SOMETIMES you think that what Thurrock Council may need is Mary Queen of Shops. There will be tears, denial and tantrums but in the end they may well accept that Mary was right.
In 2009, the Audit Commission made searing criticism of the way Thurrock Council communicates to the public. A cabal of consultants came to the council (on eye-watering salaries) to put the council back on track.
This week after tens of thousands spent, Thurrock Council has proudly unveiled their new website.
The cornerstone of the site is the use of social media. This includes having a youtube channel. Unfortunately, there is one thing the council forgot. Putting videos on the channel. Well that’s not entirely true. There is one: On Working Tax Credits (WTC). A single mum is portrayed, who explains that through working tax credits she is able to go out to work. Trouble is, she is in Chelmsford and is off to work in South Woodham Ferrers.
This is where Mary Portas would come in and give the withering look. What does it say to the people of Thurrock if you can’t even be bothered to make your own video? What shop opens with no produce or stock?
Expense? You find a mum in Seabrooke Rise who has used WTC’s to get a local job. Cut away to walking to local job, film at work and then interview again to gauge how happy she is. Cost: Zero.
The fact that you have just plucked one off the peg, makes it appear that you couldn’t be bothered or just don’t care. It gives the impression that your heart just isn’t in it.
Then again, you have ten video screens around the borough called Thurrock TV spewing public information with the sound turned down.
The same applies to the council’s Twitter account. YourThurrock follows 2,000 people. Why, because you pick up a lot of info from a variety of twitterers from journalists, politicians, bloggers and a few eccentrics. Thurrock Council follows 3 people. Again, it gives the impression that you cannot or are unwilling to learn anything.
Of course, what do we know. We have only made 2,500 videos in two years. Not all good granted but the advice we got when we started was that you have to keep the site fresh and keep the videos running. Otherwise, just don’t bother.
Once again, it is something that John Kent and Val Morris-Cook have inherited from Garry Hague. As week by week goes on, it would appear that they are discovering a number of strange and costly decisions made by the Tories.
The consultants have all gone apart from Interim Director of Communications Phil McCusker (a consultant) on £500 a day for the past eighteen months! There appears to be no end to his reign whereas all the other members of the Communications Team have been placed on twelve week reports.
We asked the Council for their response.
“The council has a small number of short videos that are suitable for publishing on the web. Rather than develop an in-house platform, we have used YouTube because: there is no cost; it allows a degree of customisation; it can accept videos from a variety of formats and redisplay them in one common format; it is familiar format for many Internet users; it allows the redisplay of moderated comments; there is no bandwidth or storage impact for the council.
“The Working Tax Credits video was provided by our Family Information Service (FIS) team. The video paid for using Go-East funding and was intended for use by a number of regional councils (e.g. Southend are also distributing it).
“In an ideal world, it would have been fantastic to re-shoot the whole video with Thurrock scenes but this was not possible with the amount of grant provided and made sense to utilise this existing resource and re-brand where possible rather than not have a DVD at all as the alternative option. As Southend also did the same, the costs were reduced even more.
“We would agree that YouTube channels become most effective when they have lots of content. It is our intention to add videos to the channel whenever commissioned / available but the extent and timing of this will depend on the availability and prioritisation of budgets. At the present time the council does not have a centralised budget allocated to web publishing of videos but light use of YouTube enables us to publish new videos and integrate them with supporting content on www.thurrock.gov.uk at no additional cost to tax payers.”