FRESH THINKING: With trust low maybe it’s better to take the barber route 

A report every public sector communicator needs to be aware of has been published and the findings are grim.

According to the UK in the World Values Survey, the UK is suffering from a collapse in trust in the public institutions of Government and media. Not just a small fall but a whopping great big one. 

If you live in the UK, regardless of how you vote you can probably reel off a list of reasons as to why this is. But as a public sector community the reality of this feels important to look in the face.

Let’s look at the data. Firstly, this is a piece of academic rigour. This comes from Kings College London’s Policy Institute. Part think tank, part consultancy this operates in the field of public policy.

The numbers in the report are bleak and can be read in full here.

As a summary: 

Confidence in Parliament has halved in the past 30-years while confidence in the EU since Brexit has increased.

  • Trust in Government is 24 per cent
  • Trust in political parties is at 23 per cent.
  • Trust in the EU in the UK is around 40 per cent which is double the position of 2009. 
  • Trust in police has fallen to 67 per cent from 81 per cent three decades ago.
  • Trust in the press lies at 14 per cent.
  • Trust in institutions is even lower in Northern Ireland with just 10 per cent trusting political parties. 

All this compares unfavourably to other countries with the UK’s residents on 18th in a league table of 24 in trust in government.

So what does this mean for communicators? 

For me, it means that public sector communicators have a harder task to communicate with people. Police and central government can take lots from this. Local government and NHS can’t shrug off what is a deep seated malaise. 

It means that corporate communications through corporate communications channels may not be the way to go. If something lands in your inbox from government it’s a harder hill to climb.

So, what’s to be done?

Robert Phillips, the late author of ‘Trust Me PR is Dead’, was asked by a burger chain to make a pitch for rebuilding reputation work after an undercover journalist found traces of manure in their burgers.

“You’ll be pleased to know this is very simple,” he told the room. “Stop putting crap in your burgers.” Then he sat down.

It’s not the job of comms to rebuild trust. It’s the job of the institution as the Metropolitan Police are finding out.  

Besides this. I can’t help but think the key to part of this is in another piece of research. The Ipsos Mori Veracity index looks at who the most trusted professions are in the UK. You’ll not be surprised to learn that the most recent set of figures show politicians generally bottom of the league table with 13 per cent trusting them. 

Look up the league table there is nurses on top trusted by 89 per cent, museum curators on 81 per cent and doctors on 85 per cent. Even the public is on 57 per cent a trust rate that institutions can only dream about.   

Once when I was training and I showed these figures someone said that their campaign to reach Afro Caribbean young men had failed using traditional routes. So, they used barbers instead because they see them every few weeks. 

Maybe, the answer is also to take the Afro Caribbean barber route a bit more.   

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