Saturday, December 4

Canterbury councils spend heavily on communications

The amount that municipalities are spending to keep in touch with Cantabrians has increased by as much as 82 percent in the last six years.

New construction in the Selwyn area

The Selwyn District Council had a total communications spend of $ 822,000 in the last financial year.
Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Figures released to RNZ showed that communications budgets in three of the four largest councils in the region had increased.

The Selwyn district council covered a huge area from the ocean to the Alps, and was home to two of the most populous cities of Christchurch, Lincoln and Rolleston.

He led the pack with a total communications spend of $ 822,000 in the last financial year, up 82 percent from six years ago.

Most of that extra money was spent on staff, with just under eight full-time positions on the team compared to less than half that number in 2015.

Selwyn District Council communications manager Stephen Hill said it was primarily due to being the fastest growing region in the country and experiencing a 23 percent growth in its population over the same period.

“Really rapid development and we still have a lot of growth on the way. There have been a lot of stories about the number of changes to the plans that will lead to an increase in housing developments across the district. So it’s exciting, but we need to stick with it. need to keep our residents informed and engaged. “

So what were those nearly eight people doing every day?

Hill said they worked with all parts of the council to help publicize the various services it offered, responded to the growing number of questions coming to them through social media, and responded to inquiries from the media.

“One of the things that has been trending across all councils is that in recent years, the government demands a lot more that we do good consultation with our communities. So again, we work with our departments to see how can convey it better. “

The Canterbury Regional Council had also been staffing its communications unit and now employs 30 people full time, compared to just under 22 five years ago.

Of these 30 employees, nine were managers.

Canterbury Regional Council communications director Tafflyn Bradford-James said one reason behind the increase was the increasing complexity of what the central government was asking the council to do.

She gave the example of new air quality rules that restrict where residents can use wood burners.

“So we were preparing some communications and engagement so that people would know when that rule was changing and also what they could do about it.

So communications about grants, communications about Healthy Homes Canterbury loan schemes, communications about the fact that the wood burner is no longer usable, where to go for help, advertising, etc. “.

The Council had also taken on the role of educating Rangatahi in the region through the national Enviroschools initiative and through its own program to teach students about the importance of good water quality.

“And we also want to work more in schools. We are looking for a civics program, for example, where young people who come in can really start to understand what a council is. How can I influence what a council does and how can I take part? “

The largest council in the region, Christchurch City, declined to be interviewed.

He had kept a relatively stable budget for the past six years, but he was spreading that money differently, with a 146 percent increase in the amount spent on what he called media.

This included social media and his own digital news service known as Newsline.

The other big spender was Waimakariri, who along with Selwyn had also experienced rapid population growth.

He now had an adequate communications budget, up 73 percent from 2015, although he noted that the total number of staff had also increased, up 15 percent over the same period.

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