Are public sector communication teams running out of options to find financial savings?

Three quarters (75%) of public sector communication teams have cut their budget in the last 12 months, and 68% expect to have to cut their budgets in the next 12 months. The findings of an exclusive LGcommunications/Panacea Software survey, published at the Public Sector Communications Academy, show how teams are adapting to the constant challenge to cut their budgets. In particular it shows how teams are running out of options to find savings.

In the last 12 months 85% of public sector communication teams have encouraged their staff to find efficiencies, but in comparison only 67% plan to do this in the next 12 months. Three in five (60%) public sector communication teams report cutting staff in the last 12 months compared to the third (33%) who say they will do so in the next 12 months. This pattern is repeated throughout the findings with activity to drive efficiencies seeming to slow down over the next 12 months. Only 32% think they can get better value from their suppliers (52% said they did in the last 12 months), 27% think they can increase their team’s workload (57% did in the last 12 months) and 35% that they can drive workflow efficiencies (43% did in the last 12 months).

Other possible activities seem more constant over time but are still reported by under half of public sector communication teams as being done. Two in five (40%) report having income/profit targets in the next 12 months, the same as say they had them in the last 12 months. Similarly 32% report sharing services in the next 12 months which is in-line with the 28% who did so last year.

With this degree of change it is not surprising that only 45% of public sector communication professionals agree that their team has sufficient time to fulfil their work. Yet showing great resilience 89% say that the team is effective in meeting the core objectives. What seems to have suffered is job satisfaction, with only 63% of public sector communication professionals agreeing that colleagues are satisfied with the work they do.

The key concern is the degree of unplanned work. Two thirds (67%) of public sector communication professionals would like to reduce the degree of unplanned work in the next 12 months to enable the more efficient use of their existing communication resources. This is seen to be a greater opportunity for efficiencies than more use of online/digital/social media communications (cited by 56%). At present on average only 43% of staff time is reported as being spent on the fulfilment of planned work to meet core objectives. A quarter (26%) of time is spent on fire-fighting/reactive work, 13% on administration and bureaucracy, 12% on meetings and 6% on other activities.

This is the reason why LGcommunications and Panacea Software undertook this survey – to investigate how greater efficiencies could be sought. Panacea Software’s product is designed to reduce the costs of marketing, design and print activity and in the survey there was an even split between those reporting they use it (48%) and those who do not (53%). It is a tool to help drive efficiencies and interestingly there is a difference in behaviours, and what has been achieved, between users and non-users of the software. The challenge of reducing budgets is the same across both groups. Where there are differences is in terms of the activities taken to drive efficiencies in the last 12 months.

Panacea Software users are more likely to have reduced the number of staff (74% vs 52% among non-users), worked to provide workflow efficiencies (53% vs 38%), set savings targets (47% vs. 29%), sold services to external organisations (42% vs. 14%) and centralised services (42% vs. 24%). In the next 12 months Panacea Software users are more likely to be encouraging their colleagues/clients to find efficiencies (58% vs 33% among non-users), reducing the number of staff (42% vs. 19%) and selling their services to an external organisation (47% vs 14%).

With Panacea Software users more likely to have reduced the number of staff, and to also plan to do so again in the next 12 months, the expectation would normally be that they would have the teams under the most pressure. However, this is not the case. Three in five (58%) Panacea Software users say their team has sufficient time to fulfil their work compared to only 38% of non-users who think likewise. Similarly users report that colleagues in their team are satisfied with the work they do (74% compared to 65% among non-users). Their balance of work is similar but Panacea Software users are less likely to say they spend their time fire-fighting or doing reactive work (24% vs. 31% among non-users). Panacea Software users are still looking to reduce the proportion of unplanned work (68%), but are more interested in clients/colleagues self-serving (63% compared to 48% among non-users).

Overall, this survey shows that one size does not fit all in terms of the answers to the financial challenges public sector communication teams face. It is likely that the approach taken will be unique to the organisation based on their priorities, the tools and skills within the team and the leadership provided. What is clear is that with the financial pressures not letting up there is a greater need for public sector communication teams to broaden out their approach. There is a risk in not investigating all options for change. It is also clear that some options, such as selling services and encouraging clients to self-serve, are more likely to be achieved or attempted if tools such as Panacea Software are used.

Neil Wholey, Head of Research and Customer Insight, Westminster City Council and LGinsight evaluation lead for LGcommunications @neilwholey

Technical note:
Sixty-one public sector communication professionals responded to the online survey in May 2014; including 53 from local authorities, four from fire and rescue services, one NHS body and one Arm’s length management organisation.

The survey was run by LGcommunications and supported by Panacea Software who make specialist online process management software that is dedicated to reducing the costs of marketing, design and print activity. For more details please visit www.panacea-software.com or contact them direct 020 7976 0116, info@panacea-software.com

 

Posted on 11th June 2014