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Bring in the bucks using digital communications

When Jessie J sang “it’s not about the money, money, money” she clearly showed that she’s never needed to balance the budgets for a local authority. While the excellent and ever undervalued work that is delivered by council staff day-in, day-out is the important thing, that they can afford to do it proves that money is a major issue which needs to be dealt with. Few, if any, of us could do our jobs if no-one paid for our time, no matter how much we loved doing them.

Thinking like a business

Over the past half-decade or so since austerity really began to bite, the relentless focus has remained firmly on savings and efficiencies. “We must do more with less” has been the battle cry on the lips of senior managers across the country, although this has more recently changed to “we must do less with less and make sure people know this”. Like the career of Dale Winton, budgets have got smaller and smaller and everyone has simply accepted this as the natural order of things.

Only, now things are starting to change. For many local authorities, the realisation that they might not need to always go cap-in-hand to government to ask for more money has come. This has been prompted in part by legislative changes to the way business rates are going to be handled in future. Councils are being encouraged to think about how they can start bringing money in for themselves, acting more and more like businesses than many ever have before. As well as spending money, they have the ability to start making money.

This is not to say councils are being turned into profit-making businesses of course, more that they are taking those services which are non-statutory but have always been delivered anyway and looking at them through a new lens. Things such as collecting garden waste, seen by some residents as a basic human right on par with drinking water, are being reassessed to see whether or not they indeed are things which must be delivered at no additional cost to users however much they cost the authority.

Chargeable services as an income stream

These non-statutory services can actually realise significant income and maintain service standards, all while still being delivered at far cheaper rates to residents than would probably be possible on the open market. Nowhere has this been better realised in Havering, where the council has managed to bring in almost £400,000 by charging a small fee for collecting garden waste.

Havering uses GovDelivery to engage with their customers, not only ensuring they know about the changes to the collection service and how to sign up for it, but also they encourage residents to purchase the service online. 98% of customers used this online route to do just that! This in turn drIves signups to their My Account function, which will over time enable even greater savings.

Selling advertising space on council websites

Then there is the introduction of digital advertising to consider. Councils such as Croydon, Birmingham and Derby have started carrying carefully selected advertising on their websites in an effort to tap into the growing income streams potentially available online. These streams come at little risk; users are well accustomed to seeing adverts online and often simply accept them. As long as they are not advertising anything which goes against what a council should really be associated with, these ads offer a drip-feed of extra income which is then available for whatever purposes they decide.

Selling advertising space in e-bulletins

The Met Office is just one example of an organisation using GovDelivery’s Communications Cloud which has started selling advertising space in e-alerts, bringing in significant revenue.

Using technology like the Communications Cloud, you can develop a compelling opportunity for potential advertisers. You have the ability to:

  • Dramatically increase your subscriber base
  • Target based on sociodemographic characteristics
  • Use advanced segmentation to deliver personalised messaging
  • Access user-friendly analytics dashboards showing engagement rates

All this will be of key interest when pitching advertising options.

As much as anything, these sorts of activities demonstrate a council’s commitment to making the most of income generation opportunities in order to limit cuts to funding for services. Those political messages alone are well worth the effort involved, showing that a council is doing all it can with all its assets, physical or digital.

Jessie J may indeed want to forget about the price tag, but I for one would rather remember the extra money I had available to spend instead. Sorry, Jessie.

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