I caught a few minutes of the BBC phone recently on a Sunday morning – it was a sunny one and too good to be in listening to the radio – but there was a query about States consultation from a caller, which caught my attention. The chap said that he had not known anything, until the last moment, about the Population Management Law that was triggered finally on Thursday 31st March.
So this was a “commencement” order that was laid before the States and was agreed by a majority of Deputies, including myself, almost a year from when the original law had been passed by the previous term back in March 2016.
After a 6 year consultation period and lots of public meetings, 2 Facebook groups, business engagement, an island-wide leaflet drop and various press articles …..I must admit I was quite surprised that this chap knew nothing about it.
The conversation which ensued between the two Deputies on the radio omitted completely the monthly Parish surgeries and Presidents Drop In session at Beau Sejour as important components of the communications coming from the States
These events by the way all advertised in the Press on the radio (both stations carry the What’s On notices) and also on social media – so by my standards well publicised (I have even started to put up posters for the West Drop “Ins” at in the PO, Forest Stores & the old Le Riche at St Peters – Sandpiper) and I’ve worked in communications and marketing for some years now.
The 2 Deputies remembered the good old days of the public meetings and then remembered that rather like today despite the importance of face to face communication as well as the effort that goes into arranging the Deputies Drop In, there is a limited audience for them.
Also that human nature dictates that people only tend to get exercised about a topic when it effects them. I have been guilty of the same and it’s only my interest in local politics and the fact that I naturally have an opinion on lots of things that has kept me up to date and aware of most things that were going on locally before I became a Deputy.
Now I try my best to keep across more things – but it is very difficult to keep track of what is going on in all the main Committees as well as the smaller ones and then anything in between.
One of my manifesto gripes and hopes was that I could help better the communications of the States with the people of Guernsey. This caller and the subsequent conversation were all about States communication, its efficacy and value.
I have had a number of meetings since I was elected, with Senior officers from the central communications team about this, to gauge their feelings on an idea that I have which I am sure will help.
The “Comms” team have upped their game over the last couple of years substantially and positively, approaching communications in a more “corporate” way. I.e that they are more driven now towards letting people know things, before they leak out….so being proactive about States news. I think that they do a good job but we can go one better….
The website has been revamped somewhat, but in my opinion it could be better with easy links – less clicks to get to the information that you want helps a lot.
So underpinning my idea for better communications, was a suggestion of mine early on at the Committee for Education Sport & Culture which seems to have gained some traction and has been picked up by other Committees and also seems to be establishing itself in the Chamber on a regular basis and this is the quarterly Statement. It began when the Committee for Health & Social Care (old HSSD) then ESS (old SSD ) announced they would publish their minutes. In ESC I suggested that we do a quarterly round up of what we had been up to – as minutes can be contentious and by & large are boring to read taken out of context without supporting papers and detail (he said she said etc…). Much better, in my opinion, to let people know what you’ve been up to. This idea was taken up and we have seen a few Committees doing the same and also now making regular progress statements in the Chamber.
This isn’t enough though for me and I would like to see the States go further. A mixture of traditional & online regular grass-roots communications to make the States news accessible to everyone. The States in now building up a good database of email contact address from the “tell us once” initiative and as such we should use these to publish and send directly a quarterly email communication, which tells the public such things as: what to expect in the forthcoming States Meetings, policy ideas, consultations, events, frequently asked questions and contact numbers.
Not everyone uses email and I would also like to see a printed hard copy version left at Post Offices and Supermarkets – nothing glossy, nothing too sophisticated, just well written and well communicated.
If you’re wondering why we can’t rely on the press it’s because they can’t be expected to report everything, after all they have a “newsworthy” requirement. They also put their own inimitable style of political slant on stories and opinon such that can colour the news to an extent where accuracy can be questionable.
So I will continue in my quest for simple communication to help Islanders understand better what the States does. At times States business can be complex, technical and (dare I say..?) sometimes boring, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be shared and made accessible.