Council scoops national award

A LOCAL council has won a national award for using new technology to keep residents up-to-date during the winter months.

Northumberland County Council’s winter alerts system beat off competition from more than 220 other public sector bodies from right across the country at the national Public Service Communications Awards 2011.

Northumberland were crowned champions in the most innovative use of new media category, with the judges praising the online system that warned local people of the latest issues during the cold snap.

The winter alerts system utilises social media and the council website to help inform people about the issues they may face during bad weather such as road and school closures. More than 13,500 residents are now actively using the service which helps keep people right up to date with issues such as school closures or problems on the roads by logging onto sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Residents have praised the online alerts system, with parents particularly pleased with the school updates which let them know about closures in a much faster and more convenient way.

The alerts system provides instant, real-time information on things like local weather warnings, school closures, road closures, flood alerts, delays to bin collections and any major emergencies.

The alerts are updated by council staff or teachers and appear instantly in a dedicated area at the top of the homepage and on social networking sites Facebook and Twitter.

Coun Jeff Reid, leader of Northumberland County Council said: “This award is great national recognition of the innovative work going on in this area. The alerts system has proved a real hit with the public and has enabled us to get vital service information to people as soon as possible, in the way they find most convenient.

“We now keep the alerts open all year round so people can access information whatever the time of year. When we get bad weather it can really have an impact so this lets people get the information they need in a faster, clearer way. “We have almost 3,000 miles of roads and more than 180 schools so our new alerts have been really useful.

“We now have a thriving online community of local people who have actively agreed to receive communications and engage with the council on their own terms. So far local people seem to feel involved, engaged and able to access useful, local information in a way that suits them.”

The How-do public services awards recognise the best PR, communications and engagement work from organisations right across the UK and Northumberland was shortlisted for awards three categories – best community relations campaign for Love Northumberland; most innovative use of new media for the winter alerts system; and best use of social media for our Twitter and Facebook profiles.