Suffolk County Council has defended making payments totalling £130,000 to share messaging on topics such as public health and the cost-of-living crisis on Facebook.

According to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act and seen by this newspaper, the local authority paid SocialKind Ltd sums of £35,000 and £95,000.

Partnership grant agreements revealed the money was to "map and connect with digital communities in Suffolk around shared themes" and fund the Together For Suffolk Facebook scheme.

The first agreement was for between May and October in 2021, while the second was for October 2022 to this March.

The funds were from central government's Contain Outbreak Management Fund, not the council's own revenue budgets.

The Conservative-run council said Together For Suffolk is "not a standard Facebook Page" and it has relationships with "hundreds of community group admins" that help share posts.

The authority said the page has "the power of coordinated sharing via hundreds of community Facebook groups across Suffolk".

However, the Together For Suffolk page itself only has about 4,400 followers and the majority of its posts are shared from other public bodies – such as the NHS and Suffolk Trading Standards – and have very little engagement, in terms of likes or comments.

The council said Together For Suffolk had generated in excess of 4.5million impressions – which Facebook defines as the number of times any content enters a user's screen, regardless of whether they interact with it or not – since its launch.

This newspaper contacted an independent social media expert for comment on the number of impressions, and they said payments of £130,000 represented an "extremely high figure" for the level of engagement Together For Suffolk has had since its launch.

Suffolk County Council said it replicated a similar model used by Essex County Council of engaging with the community and spreading public health messaging on social media through SocialKind.

East Anglian Daily Times: An example of a post on Together For Suffolk's Facebook pageAn example of a post on Together For Suffolk's Facebook page (Image: Facebook)

The council said the page shares messages relating to Covid, vaccine take-up, the Homes for Ukraine scheme and mental and physical health advice.

Some of the posts from the last week relate to diarrhoea and vomiting bugs, cost-of-living payments and the government's plans to ban disposable vapes.

East Anglian Daily Times: Many of Together For Suffolk's posts on its main page had little engagementMany of Together For Suffolk's posts on its main page had little engagement (Image: Facebook)

Suffolk County Council said it authorised the payments to SocialKind despite having its own in-house communications and social media teams, saying the scale of the work and the expertise required meant it did not fall within their remits.

The council also revealed the partnership grant agreements were not competitively tendered contracts and were approved "at a time when speed was of the essence".

The page appears to have been started in April 2021 – when the Covid lockdown restrictions were gradually being lifted.

A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said: "Since its launch in 2021, Together For Suffolk has created and shared hundreds of posts designed to support important public health and community messaging in Suffolk.

East Anglian Daily Times: Suffolk County Council's office at Endeavour House in IpswichSuffolk County Council's office at Endeavour House in Ipswich (Image: Jason Noble)

"It has generated in excess of 4.5million Facebook impressions and created a skilled cohort of 170 fully engaged community page admins who are working together to help amplify public health messaging in our county.  

"This project has helped to ensure that essential health and support messages have reached more people than before the pandemic, including those communities we struggle to reach. 

"We consider this achievement a good use of the funding which came from the government specifically to support public health initiatives."