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Monday, 30 April, 2001, 09:01 GMT 10:01 UK
Government ads: Are they a good use of taxpayers' money?

The government has come under fire from opposition leaders for doubling its spending on publicity as the general election approaches.

New figures show the government has spent 60m on advertising in the past three months - more than twice as much as in the corresponding period last year.

The figures prompted sharp criticism from the Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, who described them as "obscene" - and from Conservative leader William Hague, who called them "ludicrous".

But Prime Minister Tony Blair defended the spending - telling MPs it was being used to help recruit teachers, nurses and police.

Should the government be spending so much on advertising? Is it a waste of money?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

We are side-tracked into concerns over how the policy is delivered, rather than the policy itself. Democracy suffers in the process

Peter Thorne, UK
When government policies are targeted towards particular sections of the community (eg the minimum income guarantee for pensioners, combating benefit fraud etc.), it seems a sensible use of resources to advertise to make people aware of their rights and responsibilities. Otherwise, the government gets criticised for not telling people what they're entitled to or, in the case of benefit fraud, not entitled to. So, it seems, whatever the government does it's in the wrong!!
David, Kent, UK

The reality is that the media industry demands sound bites and advertising campaigns, otherwise it largely ignores issues. The government - of whatever party - has to resort to mass advertising to inform its electorate of new policies and initiatives. If too little money is spent governments are accused of hiding policies and trying to save money, and if they spend adequately are then open to accusations of wasting taxpayers cash. Once again, an issue gets between the policy and the people. We are side-tracked into concerns over how the policy is delivered, rather than the policy itself. Democracy suffers in the process.
Peter Thorne, UK

I think that government ads are a waste of time, particularly where the general election is concerned. I think that they should advertise themselves positively, for example highlighting their achievements since 1997, instead of trying to destroy the Conservatives with their "Economic Disaster 2" advertisement.
Simon Hughes, England

60 million! That's almost as much as three days' continued membership of the EU!
Andrew, Expat Brit

Perhaps a few common misconceptions should be cleared. None of this advertising is directly spent on party political purposes; the Central Office of Information strictly maintains impartiality in this respect. Furthermore, if you consider that most government projects consist of huge sums and can be highly complex, then the advertising spend compares well with private industry.
L. P, England

60m on flaunting their own image! This is scandalous how many operations or police on the street would this have paid for? Spin doctors gone mad, this could only account for it.
Ross, UK

Whilst I agree that the sudden increase in spending does look a little suspicious I also believe that a government must be allowed to communicate with its people as long as political content is not included and is confined to party political broadcasts.
Bjorn Robertson, UK

A huge advertising campaign that has completely passed me by

Allyson, UK
Fantastic! The Government appears to have had a huge advertising campaign that has completely passed me by! Under these circumstances it seems to be a complete waste of money. But the money could have been spent on many different things which would in the end have resulted in far more positive advertising. All parties are the same, they are all to blame for encouraging the mud-slinging environment.
Allyson, UK

Sixty million pounds is absolutely obscene. This is twice the amount of the largest corporate advertiser in the UK! Of course, this figure is only for the last three months, so by the end of the year it should be 240M. This could have been an extra 5.7M for each police force in the country. This Government needs to more accountable due to their cavalier manner in how they spend our money. Its time they bowed their heads in shame and left office, we can't afford any more of their amateur bungling.
Dave Allen, London, UK

I am appalled at the amount of money the Government has spent on advertising so far this year. Just think what that money could have achieved for the people of this country if it was given to local authorities instead.
Kym, UK

Yes I whole-heartedly endorse the significant rise in advertising by the Labour Party. The issue however is that the advertising should highlight the political, economic, cultural and moral ineptitude of the present 'government' and not the endless spin and deceit which is sadly all Labour is able to provide in substance and quantity.
Paul Frank, UK

Party political broadcasts are quite sufficient

Jeff Scholey, UK
There should be no TV advertising by political parties as it is a waste of money. Door-to-door canvassing in the streets and party political broadcasts are quite sufficient I think. Sixty million pounds could build a hospital, fill it with life saving machines and staff to work them. It's scandalous!
Jeff Scholey, UK

