Cost of Government spin operation rises fivefold to £2.4m since 1997

The cost of the Government's spin operation has increased five-fold since Labour came to power prompting questions from opposition MPs about the use of taxpayers' funds. The communications budget in Whitehall has jumped from £575,000 in 1997 when Tony Blair entered Downing Street to £2.4 million this year.

Ministers explained the increase in the budget of the Government's information service by saying that its "role and responsibilities" had evolved and developed. The Government's Communications and Information Service (GICS) includes Whitehall press officers and ministers' communications advisers. They are in charge of pushing out ministerial information to the media and responding to stories in the press.

The figures show that spending on spin has steadily increased since Labour came to power. In 1997 the figure was £575,000, which rose to £680,000 in 1998-99. The next year the budget crept up to £815,000. Then in 2001-02, spending shot up to £1.88 m. The budget leapt dramatically in 2002-03 to £4,079,000 when it included the cost of media communications for the Queen's Jubilee celebrations.

At least half of this year's budget of £2,458,000 will be spent on "emergency communications", the Cabinet Office minister, Douglas Alexander, said.

However, the Liberal Democrats said the dramatic leap in funding meant that claims from Downing Street that the Government had given up spin were untrue.

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman who obtained the figures in a written reply, said: "Government spin that spin is dead has been shown to be spin itself."

"At the same time that they are massively increasing propaganda spend they are cutting environmental budgets to the bone. A five-times increase is impossible to justify though I suspect that theGovernment's reaction will be yet more spin to try to do so."

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