Cost of government adverts soars

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT has increased its spending on advertising by over one-third this year and is now planning to start sponsoring or making television programmes to put across its message.

The Central Office of Information, the department that co-ordinates government advertising, confirmed yesterday that it is likely to spend pounds 80m in the year to March, compared with pounds 59m last year.

More than pounds 9m has been spent on promoting the "New Deal" on jobs, and pounds 4.5m on warning businesses to get ready for the single European currency. A further pounds 22m is being spent on promoting the working family tax credit, the campaign to promote awareness of pensions mis-selling, a government jobline and a child literacy campaign. An extra pounds 50m is to be spent over the next three years to encourage people to give up smoking.

A spokesman for the COI said yesterday that the Government's advertising expenditure fluctuates depending on the stage in the parliamentary cycle: "It's not like the Government is a factory which produces a steady stream of products to be promoted. There is ongoing work, like the 'Kill Your Speed' campaign, but then there are things that rely on the Government's programme."

It was also revealed yesterday that the Government is looking for a specialist sponsorship agency to allow it to sponsor radio and television programmes, and even fund programmes that promote its campaigns. Samantha Mercer, head of sponsorship at the COI, told Marketing Week magazine: "We are looking at sponsorship propositions for government departments. It could involve making a programme about the life of a young recruit in the Army."

The Government is likely to use sponsorship to support non-contentious issues such as the campaign against drink- driving and the promotion of organ donation for transplant surgery.

The current administration has been described as the most "advertising literate" government ever to hold office. Ministers are increasingly demanding to have a say on the appointment of advertising agencies as well as approval of campaigns. Industry experts attribute the Government's interest to the Labour Party's conversion to advertising during its long period in opposition and the fact that many ministers mix socially with people from the world of advertising.

The 1998-99 budget for advertising is the Government's biggest for seven years.The last patch of very high spending coincided with the Conservatives' privatisation programme.