It's a complete waste of money, which could be better spent elsewhere. But this Government just insists on wasting money, at every opportunity (remember the DOME)
John, London

I think that the Government can do a better job of recruiting nurses, teachers, social workers, police by investing in those services. Running an advertising campaign to make people feel better about jobs they already have won't solve anything. The Government should not squander precious taxpayer money on spin; it should invest it in the future of Britain.
Jeff, USA

Either you're condemned for poor take-up of government initiatives, or you're condemned for promoting them.
Guy Chapman, UK

Would the public forget about politics without advertisment? I don't think so, especially if one considers the present situation in the countryside. Ads don't help to solve these problems but I think they are necessary because it helps many people to get at least the slightest idea why to vote for a certain candidate. The poster had a nice colour! Cynical? True!
Marcel, Germany

The amount of taxpayer's money they've spent on advertising is insane, I can understand advertising campaigns for recruiting more nurses and police officers. But advertising that just boosts Labour's media profile is just a blatant waste of money on something that doesn't serve any useful purpose for the country. If Labour want to boost their media profile, then let them pay for it from their own bank accounts and not the taxpayers.
Tim Jacks, England

This is yet another example of the cynical nature of this Government. Everybody here agrees on one thing. This money could have been spent on the services themselves. Good work would bring good publicity. This is just blatant pre-election campaigning, but disguised (badly). Not that the Tories or Lib Dems wouldn't have done it, had they thought of it when in power!
Paul, UK

I applaud the government for attempting to inform people of their rights. However, as someone who has recently become a father for the first time and who had to jump through the Chancellor's many hoops, I can confirm that the money could be saved by having fewer daft initiatives and simplifying the tax system. For instance, how many of you know that the Working Families' Tax Credit and the Children's Tax are different things applied for on different forms to different departments? That's why they have to advertise so heavily.
Christopher Boomer, N Ireland

Most of the adverts are SO dreadful, I can only assume the advertising industry see the UK government as a cash cow waiting to be milked. There are enough adverts littering our streets and stealing the time we have for our own thoughts - the government should cut advertising down to the smallest possible amount. Just tell us when the elections are, so we can boot the lot of you out!
Duncan Drury, UK

I know that in Australia, at least, much of government advertising is grossly overdone. I know I speak for many when I say all we want is the facts - what we need to know presented simply, intelligently and to the point...
Madi M, Australia

This government is very good at spending taxpayers' money

Chris D. Kelly, England
These figures showing that Tony Blair's government is now the biggest advertiser in the country are far from surprising. After all, New Labour has always been about spin over substance. One has to feel some sympathy for the junior minister and sacrificial lamb wheeled out by Millbank to claim that the rise in spending before a likely election was a coincidence. This government is very good at spending taxpayers' money and these new figures simply reaffirm that Labour is all mouth and no delivery.
Chris D. Kelly, England, UK

I do not think it is a waste of money. If 60million is supposed to have been spent, that amounts to 1 per person in this country. The government is promoting the stakeholder pension and most people do think that saving for retirement is important. It is also well known that for example there are huge numbers of pensioners (about 200,000) who are entitled to income support) but do not claim it. The government is also helping the tourist industry at the international level.

I wouldn't mind so much if the adverts were constructive - as it is, the only election-related ones I've seen have been the standard, playground-style "my party's better than yours" cobblers which does nothing apart from show politicians up as the childish morons most of them are. Still, since the Tories hit the world with "Labour's not working", adverts don't have to rely on policies any more. After all, politics doesn't either.
Pete, UK

It should be considered as money well spent

James, England
I don't think the advertisements are really saying 'We'll do this if you vote for us' or 'we have been successful in doing this so vote for us', therefore it isn't fair to criticise the government for peddling propaganda. In actual fact they are being honest (for a refreshing change!) in saying that the public services are on a sticky wicket in terms of recruitment quotas, which may not cause a positive association anyway. Police colleges are filling up, and families are able to increase their income through entitled, but non-claimed benefits, so it should be considered as money well spent.
James, England

