Campaign on safety of fireworks 'mishandled'

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THE GOVERNMENT has been accused of incompetence over its annual firework safety campaign.

The campaign, which is launched today by Lord Strathclyde, consumer affairs minister, has rarely been the subject of so much criticism.

Labour says the Government has been 'completely incompetent' in organising the campaign which has, for the first time, been contracted to private advertising consultants. The Department of Trade and Industry had originally earmarked pounds 80,000 for the campaign, which has always been run in-house. Baroness Denton, the former consumer affairs minister, chose, however, to give the contract to the advertising agency Euro RSCG, for a fee of pounds 160,000.

Baroness Denton also cancelled distribution of a safety booklet called 'Safer Displays' against the advice of civil servants and chose, instead, to produce a small poster and a series of television advertisements. The posters, which carry the logo 'Enjoy Fireworks but Don't be Blind to the Dangers', do not single out any individual fireworks as objects of particular concern.

Nigel Griffiths, Labour's consumer affairs spokesman, said the promotion 'fails to focus on the very fireworks which have caused most injuries to children . . . The biggest increase in injuries last year was from sparklers'.

Standard Fireworks, the largest manufacturer in the UK, echoed Labour's criticism. A spokesman said Lord Strathclyde had met company representatives and 'apologised' for the campaign he inherited from Baroness Denton. He asked the company for its support, and promised a review of promotional tactics next year.

The number of people injured by fireworks increased last year for the first time in nearly a decade: 942 people were taken to hospital, 25 per cent up on 1991.

(Photograph omitted)