What a waste!

SUFFOLK County Council is spending thousands of pounds to hire a public relations firm to promote a new libraries service, despite already employing eight communications officers.

SUFFOLK County Council is spending thousands of pounds to hire a public relations firm to promote a new libraries service, despite already employing eight communications officers.

The council which raised council tax by a record breaking 18.5% are using a public relations firm to promote Sunday library opening hours, claiming they do not have staff qualified to run a marketing campaign.

In the week when it emerged that Suffolk held the record among English shire counties for council tax rises in the past four years, the council is spending £25,000 to hire an outside public relations agency.

The authority's corporate media and communications department, headed by an assistant director, is eight strong plus a support team.


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But Bryony Rudkin, leader of the county council, insisted the libraries' initiative needed specialist PR.

"We are not running a media only campaign – this is a targeted public relations strategy to attract a new clientele to our libraries," she said.

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Mrs Rudkin insisted the money will also buy radio slots to encourage young people who might never have used libraries before.

The campaign was launched in a seven paragraph, 228-word Press release headed "Suffolk Libraries – On a Sunday?" issued by the Bottom Line Consultancy Ltd from an address in Epping, Essex.

Mrs Rudkin said: "We do not have the skills in house to run the type of campaign which we wanted. We believe that the £25,000 we are spending, to include radio slots, will reach the younger generation who do not visit libraries from Mondays to Saturdays."

Conservative opposition leader Jeremy Pembroke pointed out that the county council two years' ago had embarked on a policy of massive expansion in its corporate communications unit and it was "beyond belief" that a media campaign could not be handled in-house.

"If the staff don't have the skills, then I suggest that one or two of them are sent on a course to acquire them."

Today's revelation comes as Suffolk council taxpayers are having to find an extra 18 per cent to pay their council tax bills this year. It also comes in a week when it emerged that Suffolk's council tax has risen by 46 per cent in the last four years, higher than any other English shire county.

Council leaders have attempted to justify the increase by saying that it has paid for vital services like social care.

The Sunday service starts on August 10 after Suffolk was criticised by the Government for not opening libraries for enough hours. The project is receiving £150,000 sponsorship from the Learning and Skills Council.

Although libraries will be available for general use, the emphasis is on a younger audience. Sunday opening will have homework support clubs, live music, dancing, refreshments, and story times, as well as the usual access to the Internet, books and works of reference.

A spokesman for the council said the contract had been awarded to N8tive Media Ltd of Fore Street, Ipswich, which had outsourced the press release to the Bottom Line Consultancy Ltd of Epping.

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