Posted 21 January 2019

Nothing should be off the table when local councils consider ideas for income generation to protect services, says CAN’s Managing Director Lloyd Clark

There was a small ripple of disapproval in the media when it was reported before Christmas that Walsall Council had altered its advertising policy so the authority could – in theory – sell the naming rights to council-owned public buildings and parks to advertisers as part of its efforts to raise income.

The new advertising policy, introduced by Walsall council leader, Councillor Mike Bird, also opens the way for digital advertising on Walsall Council’s website, a route to new income being adopted by more and more local authorities in the UK, as they try to find new ways to counter cuts to their central government budget allocation.

When I was asked to appear on the Alex Lester Breakfast Show on BBC WM to talk about the Walsall decision, I took the opportunity to explain how local councils can generate thousands of pounds each year free, simply from advertising on their websites. A typical borough council like Walsall could expect to make up to £20,000.

Actually, if more councils joined in, such sums would increase, as advertisers like to buy at scale. So, if the number of councils advertising doubled, the income for each council would also double.

Free money

Currently we have more than 60 local council sites on our Council Advertising Network  – along with many other public sector sites covering transport, jobs and tourism – and it’s free to join.

You get to ‘go global’ by tapping into national – even international – quality brands but ‘stay local’ because we give up to 20% of the ad space over to councils to sell to local businesses and boost their local economy.

Understandably, councils have legitimate concerns about advertising on their websites: are the ads going to be appropriate? Are people going to see things they shouldn’t see on a council website? Are the ads going to affect the user’s experience? After all, these websites aren’t there to promote businesses, they’re there to help residents access services – to pay their council tax or find out which day their waste collection falls on.

We bust a few of the most common myths we’ve heard about council website advertising here.

At CAN we have developed technology to make sure only the right type of quality advertising appears on council websites. Councils choose what categories of ads they do and don’t want to see. And we don’t litter websites with ads, as that might adversely affect the user experience.

When we put the question to them, most councils on our network reported they had absolutely no negative comments from residents when ads were introduced. Fewer than ten councils received one or two complaints. We are now so used to having ads on most websites, we think it’s odd when we don’t see them.

So, well done to Councillor Mike Bird for having the courage to put forward fresh ideas. Anything a council can do to generate income and help protect threatened local services is a good thing.