Headlines: June 13th, 2006

Leading figures in local government say the Government’s five-million-pound advertising campaign to promote local authority e-services has been a waste of public money. Research by Public Sector Forums, the independent network of e-Government professionals, shows only one in ten of council managers regarded the ‘Connect to Your Council’ campaign as “money well spent”.Many of the more than 280 local government staff who took part in the survey, which was carried out two weeks into the Government’s campaign, felt the budget would have been better spent on giving councils cash to market their own websites to local people rather than advertising the Directgov portal nationally. More than two thirds thought Whitehall should fund councils to promote their online services, which does not happen currently.

The survey also found widespread concern among practitioners about the nature of the marketing drive. Only 40 per cent of those questioned thought the advertisements would encourage more people to take up council e-services.

The research found one in three of those polled had not seen the campaign’s main adverts anywhere; two thirds had not come across any online, radio or ‘advertorial’ marketing, and one in seven was not aware there was a national campaign was underway until it was brought to their attention by the survey.

The respondents had particular criticism, too, for the new Department for Communities and Local Government, which is responsible for the campaign. Practitioners expressed serious misgivings about promoting services that many councils do not actually provide online. There was further concern about the campaign’s ‘low key to invisible’ marketing style, and about the quality of the advertisements, which were described by one respondent as “utterly depressing”.

Of respondents who had seen press and billboard adverts, half rated them as distinctively average compared with 28 per cent who viewed them favourably. Only 26 per cent said their local authority would be running its own local campaign.

On a more positive note, five percent of those taking part reported that they had already seen a rise in use of their councils’ online services due to the campaign.

Ian Dunmore, Director of Public Sector Forums, said they had expected most respondents to welcome the campaign and they were surprised by the findings. “The fact that so many council officers, who not only fit the very demographic the campaign purports to be targeting but are also supposed to be responsible for actually delivering the services being promoted, hadn’t seen the adverts is an appalling state of affairs. Those behind this debacle should be called to account immediately. It is yet another example of the shoddy workmanship and money-wasting that has characterised Whitehall’s approach to e-Government,” he said.