place public notices.
  • More work needs to be done to de-jargon and standardise the content of public notices.
  • Councils who do publish notices online should offer users a email subscription service, allowing uses to opt-in to receive public notices.
  • Hyperlocal, neighbourhood websites, as well as traditional local media news sites, should be encouraged to carry feeds of council notices.

The government should also look into the possibility of supporting the development of a central online portal for publishing public notices.

We are keen to collect information and insight from the US. If you are interesting in local government communications please take part in our survey that forms the base of this project.

There is not, and should not be, a one-size-fits-all solution to this problem. Councils want the freedom to decide where is best to place public notices. Some may choose to go online only, others to continue publishing in local publications.

What impact would changing the system have? We can transform the way councils think of public notices, from being a chore and a cost, to a communication point that adds value to the council’s engagement and channel shift strategies.

We also want to see a greater involvement of hyperlocal and community forums in the sharing of these notices. As Networked Neighbourhoods have shown, more and more people are using these citizen-led sites to find local information.

And what for the local press? These changes would have a big impact on local papers – £67.85m is a significant contribution to commercial newspaper industry’s turnover. There is no doubt that a vibrant, local media is vital to the democratic process, but the current trend invites some hard questions about value for money.

More information can be found on http://reformpublicnotices.tumblr.com/

Read Rob’s original post on GovLoop.

Interested in learning more? Join GovDelivery and hear LGiU at our annual UK user conference on 15 November. At this year’s event, we will address concrete steps that public sector organisations can take to engage UK residents and drive down costs by reducing spend on traditional communication channels and achieving channel shift to cheaper online sources of information. Register today – seats are limited!

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