Brighton and Hove City Council PR chief’s swipe at ‘futile’ project

Brighton and Hove City Council head of communications John Shewell

Brighton and Hove City Council head of communications John Shewell

First published in News by

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.

'Over-simplify'

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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Comments (15)

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12:43pm Wed 12 Dec 12

Martha Gunn says...

Well the cat seems to be out of the bag on this litttle game of 'Greenthink'. Or maybe they were just larking about again.
Well the cat seems to be out of the bag on this litttle game of 'Greenthink'. Or maybe they were just larking about again. Martha Gunn
  • Score: 0

12:49pm Wed 12 Dec 12

Crystal Ball says...

What a tool.
What a tool. Crystal Ball
  • Score: 0

1:39pm Wed 12 Dec 12

Indigatio says...

If you work for the council are you forbidden from expressing your opinion and ideas? A very danergous path to tread if this is the case.
If he has a valid point it should be discussed, not investigated.
If you work for the council are you forbidden from expressing your opinion and ideas? A very danergous path to tread if this is the case. If he has a valid point it should be discussed, not investigated. Indigatio
  • Score: 0

2:48pm Wed 12 Dec 12

Firkinabbot says...

A dangerous path indeed, a coms expert potentially being gagged by finance and politicians.
A dangerous path indeed, a coms expert potentially being gagged by finance and politicians. Firkinabbot
  • Score: 0

4:15pm Wed 12 Dec 12

HJarrs says...

I think he has a point in the context of his comments about the struggle to maintain services in the face of severe government cuts he has a point. Is it futile? I don't know, it does engage some of the electorate in budget setting and may send a message to politicians about services. Last year's message seemed to be spend more money on services!

I don't think that there is much of an issue as this is a general comment. However, if I publicly commented in the same vain specifically about many of my employers initiatives over the years I would have been reprimanded!
I think he has a point in the context of his comments about the struggle to maintain services in the face of severe government cuts he has a point. Is it futile? I don't know, it does engage some of the electorate in budget setting and may send a message to politicians about services. Last year's message seemed to be spend more money on services! I don't think that there is much of an issue as this is a general comment. However, if I publicly commented in the same vain specifically about many of my employers initiatives over the years I would have been reprimanded! HJarrs
  • Score: 0

4:54pm Wed 12 Dec 12

Point says...

Indigatio wrote:
If you work for the council are you forbidden from expressing your opinion and ideas? A very danergous path to tread if this is the case.
If he has a valid point it should be discussed, not investigated.
After Counsellor Christina Summers was pushed out of the party for voting with her consciense, opinion and ideas are not tolerated by the Greens.
[quote][p][bold]Indigatio[/bold] wrote: If you work for the council are you forbidden from expressing your opinion and ideas? A very danergous path to tread if this is the case. If he has a valid point it should be discussed, not investigated.[/p][/quote]After Counsellor Christina Summers was pushed out of the party for voting with her consciense, opinion and ideas are not tolerated by the Greens. Point
  • Score: 0

4:56pm Wed 12 Dec 12

Dealing with idiots says...

A vital tool? Yes if the council actually listened to the feedback but unfortunately we know that it is nothing but a fraud to try and passify the populace. Well done John, you are not the only one who works for B&H who thinks the whole green experiment is on its knees. You can do something about it though with the Vote of no confidence petition e-petition. We also have a paper version available for you to gather signatures from your friends and workmates. Please email us on greensoutnow@gmail.c
om.

Get involved and get them out!

Vote of no confidence in the Green administration e petition now live on the Brighton and Hove City Council website. If you love your city and want to end the waste and destruction of the Greens, please sign the petition. We need 1250 signatures to get this discussed in full council. Surely there are 1250 angry people in the city who want to make a difference? Save Our City.
http://present.brigh
ton-hove.gov.uk/mgEP
etitionDisplay.aspx?
ID=360&RPID=6033530&
HPID=6033530
A vital tool? Yes if the council actually listened to the feedback but unfortunately we know that it is nothing but a fraud to try and passify the populace. Well done John, you are not the only one who works for B&H who thinks the whole green experiment is on its knees. You can do something about it though with the Vote of no confidence petition e-petition. We also have a paper version available for you to gather signatures from your friends and workmates. Please email us on greensoutnow@gmail.c om. Get involved and get them out! Vote of no confidence in the Green administration e petition now live on the Brighton and Hove City Council website. If you love your city and want to end the waste and destruction of the Greens, please sign the petition. We need 1250 signatures to get this discussed in full council. Surely there are 1250 angry people in the city who want to make a difference? Save Our City. http://present.brigh ton-hove.gov.uk/mgEP etitionDisplay.aspx? ID=360&RPID=6033530& HPID=6033530 Dealing with idiots
  • Score: 0

5:27pm Wed 12 Dec 12

Hovite says...

Indigatio wrote:
If you work for the council are you forbidden from expressing your opinion and ideas? A very danergous path to tread if this is the case.
If he has a valid point it should be discussed, not investigated.
Exactly, and it's the officers within the council who are the puppet masters, and the Greens are putty in their hands at the moment.

