In its first year after coming to power in 1997, Tony Blair's administration spent pounds 59 million advertising the services provided by the Government. But new figures reveal that the budget soared to pounds 105.5 million in the financial year which ended in March.
This is more than the highest spenders in industry, led by BT, which spent pounds 105 million in 1998, Proctor & Gamble (pounds 99m) and Vauxhall Motors (pounds 83m). The Tories claim the hike reflects the New Labour obsession with image and presentation, which helped Mr Blair win power. What is wrong, say the Tories, is to use taxpayers' money to promote Labour's policies. Today Ann Widdecombe, the Shadow Home Secretary, will demand an independent investigation into the sharp rise by the National Audit Office, the official spending watchdog.
"The public should be told why this massive increase is justified," a Tory source said last night.
Labour's budget is much higher than the pounds 69.3m spent by the Tories in their last year in power, and breaks the all-time record spend of pounds 104m by Margaret Thatcher's administration in 1986-87. Its big campaigns on privatisation and training measures for the unemployed were condemned as "propaganda" by the then Labour opposition.
Ironically, the New Deal programme for the jobless was Labour's biggest new campaign last year at a cost of pounds 9 million. There were also drives to prepare business for the single currency, alert people to the millennium computer bug and to tackle the shortage of nurses. The pounds 105.5m budget for the 1998-99 financial year is disclosed in the annual accounts of the Central Office of Information, the Government's publicity body.
The Whitehall departments with the sharpest increases in their publicity budgets, including advertising, were Trade and Industry (up 320 per cent to pounds 20.5m); Health (up 189 per cent to pounds 12.3m) and the Inland Revenue (up 84 per cent to pounds 9 million). The Tories argue that the lines between government and party campaigns have become increasingly blurred.
For example, Labour Party activists will spend this summer on door-to- door campaigns promoting the flagship Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC) which takes effect in October. Their efforts will be complemented next month by a pounds 12 million, three-month advertising blitz on television. There is every sign the advertising budget will continue to rise. On top of the WFTC campaign, ministers have promised a pounds 50 million effort to combat smoking and plan a pounds 10 million promotion for the University for Industry.
n The Government was also accused yesterday of wasting million of pounds on external consultants for the Education and Employment Department instead of using the cash for books and schools. More than pounds 8.5 million has been spent on external advisers in 1998/9, a rise of 70 per cent on the previous year, according to research by the Liberal Democrats.
In every area from literacy and numeracy strategies to education action zones, consultants were hired instead of Whitehall civil servants. One project, to improve school leadership, had 20 per cent of its budget devoted to consultants alone.
Campaign: New Deal
Cost: pounds 9.3m
Agency: St Luke's
The biggest single Government advertising campaign since the Eighties, the New Deal ads tried to reassure job seekers they would get a job and to get employers to hire them.
Expert opinion: "As testimonial campaigns go it was an effective way of pulling employers out of their shell," Gerry Moira, creative director of Publicis.
Campaign: Single Currency
Cost: pounds 4.5m
Agency: TBWA GGT Simons Palmer
A campaign to alert British businesses to the need to prepare for the adoption of the euro in the rest of the EU. For some reason it decided the protagonist in its TV ads should be a bad-tempered boss shouting at his staff.
Expert opinion: "Very funny and a brave campaign for such a political hot potato of an issue." Gerry Moira.
Campaign: Millennium Bug
Cost: pounds 5.9m
The Government wants to offset any panic about the effects of the Millennium Bug by leafleting every household in the country with information about what might go wrong.
Expert opinion: The next stage of the Millennium Bug campaign is yet to break and is the most important.
Campaign: Nursing Recruitment
Cost: pounds 4m
Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi
The Department of Health wants to persuade former nurses that the job has changed thanks to new pay scales and increased responsibilities for a new type of "super nurse".
Expert Opinion: "Nursing ads always win awards, but you wonder if they might have been better off to mention the money," Gerry Moira.Reuse content