SCANDAL-HIT Rotherham Council has hired an £850-a-day PR specialist to improve communications in the wake of a report into widespread child sexual exploitation, The Yorkshire Post can reveal.
Mark Fletcher-Brown has been paid £9,613.40 since he began working for the local authority in November last year, working 1.5 days a week until January, when it was increased to two.
Rotherham has taken more care of reputation than of its most needyLouise Casey, who wrote a damning criticism in February of Rotherham Council’s failings
Midlands-based Mr Brown, who describes himself as a ‘dynamic communications and reputation specialist’, charges a daily rate of £850, plus VAT and travelling expenses.
Last year, his six-month stint at Cumbria County Council attracted a number of negative headlines when it emerged he was brought in while the authority made £70million worth of savings and cut 1,800 from its workforce.
A spokeswoman for Rotherham Council said: “Mark Fletcher-Brown was commissioned by the then interim chief executive in November last year to provide additional capacity and specialist communications support in a number of areas, at a time of significant change, challenge and increased workload for the council in dealing with the high profile coverage of failings identified in the Alexis Jay report.
“His work has included the provision of strategic and tactical advice to the interim chief executive and the strategic leadership team; the development of plans to improve communications with staff and public, and working with the in-house team on a review of the communications and marketing services provided by the council.
“He began working 1.5 days each week from November 2014, and his contract is due to expire at the end of May. Since January, he has been working two days each week with the council.”
News of his appointment comes one week after figures revealed that the local authority employs total of 27 communications workers and the department’s annual budget is £713,000.
While the local authority has cited the need to improve communications in the wake of the Jay report - which found that between 1997 and 2013, at least 1,400 children in Rotherham were abused while authorities turned a blind eye - being overly-concerned with bad publicity has proved one of the greatest criticisms which has been levelled against the council since its publication.
In February, Louise Casey’s inspection of failings at Rotherham Council condemned a “culture of suppressing bad news and ignoring difficult issues”.
“Both today and in the past, Rotherham has at times taken more care of its reputation than it has of its most needy,” the report went on. The entire leadership of the council resigned in the same month.
In March, Cumbria County Council was heavily criticised after Freedom of Information Act requests revealed a series of emails between communications chiefs and their attempts to “kill off” a story about a decision to employ Mr Fletcher-Brown.
Mr Fletcher-Brown told The Yorkshire Post said: “A council will tell me we’re spending ‘x-amount’ on communications and we want to spend this, and one of the things I do is examine how they can communicate effectively while making the savings they need to make.
“In Cumbria I helped the council to make £500,000 worth of savings. When authorities are having to make significant cuts, it is vital that every penny spent on communications is examined very closely.
He heavily disputes the use of the term ‘spin doctor’ which has been used to describe his work in previous press articles calling the term “pejorative”.