`Sell Labour policy' civil servants told

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The Independent Online
DOWNING STREET has ordered civil servants in all Whitehall departments to make more effort to "sell" the Government's policies to the public.

A memorandum by Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's press secretary, warns departments that the impact of successful policy announcements is being lost because voters are not being told that the programme is working.

The Opposition claims that Mr Campbell's report provides further evidence that Labour has "politicised" the Whitehall machine and breached the rules on neutral officials carrying out party political tasks. The Tories will protest to Sir Richard Wilson, the Cabinet Secretary.

The edict from Number 10 emerged in the annual review of the performance of Whitehall's press officers carried out by Mike Granatt, head of the Government Information and Communications Service.

Mr Campbell told the review that there had been progress in the past six months, with better strategic planning, closer co-ordination and ministers more willing to appear on television and radio. But he said there was a need for "greater follow through".

The initiative reflects growing fears in the Government that Labour will be judged at the next general election on whether it has delivered its pledges to improve public services.

But critics of Mr Blair's "control freakery" will see the move as an attempt to impose Downing Street's slick media management throughout Whitehall.

Ron Davies, the former Welsh Secretary who resigned last October, said yesterday he was often kept in the dark by other departments when he was in the Government. He sometimes only learnt of new measures "over my cornflakes" when cabinet colleagues spoke on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, he said in a speech in Cardiff.

Mr Davies said the Welsh Assembly would allow Wales the freedom to act on devolved matters with no "policy over-ride" from London.

The Opposition will include the report in a dossier to the Cabinet Secretary. It will also protest to ministers over the ousting of press secretaries; the spending of pounds 8m on opinion polling; a 35 per cent increase in the Government's advertising budget to pounds 80m and the setting up of a media-monitoring unit.

A Cabinet Office source insisted there was "nothing untoward" in the edict. An order in council was approved after the 1997 general election allowing Mr Campbell, a political appointment, to ask civil servants to carry out certain tasks.