Turnout for local elections has historically been low. Political commentators have been discussing low turnout at elections at all levels for decades but the issue is particularly pronounced for local government. In 2017, the last local elections in Scotland, turnout reached 46.9%. This was lauded as an impressive jump from the 39.6% recorded at the 2012 local government elections, and is significantly ahead of the 34.7% recorded at the 2018 local elections in England. But is it really impressive that over half of us here in Scotland are disinterested in our local elections?
If you type ‘Are local elections…’ into your Google search bar, the fourth suggested question asks if they are important. Yes, they are. Local authorities have been on the front line of Scotland’s response to the Covid-19 and the Scottish Government’s Covid Recovery Strategy is developed jointly with local government. We find ourselves at a critical point and in a world reshaped by Covid and a recovery, with a lot still remaining uncertain. Much of that recovery will have to be driven by local government: from rebuilding and reimagining the high street to supporting the children who have faced significant challenges in our education system. Not to forget issues like climate change, housing and social care.
Local authorities will play an integral role in the National Care Service (NCS). At Pagoda, we have been working with clients on their efforts to input on the design of the NCS – the biggest change to health and social care in Scotland since the NHS was founded nearly 75 years ago. The NCS aims to create a consistent standard of care across Scotland and eliminate a ‘postcode lottery’ of service provision. Our work on the Scottish Government’s NCS consultation with the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) applauds this aim but also highlights a few key priorities of local government: respect for the differences between local areas and an acknowledgement for local expertise in decision making. RCOT also called for Occupational Therapists and other Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) more broadly to be included and consulted at the local and national level in developing these plans.
The need for services to be tailored at an individual and local level to appreciate local knowledge and expertise was also apparent in the British Psychological Society’s response to the consultation. In supporting our clients to respond to consultations at a national level and share their expertise, whether in psychology or occupational therapy, we have been able to highlight the crucial role that local government plays in health and social care, especially at a time when local authorities and health boards navigate their way through the integration agenda.
Our public affairs clients are also engaging directly with local governments on matters relating to renewable energy and other local developments. Capturing the voices of local communities and having meaningful dialogue on developments that directly impact them remains a cornerstone of Scotland’s planning system
In addition to running award-winning campaigns at the national level, our PR teams have also been recognised for the fantastic local work they have done for clients. We have a long-standing relationship with NHS Lanarkshire, Scotland’s third largest health board. In 2019/20, we ran a traditional media and social media campaign that used a new direct messaging approach in a creative way to signpost available services over the winter months and decrease pressure on A&E. This successfully engaged audiences and generated the first decrease in A&E visits in four years. Over the last three years, we have continued to build on the successes of that winter pressures campaign with tailored social media content that recognises the particular situation in Lanarkshire, especially during the pandemic, and has achieved significant levels of engagement.
As an agency, we hugely value working with clients on all issues related to local government. As individuals, we recognise that this is our opportunity to make our voice heard. Registration to vote closes on April 18th. Maybe in 2022, we can increase turnout to more than 50%.