Belfast Telegraph

‘Bins, not spin’ plea as it’s revealed Northern Ireland councils have 36 press officers on staff

Northern Ireland councils employ 36 press officers - leading campaigners to say that ratepayers want their money spent on
Northern Ireland councils employ 36 press officers - leading campaigners to say that ratepayers want their money spent on "bins, not spin".
Ralph Hewitt

By Ralph Hewitt

Northern Ireland councils employ 36 press officers - leading campaigners to say that ratepayers want their money spent on "bins, not spin".

Belfast City Council and Ards and North Down Borough Council topped the table with the highest number of media officials with six each.

They are followed by Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council and Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council, each with five press people.

The figures were obtained by right-wing pressure group the TaxPayers' Alliance, and only cover nine local councils as two authorities operate differently.

Both Newry, Mourne and Down District Council and Mid Ulster District Council were listed as having no press officers, however, they each have a communications and marketing team, which deals with press enquiries.

Newry, Mourne and Down has four full-time members of staff working within the department, while Mid Ulster stated they have two members of staff who deal with the majority of press office work, although this is not their exclusive role.

Meanwhile, Derry City and Strabane District Council has four press officers; Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council and Mid and East Antrim Borough Council hire three, while Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council and Fermanagh and Omagh District Council each employ two.

Scott Simmonds from the TaxPayers' Alliance said questions should be asked of councils in relation to the hiring of more "spin doctors" and queried if it was the best use of public money.

"It's of course useful for councils to communicate information about local services, but some residents may wonder if there is too much focus on fancy PR and not enough on fixing potholes and collecting bins," he said.

"Some councils are able to keep residents up-to-date without bloated PR teams. Other councils should be following in their footsteps to ensure the best value for taxpayers' money."

However, the Northern Ireland Local Government Association (NILGA) - a council-led organisation which represents local councils - believes "suitably qualified staff" in communications are necessary to ensure public confidence in councils are maintained.

A NILGA spokesperson added that council press officers also inform new and existing ratepayers, including businesses, on what is on offer in their areas, while providing advice on skills and welfare reform to emergency planning.

"Councils across Northern Ireland are engaged in a substantial amount of public services, economic regeneration and civic work for and with their local communities and businesses," they said.

"They are also responding to thousands of service delivery queries falling to other departments and agencies, as local communication hubs often on behalf of the rest of government.

"Consequently, councils have a duty and are keen to communicate this, so that ratepayers know what their rates are being spent on and can participate in such activities, as well as seek adaptations to them. Local people need to be communicated with."

NILGA also said that the public expects to have access to "timely and accurate information" about council proposals, events and activities.

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