Government defends tax-funded advert

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A Government body today defended spending more than £1 million of taxpayers' money on a star-studded television advert to encourage people to access public services online.

Madness frontman Suggs is among a host of stars featured in the publicity slot for the Directgov website which is voiced by Oscar-winning actress Dame Helen Mirren.

The Tories attacked the campaign as "vanity marketing" that would anger families feeling the pinch because of the recession.

But Directgov insisted the initial outlay would be more than recouped, with up to £400 million expected to be saved over three years through increased use of online services.

The £1 million figure is the cost of buying airtime and does not include the cost of making the advert, which was directed by Steve Bendelack, who also directed The Royle Family, The League Of Gentlemen, Little Britain and Mr Bean's Holiday.

Directgov said the celebrities involved, who also include Nick Moran, Christopher Biggins, Honor Blackman, Janet Street-Porter and Kelly Brook, had taken part for a "fraction of a commercial rate" and pointed out that advertising costs were lower in January.

The website provides information on all Government services and directs people to online functions such as taxing a car or finding job opportunities.

Directgov communications director Mike Hoban said: "At a time of economic uncertainty it is essential that we give everyone in the UK easy access to important Government information about taxes, benefits, job opportunities and education.

"Directgov will save the Government £400 million over three years. Therefore this is an investment that is important in helping the Government save money."

But shadow cabinet office minister Nick Hurd said: "Gordon Brown has nearly bankrupted our nation's finances, yet he has ramped up spin spending to over half a billion pounds a year.

"This latest vanity marketing is yet another example of how Labour wastes the money that it has raised from tax hikes on hard-working families.

"At a time when workers face shrinking pay packets due to higher National Insurance, people will be angry at Government adverts costing over £1 million a time of their money.

"All the celebrities in Britain can't mask the fact that Gordon Brown is running the country into the ground. We can't go on like this."