Sunday, 28 November 2010

UPDATE (and apology): Parking, PR, and should the council answer questions?


Polly Rance, Hackney's head of media and external relations, has provided a response to some of the questions posed in the piece below.

Here's what she said: 'Just to let you know that I have not resigned from my role at Hackney and have every intention of returning to work on 3rd May 2011. The conjecture in your e-mail and your article is entirely incorrect, and whilst my employer was quite right not to share HR details with you as a journalist I am more than happy to put the record straight in a personal capacity. By the way, my piece in PRWeek to which you have made several references is not about Hackney Council but making a more general point about the industry. I would no doubt write it differently in the context of the current cuts situation, but my overall point stands, that backroom services such as comms have to strive doubly hard to prove their worth in hard financial times. Please amend your blog so that it no longer implies that I have left my job.'

So apologies to Polly and thanks for the reply.

Original article:

Should Hackney council have answered any questions when its head of parking services was caught out in an alleged case of favouritism? Apparently not, according to its head of PR.

Head of hackney parking, Seamus Adams, had his car returned by his staff after it was towed away and his fine reduced. I think it was a Hackney Gazette story (although it's not on the paper's website yet so here it is from the Daily Mail).

The council leapt to the defence of this officer. (Adams appears to have been happy to collect cash from other people and not return it unless ordered to do so by a court (Check out this freedom of information request worth a story in its own right!) which didn't seem to be what happened to him.)

Meanwhile Hackney's "interim assistant chief executive, communications and consultation", Carl Welham, had recently told Blood and Property that: "The council does not answer questions relating to individual members of staff."

Blood and Property had asked if Polly Rance, head of Hackney's PR and Communications had left her job.

Carl Welham wouldn't answer and added: "I hope in future that you will confine your questions to matters of council business."

This wall of privacy (Not there for Michael Sobell and Seamus Adams) was in place even though Polly Rance had aired her views in public. There is no suggestion that she has done anything wrong, just that she is probably an important figure in Hackney's policy making.

See Carl Wellham here on YouTube saying that councils face major cuts and work has to be done to "make sure communications is not a casualty of that by proving we are an essential part of the business and not a nice to have add on."

Which sounded remarkably similar to Polly in a PR Week piece where she made a case for maintaining the size of the communications department:"In a recession the need for clear, accessible comms is greater than ever, as residents seek advice on debt, jobs and housing."

Is it none of our business whether these public calls for more PR have been taken on board or been ditched? No suggestion that anyone has done anything wrong, just a question about council business.


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