28th Oct, 2016

Coventry council's controversial PR boss Fran Collingham departs £85k job

Les Reid 5th Oct, 2016 Updated: 12 hours ago

COVENTRY City Council’s PR, media and communications chief Fran Collingham has left the authority after 13 years – including the last six years as a highly paid assistant director.

Some savings to council taxpayers are expected as her £85,000 post is to be deleted.

The next person in charge of the council’s communications department will be employed in a lesser role.

The local authority was tightlipped about the circumstances of her departure last week, while some sources claimed she had taken early retirement.

Ms Collingham reported to the £175,000-salaried chief executive Martin Reeves, whose has this year been dividing his work by also acting as chief executive for the new West Midlands Combined Authority.

The communications department is responsible for dealing with the media and other communication with the public including official public statements.

The council said only: “Yes. Fran Collingham left the Council last week. There will be a recruitment process but the job is currently being evaluated.

“It won’t be an Assistant Director role. In the meantime the communications team is reporting directly to Martin Reeves.”

Ms Collingham’s time in the assistant director role – advising Mr Reeves and the management board, and council leaders including former leader Ann Lucas on what messages to put out to the public – coincided with major decline, with the government implementing heavy funding cuts to councils.

She was also involved in the PR and communications over the council’s role in the Ricoh Arena dispute with Coventry City Football Club, in which Coun Lucas was accused of misleading the public in the run-up to the stadium’s sale to Wasps.

Ms Collingham became the story last year during an ethics committee hearing into the Ricoh dispute. Emails apparently copied in to her involving a London PR firm Weber Shandwick were scrutinised amid accusations of council involvement in an underhand ‘witchhunt’ and council-termed ‘media war’. Ms Collingham and others claimed there was no infringement of the council’s code of conduct and its requirements they act with openness, transparency, fairness and integrity.

In 2009, she also hit the headlines after publishing advice on how to restrict information to the public by “using” the media.

She had also commented on the “cushy working hours” of public sector professionals and their salaries paid by the taxpayer.

She had made the comments in an article called “Ten things you should know about journalists” – published on a PR website before she stated at Coventry council in 2003.

It advised fellow public sector PR officers: “Some journalists are crap – and you can use them.”

She goes on to advise on “wearing journalists down” by complaining about stories and any inaccuracies.

She wrote: “It’s always worth rebutting, even if the rebuttal gets no coverage. It’s a war of attrition, and you need to wear them down.”

At the time, she claimed the article was meant to be lighthearted, and then acting chief executive John McGuigan said Ms Collingham had brought “significant professional expertise, objectivity and integrity to the way we communicate.”

In a tribute last week on another PR website, her staff wrote: “We’re saying goodbye to a legend in Coventry today, Fran Collingham our amazing Head of Communications and comms2point0 lifetime achievement award winner.

“Fran’s been an institution here at Coventry for the last 13 years and has skilfully guided us through many a comms challenge and taught us all a thing or a hundred about good comms.”

She was formerly at councils in Birmingham and Redditch.