Letter: Government advertising campaign results

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Sir: I refer to the article reporting the Liberal Democrats' exposure of wasteful government advertising in 1993/94 ('Government advertising 'wastes millions' ' (2 August). An unnamed Central Office of Information spokeswoman disputes our figures, saying that market research is more sophisticated than response data as a measure of campaigns' effectiveness. She notes that this material tends to be 'commercially in confidence', that is to say, departments refuse to publish it.

Earlier this year, through parliamentary questions, I asked each Secretary of State to publish market research results of his or her department's advertising campaigns. The result should concern any taxpayer concerned about how public money is spent. Some ministers published their research. At the Department of Environment, one campaign (Rent to Mortgage) was exposed as a dismal failure, the other (energy conservation) had patchy results. At the Citizen's Charter Unit, the Charterline advertising was so ineffective it was dropped after spending pounds 542,000.

However, the Education, Health and Home Office ministers declined to publish any of their research surveys. The Employment minister did not provide me with his department's post-campaign research, as promised. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food provided virtually no useful research on the effectiveness of its campaigns. The Defence minister said that no information was held centrally. It is simply inconceivable that commercial considerations were behind all of these responses.

In other words, there is virtually no accountability for pounds 73m- worth of taxpayers' money. I have asked the Central Office of Information to explain what steps it is taking to improve campaigns' planning, monitoring and public accountability - the job they should be doing, rather than hiding their dismal failures behind unpublished 'market research'.

Yours sincerely,


MP for Truro (Lib Dem)

House of Commons

London, SW1

2 August