Peter Holt, veteran communication director, reflects on his last six months working in Cornwall, and encourages PR practitioners to consider applying for a top comms job in the area.
As I reach the end of my six months interim contract at Cornwall Council, I know there’s lots I’ll miss about the place when I head home to London.
Don’t get me wrong – after six months in Truro, straight after six months outside Glasgow in my last interim contract, I’ll be glad to spend more than a weekend in my own home and sleeping in my own bed. There’s a lot more I’ll miss though about Cornwall life.
Here are a few things I’ve learnt in my time down in the South West – or if not learnt, at least had my previous experience strongly reinforced.
First off, the pressures facing communications teams around the country are remarkably similar. Sure, some of the issues are different. In Camden, the phone didn’t ring from the local paper asking about when a dead dolphin swept up onto a beach is going to be cleared up. (The calm phlegmatism of the team is the same though – ‘let me just check if it’s one of our beaches – there are hundreds of them, and they’re not all ours’.) In Brent, I didn’t need to quickly gen up on the council line on the controversial topic of badgers. But most of the other issues and pressures are the same.
“Similar pressures face comms teams around the country”
Here in Cornwall, I came across a team whose staff had had to repeatedly reapply for their own jobs over the years as downsizing after downsizing had seen their numbers shrink over and again, but expectations not reduce. And yet, a team still buzzing with creativity, taking pride in their work, and excited about how their work can help improve outcomes for local people.
I found a team super-keen to embrace new trends in social media – but supplied by the IT department with Blackberrys. No, really. (And yes, they all have spangly new iPhone 6+s each now – and that victory shall serve as my most popular legacy!).
I found a team who know their local media well, and aren’t afraid to grab the phone, and berate an editor so that a misrepresentation is corrected live on air inside 3 minutes of the offending comments being made. I was in awe the first time I heard that done – no prisoners were taken, but no relationships were damaged either.
I found a team that works damn hard too. Anyone who sits in a London Borough or a City Council and imagines that folks out in the distant provinces have a quiet life needs to have a word with themselves, and check their sense of privilege.
I also found an ambitious organisation, for long the first rural area in the country to have done a Devolution Deal with the Government, and now leading a broader community partnership that is doing more in preparing for Brexit than any other part of the UK.
If you imagine that Cornwall Council is a stuffy and limited upper-tier county council – think again – it’s been unitary for nearly 8 years, and runs a broader range of services than a London Borough. If you think that the local media is sleepy and sparse – think again – as there are dozens of media outlets, and the much-listened-to lunchtime BBC phone in show will routinely lead on council stories. The council down here reaches into residents’ consciousness much more than in many other parts of the country, especially London.
“The council down here reaches into residents’ consciousness much more than in many other parts of the country”
I’ll be pleased to leave behind an organisation more committed and understanding of what they need to do to be more effective as communicators – and that is more than just expecting more-for-less from their communication team! I joined right when the Council had in a peer review team from the LGA to carry out a review of their approach to communications. The hugely helpful and insightful report that followed proved a springboard for change.
Amongst other things, I leave behind a Council now advertising for a permanent Head of Communication and Engagement, able to play the more strategic role going forwards that I’ve had so much fun doing for the last six months.
So – if you’re either an existing head of communications (in any sector) or an up and coming second-in-command, and are tempted by leading a great team, working for an inspirational chief executive, are comfortable coping with whatever the results are of the all-out elections this May, and also fancy a big slice of the enviable quality of life that Cornwall has to offer, you really should chuck your hat into the ring.
A £56-68k salary would go an awful lot further down here than even more than that would in London, I can tell you – you wouldn’t be the only person in the communications team with a field for their horses, for example, if that’s your bag. Or you wouldn’t be the only person who, come the summer, brings their surfboard to work so you can hit the beach straight from the office in the evening after a hard day at it. Or like me, you can eat yourself stupid around the Duchy (not a county – look it up!), enjoying the fact that there are precious few chain restaurants and loads of great independent eateries serving top notch local produce and seafood. You can even learn a few words of Cornish, and more about the proud and unique history and culture of the place.
If you want a quiet life or an easy ride – look elsewhere. But if you want to work hard and achieve lots, but still enjoy a great quality of life around it – this is your chance.
Oh, and prior knowledge of badger policy and dolphin disposal isn’t a requirement, though you’ll still need to know your MTFP from your STP.
Oll an gwella!
Peter Holt is an experienced local government communications consultant and a previous member of the CIPR’s Local Public Services Group Executive.
Could you be Head of Communication & Engagement at Cornwall Council?
Salary: £56,198 to £68,684 per year
Closing Date: Monday 6 March 2017
Interview Date: Tuesday 21 March 2017
We are looking for talented, ambitious and dedicated individuals who can help us deliver our Strategy to create a more prosperous, resilient and resourceful Cornwall. As part of our extended leadership team you will be expected to make a valued contribution to creating a more sustainable Cornwall.
One of our strategic aims is to ‘engage with our communities’ – both communities of interest and place. As a result of a LGA Peer Review of our communications offer last year, we’ve created this new senior leadership role to drive forward the necessary improvements.
As the lead professional you will be experienced in advising the organisation’s executive team and have an advanced understanding of local government. You will be able to evidence the provision of high quality strategic communications which enhance and protect organisational reputation using a broad range of communication channels.
So, if you’re at the top of your professional game and you want to work with people genuinely ambitious and truly dedicated to public service and making Cornwall an exceptional place to live, why not come and join the team?