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Brighton and Hove City Council PR chief’s swipe at ‘futile’ project
An investigation has been launched after a senior council official wrote a magazine article that appeared to strongly criticise one of the local authority’s projects.
Brighton and Hove City Council said it is “investigating the circumstances” surrounding an article written by its head of communications, John Shewell, in business magazine PR Week.
The article describes moves by councils to use simulation exercises for council budgets as “futile” and “meaningless”.
More than 1,000 residents have taken part in the council’s budget simulator launched in October last year, which cost £4,400 to set-up.
Earlier this year council leader Jason Kitcat defended the project against criticism that the tool was a gimmick and said he would like to expand it in the future.
The council has also described the simulator, designed by a local computer software company, as a “vital tool” which other councils have been given access to use.
Mr Shewell has been writing a column for PR Week every one or two months since 2010. The article under investigation was published in September.
Mr Shewell wrote: “All too often councils ask how people would prioritise services and use simulation exercises in an attempt to demonstrate the difficulty of setting a council budget.
“This is futile as it only serves to over-simplify the process, rendering it meaningless, and encourages participants to literally play with a budget.”
He continued: “We need to stop talking about maintaining quality services in the face of cuts. This is an unsustainable position.
"The fact is if there are continual cuts to a service then quality may be one of the areas that will be impacted.”
The council’s director of finance Catherine Vaughan said: “Like all local authorities Brighton and Hove City Council has given careful thought to the best way to consult and engage on its budget.
"Lots of councils, including us, have over recent years used budget simulators alongside more traditional questionnaires and other techniques like focus groups and city-wide events.
“We are really pleased with the level of use and feedback we have received.
“We are investigating the circumstances behind the comments in PR Week.”
When The Argus asked to speak with Mr Shewell the council's communications department said he would not comment on the matter.
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