A council “Communications Officer” (press officer) tells the truth about his soul-destroying job

I can’t face watching I, Daniel Blake because every day I feel complicit in a system that denigrates vulnerable people.

I knew leaving the voluntary sector to go and work for a local authority would require a culture shift, but I did not fully comprehend how difficult it would be to put a positive spin on cuts to local services after years spent promoting social justice campaigns.

I am part of a team which creates and distributes communications to the general public, through newsletters, the council website, on social media and through the local media. Working in communications often means putting aside your personal opinions and values for the good of the organisation paying your salary, and I have a lot of sympathy with local authorities now I’ve seen it from the inside.

I field calls for stretched council services – and soon my job may be cut too.

With brutal funding cuts from central government and the growing pressure on services, many councils are trying to make the best of a bad situation and make budgets stretch, regardless of politics.

But when Ken Loach’s ‘I, Daniel Blake’ was released last year, all my friends went to watch it in the cinema. I could not face going with them, knowing I was complicit in the same system the film portrayed as destroying people’s lives.

I can see the red tape responsible for the denigration of vulnerable people around me every day, and to be responsible for dressing up the effects of needless bureaucracy in a pretty package for our local papers is soul-destroying. Our press releases go through rigorous rounds of sign off, through all sorts of departments, senior council officers and councillors, all of whom want to remove any material that could incur criticism, which results in bland, council-speak copy.

People probably wouldn’t expect a press officer to care about local reporters, especially as they are usually asking us for responses to critical stories about the council, but I have real sympathy with them. Most of them are inexperienced and clearly stretched for time and resources: their copy is riddled with factual errors that could easily have been double checked, resulting in fractious phone calls between our side and theirs.

The vulnerable people I became a councillor to help have no idea I’m here. The reality is most residents don’t have the time or inclination to attend committee meetings or read all the reports and documents produced by the council. They should know how funding cuts are going to affect their local services and communities. It’s all there in black and white if you know where to find it. It’s an easier time for us if contentious issues pass through committees easily, as there are fewer difficult questions from reporters for the week’s papers.

Social media has become another accountability function for councils, which creates a lot more noise for us to deal with. Most councils will have active citizen campaigners ready to jump on any communication the council puts out to rip it to shreds. These days, it’s actually these people, rather than journalists, who spot the things the council would prefer went unquestioned. It can be disheartening, particularly when you’ve worked hard to capture the nuance of a complicated situation, but when you agree with the critics over the council it’s hard to take it too personally.”


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