Why working as a council PR means taking a vow of silence


Not quite this glamarous???

As regular readers of our blog will know, we love a guest post; especially one written by someone who works in a part of local government we have never worked in. Today is one of those days with a post from a self-described “local government PR” who argues that leaving the private sector and joining local government also means giving up your right to have any opinions at all. If you would like to submit a guest post please drop us a line at welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com but not before you’ve read this:

No one told me that when I got a job in local government PR, I was renouncing my right to a voice as a resident.

Working in PR in the private sector can have huge advantages. You get to meet celebrities, go along to glamorous events and most importantly you get freebies. Free stuff, free tickets, free nights out, you even get a budget to wine and dine your favourite reporters.

But local government  PR isn’t like that. Well not my experience of it anyway. It’s a hard slog with not a freebie in sight (it’s tax payers’ money after all). It’s a daily grind of non-stop press enquiries, press releases and diplomacy. Talking people into things and talking them out of them, but watching every word that you say.

Working in a politically restricted post means that you can’t be an active member of a political party, you can’t put stickers in your window at election time, you can’t voice your support for a party and you most certainly can’t let it come across in a press release. You’ve got to work with every councillor in the same way, no matter what their party colour. And quite right too, this is exactly how it should be. The restrictions are in place to stop officers who work in politically important or sensitive posts, from having too much influence. After all, we are not elected.

So if you are unlucky enough to live in the council area in which you work, you might as well take a vow of silence and renounce your rights as a resident (oh except the right to pay council tax of course).  If you value your professional reputation, it’s best you keep your opinions to yourself, even when it comes to issues that directly affect you.

You can’t slag the council off on Facebook, you can’t moan about the bins on Twitter and you can’t rant about the state of the roads in an open letter to the local paper (well not in your own name anyway!). If you want to attend a public meeting, you’d better go incognito, ‘cos once they realise you’re a council PR, they certainly won’t respect your view as a resident. You can’t even use your contacts to complain internally, because as an Officer it’s fair to say that your colleagues won’t take your opinions seriously either.

So whilst fellow council workers might envy the PR’s position of being ‘in the know’ and your neighbours probably think you can get your drive gritted on demand – it just isn’t like that. Next time you wax lyrical on your local radio phone in about council road works, or stand up in a public meeting to give your view on library closures, have some sympathy for the council PR, sitting at home full of frustration, opinions and anger about the same issues as you – but completely unable to say any of it out loud.

Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at: welovelocalgovernment@gmail.com

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5 Comments on “Why working as a council PR means taking a vow of silence”

  1. Will Says:

    I think your views are shared by Democratic Services Officers/ Committee Clerks, who tend to be the most junior level of staff subject to the statutory political restrictions.

    I work in a neighbouring authority to where I live so am a bit freer to get involved in issues that affect my neighbourhood but I am conscious that I should not get involved in anything that could be construed as party political. I circumspect approach to Facebook and definately Twitter.

    This is particular difficult as I also Chair a local charity that recieves funds from 2 local authorities (neither of which I work for). As funding gets tighter I have to consider how best to apply some political pressure without seeing to be biased.


  2. yes Will I agree – probably even worse nearer the political coalface over in democratic services?? I’ve worked in cttee and PR so know how you feel. The key thing for me on this issue is that PR people, by their very nature, are prone to being outspoken. So probably like to get involved in local issues, particularly using their media knowledge. So it’s even harder to keep quiet…….. (as one person on twitter said, oops they must have missed the vow of silence memo…)


  3. I couldn’t have put this better. I am a communications officer for my local council, and have to metaphorically shove my whole fist into my mouth sometimes to keep me from expressing my views on matters that affect me. I take an active interest in local affairs, in a professional and personal sense, which, as exciting as it is, also leads to frustrations about not having a voice in the same way that friends, relatives, and colleagues have.

    It also leads to paranoia. I have to be hyper-sensitive about the spread of press coverage across the political spectrum of our hung council, and I am constantly Googling myself to ensure that any opinions I do make on social networks aren’t visible. My Twitter feed is on lockdown, I am friends with very few colleagues on my Facebook page, and I have only recently dipped my toe into Linkedin. I don’t blog, it would be impossible (and boring) to write from a politically neutral standpoint. I am very jealous of my contacts in the media who are able to write about local issues.

    Having said all of this, I love my job and the challenge that being apolitical presents – it is definitely a very important part of the role.

  4. Gill Says:

    “Working in PR in the private sector can have huge advantages. You get to meet celebrities, go along to glamorous events and most importantly you get freebies. Free stuff, free tickets, free nights out, you even get a budget to wine and dine your favourite reporters.”

    It ain’t necessarily so, in fact, definitely not, in my 20 years plus experience! Comments like this give the lie to the mistakenly-held belief that life in PR is like something out of Ab Fab, all fluff and champagne breakfasts and hobnobbing with celebs.

    That said, there’s no denying that life inside local gov PR is rather different to life on the ‘outside’!


  5. […] An entertaining post from a frustrated PR has appeared on the We Love Local Government blog. The poster (who is, of course, anonymous) writes about the culture shock of moving from the private sector to the febrile atmosphere of a local council in 2011. It’s a good read. But, given the complaints about the politically neutral nature of the post, I wonder if the correspondent is in the right job? As regular readers of our blog will know, we love a guest post; especially one written by someone who works in a part of local government we have never worked in. Today is one of those days with a post from a self-described “local government PR” who argues that leaving the private sector and joining local government also means giving up your right to have any opinions at all. If you would like to submit a guest post please drop us a line at welov … Read More […]


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