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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.
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.
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.
£60 million! That's almost as much as three days' continued membership of the EU!
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.
£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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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
Either you're condemned for poor take-up of government initiatives, or you're condemned for promoting them.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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...
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
25 Apr 01 | UK Politics
£60m advert spend 'obscene'
16 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Government is biggest advert spender
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