Whitehall goes on the record as spin doctors tighten grip

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The days of the unattributable briefing, may be numbered. The Prime Minister's Office will, from now on, give journalists on-the-record statements, as part of what it claims is a move towards open government.

Colin Brown, Chief Political Correspondent, reports.

Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's press secretary, is expected to go on the record to make the announcement that the Government is accepting the findings of the Mountfield report.

The aim is to overcome the confusion and lack of confidence caused by off-the-record briefings about Britain's entry into the European single currency.

It will not mean the end of the spin doctors, who will continue to give briefings off the record, but all Whitehall departments will be expected to go on the record more often.

The changes are likely to be presented as part of the Government's commitment to more open government, but it will also help Downing Street keep closer control of the Whitehall information machine, and to keep ministers "on message".

Downing Street will also establish a unit to co-ordinate ministers and Whitehall press officers in presenting the same message. It will also bring ministers' special advisers under the umbrella of the press office operation for the first time.

Peter Mandelson, the minister without portfolio, and Mr Campbell will play a key role on the central unit, with civil servants and special advisers. The Cabinet Office yesterday defended the rise in the number of special advisers from 38 to 68, with an increase in their salary bill from pounds 1.8m under the Tories to pounds 2.6m.

The additional posts include the standards and effectiveness adviser to the Department for Education and Employment, and the UK anti-drugs co-ordinator with his deputy. "It is not true that the numbers have soared, and the special advisers were being run down under the last government," said a spokesman.

Mr Mandelson told a press gallery lunch yesterday that the new unit would give "greater clarity" with the new rules of attribution. He also hinted that the social exclusion unit, which he heads in the Cabinet Office, is substantially to widen its brief.

Rejecting as "complete tosh" reports that the Government was bowing to vested interests such as the tobacco lobby and the food lobby, following a report in The Independent, Mr Mandelson said the unit would be tackling social exclusion wherever it occurred.

It had made a start on housing estates, schools and truancy, but he said: "It is just a start and we will not be deflected on the course on which we are set."