Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Eric Pickles' Strange View of the World

I have a confession. I like Eric Pickles.

I've worked for the Tory Party and been a Tory Councillor. I know that within Party circles, he's held in high regard, and has a populist, popular touch.

But his latest announcement that he is consulting on banning Councils from using "hired-gun lobbyists that operate in the shadows to bulldoze special interests through" central government is just playing politics.

Let me explain why Eric is wrong:

1. If 'hired gun lobbyists' (what a ridiculous phrase) can 'bulldoze special interests' through the Government, then maybe he ought instead to ask his Department to be a little more rigorous in examining Councils' proposals? If his officials just roll over in the face of any old argument, then I have a pretty simple way he can save the public purse some money....

2. He assumes that no public body has the right to take a different view to that of the Government. From a Secretary of State who believes in localism that's a pretty strange position. Because if he did believe they were able to take a different view, then why wouldn't he let them lobby for that view? As the former Leader of Bradford Council, he should know that Bradford and Whitehall don't always see eye to eye.

3. If he does accept the pretty Conservative view that Whitehall doesn't always know best, then why shouldn't Councils bring in temporary, specialist support to make their case? I thought that from Nick Ridley onwards there was a strong tradition of Conservatives believing that it made financial sense for Councils to use outside consultants to cover exceptional, unpredictable needs?

Of course, I don't believe that Mr Pickles really believes in all of this. But he certainly does believe in the power of publicity. Now his tough man act might deliver him some good headlines in the Daily Mail, but it won't help him deliver better local governance -or better value for the taxpayer either. As we all know, measuring effectiveness by how thick the press cuttings are is a pretty artificial, short-term method.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Here's to you @wadds

Ok, so I would have enjoyed winning last night's reputation online award for Greatest Contribution from an Individual. But losing to @wadds isn't the end of the world.

He's passionate about social media -and he understands it too, which isn't always the case in our industry. He's also a PRCA member -which means I can find a reason to celebrate my own vanquishing.

So -here's to you @wadds -you deserve it!

Friday, 10 September 2010

Chris Whitehouse Is Just Wrong

Chris Whitehouse, MD of The Whitehouse Consultancy is on the soapbox in this week's PR Week, with a precis of a longer article first published earlier this month. He's returning to his favourite topic -bashing his own industry. I know he is passionate about standards in public affairs, but it does nonetheless strike me as a strange way to address your profession.

Allow me to make a riposte. I make no apology for it being direct.

He states that "The first time there is a lobbying scandal that involves a company or individual included on the statutory register, the media will generate pressure for the culprit to be punished". Correct. "With no statutory authority to insist on a minimum standard of behaviour and with no scale of sanctions available, the authorities will be powerless to act". Absolutely incorrect. There are standards -set by the PRCA, CIPR and APPC Codes. There is a scale of sanctions -again, set out in our Codes. The 'authorities' (slightly strange word but I'll let it pass) do have the ability and the appetite to act.

I'm never quite certain if the people who wheel out this 'self-regulation is no regulation' line are deliberately being inaccurate, or just haven't bothered to look at what the self-regulatory bodies actually do. Our Code covers all PRCA member employees. It includes a clear, fair and robust disciplinary process. We enforce it rigorously. We have a range of sanctions available all the way up to public expulsion. We are more than willing to use them.

It's a pretty straightforward situation.

The ridiculousness of the industry beating itself up is that there are plenty of other people happy to do so -we really don't need to add to their numbers.

There certainly is a debate to be had about regulation, but it will be a rather more productive one if it includes some facts.

Friday, 3 September 2010

The Internship Challenge

The issue of how we reward interns for their efforts is being discussed again, and seems all the more stark given the currently weak state of the jobs market, and the reduction in university places available. PR Week for instance, carries an analysis piece this week, including some comments from me. In the same issue, it also runs a piece entitled 'public believes degrees are ten-a-penny'. The juxtaposition is interesting

My old CIPR boss Colin Farrington had a pithy little line 'the best can be the enemy of the good'. I guess he might have deployed it here -would the challenge that some have made for all internships to be well paid run the risk of simply reducing the total number of internships available? That certainly wouldn't help either us as an industry, or the people trying to get their first break.

But equally an industry of slave labourers isn't what we want either -in fact, it shames us. It certainly serves as an unwelcome filter, blocking the path of those unable to afford the luxury of working without pay. As a student, I turned down an unpaid internship with the think tank Politeia -I'd have loved to have worked there, but I couldn't afford to. So I do recognise the problem.

This conundrum is all the more acute given the economic uncertainty we still face. At the PRCA, we think it is just one aspect of the wider challenge of ensuring that the very best available talent sees PR as an attractive, rewarding, open industry industry. It encompasses deep issues such as ethnicity, gender, disability, class. It isn't an issue that is amenable to simple, quick solutions, and we certainly don't believe that the answers are ready made.

But it is an issue we are committed to addressing. We will shortly be announcing the make-up of a commission to examine this challenge, and to come forward with practical recommendations. We cannot promise easy solutions, but we can promise effort and commitment.