Consultations, meetings and updating last years reports keeps them in work and anyone threatening their authority is kept at bay by the officers who make the rules and protect themselves.

Councils may come and go but the officers always escape responsibiliy for failure.

So of course the officers forbid their subordinates to express their opinions and ideas.

They all get paid handsomely with golden pensions and it keeps them in work.
[quote][p][bold]Indigatio[/bold] wrote: If you work for the council are you forbidden from expressing your opinion and ideas? A very danergous path to tread if this is the case. If he has a valid point it should be discussed, not investigated.[/p][/quote]Exactly, and it's the officers within the council who are the puppet masters, and the Greens are putty in their hands at the moment. Consultations, meetings and updating last years reports keeps them in work and anyone threatening their authority is kept at bay by the officers who make the rules and protect themselves. Councils may come and go but the officers always escape responsibiliy for failure. So of course the officers forbid their subordinates to express their opinions and ideas. They all get paid handsomely with golden pensions and it keeps them in work. Hovite
  • Score: 0

5:33pm Wed 12 Dec 12

Hovite says...

p.s. obviously John Shewell is a break from the norm and it's good to hear him speak out.
p.s. obviously John Shewell is a break from the norm and it's good to hear him speak out. Hovite
  • Score: 0

5:39pm Wed 12 Dec 12

Maxwell's Ghost says...

Apparently the council is in internal chaos and this is yet another snapshot example of that chaos.
Perhaps The Argus should run a sweepstake on which directors/officers will be paid off in 2013 as the Greens attempt to steer their rudderless ship by which time the Labour and Tories will have drowned in their wake.
You couldn't make this stuff up.
Apparently the council is in internal chaos and this is yet another snapshot example of that chaos. Perhaps The Argus should run a sweepstake on which directors/officers will be paid off in 2013 as the Greens attempt to steer their rudderless ship by which time the Labour and Tories will have drowned in their wake. You couldn't make this stuff up. Maxwell's Ghost
  • Score: 0

6:32pm Wed 12 Dec 12

stir up says...

It is pointless to keep cutting budgets for services as this often reduces the service to such a degree that is useless. the best thing to do is cut a whole service and concentrate on mainting essential services.
As to asking the non elected public to take part in budget setting is meaningless in the end the councillors will set the budget and then blame others for the mess. they are elected to make the tax so cannot try to ignore this fact.
It is pointless to keep cutting budgets for services as this often reduces the service to such a degree that is useless. the best thing to do is cut a whole service and concentrate on mainting essential services. As to asking the non elected public to take part in budget setting is meaningless in the end the councillors will set the budget and then blame others for the mess. they are elected to make the tax so cannot try to ignore this fact. stir up
  • Score: 0

6:54pm Wed 12 Dec 12

bug eye says...

were public services not a library, public toilets, emptying bins, looking after the most vulnerable maintaining roads etc. now it seems to want to feed the world, produce glossy brochures in every language and nanny every body. the council has overstepped the mark of its responsibility and we need to get back to basics. the useless highways and planning departments could be slashed to start.
were public services not a library, public toilets, emptying bins, looking after the most vulnerable maintaining roads etc. now it seems to want to feed the world, produce glossy brochures in every language and nanny every body. the council has overstepped the mark of its responsibility and we need to get back to basics. the useless highways and planning departments could be slashed to start. bug eye
  • Score: 0

9:09pm Wed 12 Dec 12

matlock says...

This is so irritating. He is absolutely correct in what he says. The 'tool' is ridiculously simplistic, and horribly biased. Every downward adjustment is tagged with a negative comment about front line service impact. Of course there is no hint that the savings could be derived by eradicating the chronic waste and inefficiency, purging unnecessary layers of management and eliminating non-jobs.
This is so irritating. He is absolutely correct in what he says. The 'tool' is ridiculously simplistic, and horribly biased. Every downward adjustment is tagged with a negative comment about front line service impact. Of course there is no hint that the savings could be derived by eradicating the chronic waste and inefficiency, purging unnecessary layers of management and eliminating non-jobs. matlock
  • Score: 0

10:01am Thu 13 Dec 12

Morpheus says...

I looked at the simulator and that is as far as I went. It was utterly pointless. It didn't simulate anything.
I looked at the simulator and that is as far as I went. It was utterly pointless. It didn't simulate anything. Morpheus
  • Score: 0

12:18pm Thu 13 Dec 12

Gavlaaar! says...

Looks like this article is spinning up something out of context. Engagement is crucial of course but the simplistic tools described here can lead to unwanted outcomes. I think colleagues in the council should discuss their approach together not in the pages of the Argus which is why Mr Shewell is right to reserve comment to this newspaper and meet with colleagues to align their thoughts. A non story.
Looks like this article is spinning up something out of context. Engagement is crucial of course but the simplistic tools described here can lead to unwanted outcomes. I think colleagues in the council should discuss their approach together not in the pages of the Argus which is why Mr Shewell is right to reserve comment to this newspaper and meet with colleagues to align their thoughts. A non story. Gavlaaar!
  • Score: 0

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