Bill for government adverts doubles in one year

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Indy Politics

The money spent by the Government on advertising has almost quadrupled since it came to power and more than doubled in the last year, prompting accusations that taxpayers are footing a mounting bill for Labour to pursue its party political ends.

The money spent by the Government on advertising has almost quadrupled since it came to power and more than doubled in the last year, prompting accusations that taxpayers are footing a mounting bill for Labour to pursue its party political ends.

The cost of government advertising in the last financial year was more than £136m, compared to £57.4m in the previous 12 months and just £36m in the year after Labour won the 1997 General Election, according to the first comprehensive analysis of ministers' promotional budgets. The research shows that, on average, the Government spent at least £74m more each year on advertising than the Tories during their last years of power.

The rise has heightened MPs' fears that departments have been using taxpayers' money to pay for "spin", particularly before the last general election campaign, when the bill more than doubled.

Last night the Liberal Democrats, who compiled the research using the Government's own figures, accused Labour of squandering public money on self-promotion.

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Trade and Industry spokesman, said: "These figures show the huge price tag for Labour spin. Whilst it is important that departments communicate effectively, it cannot be right that Labour is spending this much more.

"The Government should be spending public money on public services, not on yet more spin. It should invest less in public relations and more in public services," he said.

The real figures could be far higher because both the Treasury and the Ministry of Defence refused to reveal their budgets on the grounds that the information could only be gathered at "disproportionate cost".

Labour's bill for advertising includes national campaigns to encourage people to fill in their tax returns and to stop drink-driving on the roads. It also counts campaign material, booklets and advertising produced by departments of state to promote government schemes and policies.

The Government also courted controversy with its gritty billboard campaign to promote equal treatment of disabled people, which showed a young man in a wheelchair with a glamorous woman sitting on his lap. The caption read: "Sex can be a problem, Helen's a screamer."

The Department for Education and Employment – now the Department for Education and Skills – and the Home Office had the biggest advertising budgets of all government departments.

Last year the Department for Education and Skills spent £31m on advertising, most of which went on material to promote employment policies. The Home Office, whose advertising budget includes campaigns to reduce crime, spent £36m.

The Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions spent £18m, most of it on television advertising, including a campaign to encourage people to protect the environment, recycle and use water-efficient lavatories.

The Lord Chancellor's department has increased its advertising budget by more than £6m since the Tories were in office.

The Foreign Office and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport were the only government departments to have cut their bill under Labour. The Foreign Office has one of the smallest budgets in this area in Whitehall and spent less than £2m last year. The Department of Culture, despite its colourful image, spends less than £500,000 a year promoting itself.

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