Put simply, if we want to recruit police, teachers and nurses then we need to advertise for them. As the biggest employer in the country, is it not probable that the government should have the biggest recruitment drive and therefore the biggest advertising spend? What would be the alternative - not advertise and then get criticised for not recruiting enough? And of course advertising spending is twice as much as last year - there are many more recruitment drives and more benefits that can be claimed, all of which were set out in previous budgets. There is nothing short-term or electioneering in this; the advertising will help recruit the very people we want - police, teachers, nurses. People who complain about the lack of these professionals should welcome the advertising spend.
Riad Mannan, UK

I thought that the government had just spent about 500 million pounds on a website to advertise vacancies such as this. Instead of wasting money on advertising and Internet sites, why don't they make the jobs worth having in the first place?
Garry Simpson, Egypt

On one side of the coin, it can only be a good thing that saturation advertising from Whitehall lets people know about benefits, registering to vote, the census and so on. If this helps people to realise what they can apply for, get and benefit from, great (if they could just get those forms so that you don't get fed up half way through a tree of paper for the sake of 20 a month......) On the other side of said coin, it is horrifying that they need to spend that much. Where does the money go for it to cost that much, and could this money not be used to help a few schools and hospitals?
Steve Brereton, UK

How would we know that the Government is doing a good job unless it tells us!

Eric, UK
I think the money is truly well spent. After all how would we know that the Government is doing a good job unless it tells us!
Eric, UK

It is complete hypocrisy for any Tory - or Tory supporter - to criticise New Labour for "ludicrous" amounts spent on advertising. Millions were spent to proudly advertise the fact that the Conservatives were to sell off assets that were the property of the taxpayer. Remember the milkman delivering all the bottles of water a household would need? Or "Tell Sid" ad nauseam? Or perhaps any Tory would like to justify the adverts currently appearing on billboards near you criticising New Labour for the mess the last government left them in? Let's face it, any advert claiming "You paid the tax, so where are the trains?" when the Tories privatised the rail network really IS ludicrous.
Phil, UK

I would rather see the money spent on advertising being put back into society in form of aid to pensioners, NHS staff housing, better medical equipment and free higher education at university level. I find it sickening to watch the government spends millions of pounds of our money on public slanging matches with the opposing party. It's sickening to think that 60 million has been spent in the last 3 months alone. The money should be given back to the people in the form of better transport, education, health services etc.
Sharon B, UK

Political parties need to advertise so that people are mobilised into voting

Benj'min Mossop, UK
This issue has little to do with the particular government in place and more to do with people being so politically apathetic. Political parties need to advertise so that people are mobilised into voting, instead of not even bothering to turn out on election days. Many people in this country do not deserve their democracy because they can't even be bothered to take part as active citizens.
Benj'min Mossop, UK

This government knows exactly what it is doing when it comes to the media. To claim that the increase in spending is a "coincidence" is another example of the Government treating us like idiots. Its all spin, spin, spin - last minute hype to make it look like they are doing something.
Simon Crisp, UK

Why do the government need to advertise to encourage families to claim the new children's tax credit? Is it that it's so complicated that the people it's aimed at don't understand it?
Caron, England

I agree with the PM on this one

Paul, UK
As has so often been mentioned, this Government is obsessed with appearances and style. At one end, you have the spinning that is orchestrated by the likes of Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell, but this particular spending, whilst admittedly being very high, is to make people take up state relief and benefits being offered to them, and to recruit people into state services. I agree with the PM on this one. After all, high profile campaigns to recruit police officers and teachers appear - at long last - to be paying off.
Paul, UK

The waste of taxpayers' millions on advertising is pretty bad coming from a government that boasted it would improve health and education. (There's a primary school near my home where kids are taught in huts that were built at the end of WW2 designed to be only temporary housing.
Patrick Wright, UK

Watching the level of this Government's advertising can only be a good thing. When I see a poster saying how great the NHS is I know they've made a shambles of it. When I see a poster reminding me to fill in my census form I recall how much money is being spent on a glorified electoral roll. The campaign about stakeholder pensions never lets me forget how badly this Government screwed that up as well. It's great - I don't need to do anything except look at posters to find out where the Government is struggling to achieve anything.
John B, UK

It appears that the Conservatives are upset at valid attempts to inform poor people of their benefits and to attract people to jobs in the infrastructure that the Tory government ran down and their press ridiculed. Is this because the benefits that have been advertised would be scrapped and the new people recruited by the adverts would have to be sacked by a Hague government to pay for its planned tax cuts?
Guy Robinson, UK

It is not coincidence that the surge in advertising comes just before a possible election in June

Alan Hancock, England
Surely it is not coincidence that the surge in advertising comes just before a possible election in June. Another scheme to muddy the waters to get Joe Public to forget the Millennium Dome waste of monies, muddy the waters to let Joe Public forget the screw-up the Ministry of Agriculture made of the foot-and-mouth disease and next the vote catcher of giving money in trust to new born babies for their future education. I've got a good idea, lets introduce FREE education for our future generation. But that's probably too radical for this money wasting egotistical Government. P.S. How much of the tax-payers money has been paid to the UNELECTED ministers, and spin doctors?
Alan Hancock, England

Whilst the Conservative Party were in government Mr Blair's judgement, and that of his colleagues, was that taxpayers money spent on advertising was a disgrace and merely Party political propaganda. It is good to know Mr Blair is so flexible in his thinking - and on so many issues.
Judith Broadhead, England

If the political parties did anything worthwhile they would not need to advertise, like any good product word of mouth and would be enough. Apart from the fact that there are a million better places to spend 60 million.
Simon, UK

Public information can be very useful for informing the public about new policies, referendums, etc. But when the Government is using huge sums of money simply as election propaganda, this is a waste of taxpayers money.
Emma, Australia

This Government seems more biased towards presentation than to delivery, so it is not surprising that near an election, advertisements ostensibly promoting public services dramatically increase. As with any product with glossy packaging, satisfaction can only be assured by the contents; as far as this Government is concerned I feel very disappointed and annoyed with their over-reliance on hype.
Robert, England

I believe the police training colleges are now just about full, which vindicates at least some of the expenditure doesn't it? Perhaps the critics would rather there were perpetual staff shortages in the public services simply because they don't really believe in them.
Steve, UK

If the government wants to encourage more recruitment of teachers, nurses and police then it should stop undermining their activities

Hugh, UK
Yes, it's a waste of taxpayers' money. If the government wants to encourage more recruitment of teachers, nurses and police then surely it should stop undermining their activities at every opportunity. Perhaps the government could start by keeping some of its previous election promises on education, the NHS and crime.
Hugh, UK

If it has to advertise so heavily in order to attract people to the state-run professions then there is something wrong with the way those professions are being run. Being a teacher, a nurse, a fireman or some other socially useful thing always seems attractive to children - but then they don't usually try to match pay packets to mortgages! If the employment conditions and the remuneration package were sufficient less advertising would be needed.

It appears that Tony Blair has changed his policy of country before party

Andrew Clarke, Northern Ireland
It appears that Tony Blair has changed his policy of country before party - clearly Labour party advertising seems to be more important than saving the tourism industry.
Andrew Clarke, Northern Ireland

Would it not make more long-term economic sense to invest the same 60m in better conditions & facilities for teachers, nurses and the police? Then the media would provide all the advertising free of charge.
Darragh, UK

Is anyone claiming that these are "vote Labour" posters? I suppose some may claim that they highlight what the government has been working on this (and every) year of their term and are therefore political. Well, the civil service has been implementing these policies. Does that make them political? Of course not.
Paul Steven, Scotland

Most of the adverts I've seen don't seem to be advertising the Labour party at all

Chris, UK
Most of the adverts I've seen don't seem to be advertising the Labour party at all. I think it is a coincidence, though I think it's good that we question it. We should have an independent board to make sure such accusations can be dismissed or investigated.
Chris, UK

As the Government admits, most of the money has been spent advertising for more police, nurses and teachers who all say their main problem is the cost of housing. Why is this money not being spent on tackling the root of the problem - providing more homes so that prices become affordable once more?
Pierre Williams, England

I am happy for them to spend money on public information campaigns such as 'speed kills'. For example, we need a campaign to reassure drivers that it's not compulsory to overtake cyclists.
Colin McKenzie, UK

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See also:

25 Apr 01 | UK Politics
60m advert spend 'obscene'
16 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Government is biggest advert spender
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