Page last updated at 02:31 GMT, Friday, 12 December 2008

Council 'spin budgets' condemned

Birmingham Town Hall
Of the councils which responded, Birmingham was the biggest spender

Councils across Britain are spending an average of more than 970,000 per year on publicity, a campaign group says.

The TaxPayers' Alliance, which obtained the figures, called for cuts in "propaganda and spin doctors".

The 445 authorities to provide figures spent more than 430m on running press offices, promoting services and paying for adverts in the last financial year.

But the Local Government Association said it was "absurd" to suggest such spending was a waste of money.

This is the second time the TaxPayers' Alliance has examined town halls' spending on publicity, using statistics obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

It said the average spend was up nearly 18,000 on last year and that the figure had doubled over a decade.

Chief executive Matthew Elliott said: "It is incredibly disappointing that, despite the economic downturn and the loss of millions in Icelandic banks, local authorities are still spending nearly half a billion pounds a year on publicity.

"In the middle of a recession, councils need to cut back on propaganda and spin doctors and deliver savings to taxpayers."

Birmingham - 9,200,000
Liverpool - 7,540,000
Surrey - 6,200,000
Bradford - 6,016,000
Kent - 5,683,000
Manchester - 5,118,000
Sunderland - 4,926,854
Southwark, London - 4,776,000
Essex - 4,775,000
Lincolnshire - 4,716,121
Source: TaxPayers' Alliance

Its report revealed that while just under half the councils had cut spending on publicity - saving taxpayers 25m - the remainder had spent more.

Six of the 445 authorities that provided figures spent more than 5m on publicity and the spending of 133 topped 1m.

The biggest spending councils were Birmingham (9.2m), Liverpool (7.5m) and Surrey (6.2m).

However, a spokesman for the Local Government Association, which represents more than 400 councils in England and Wales, said: "People need to know how to access the 100bn worth of vital services that councils provide every year.

"Lumped into advertising figures are statutory notices that councils by law have to advertise, such as job adverts or site notices for planning applications.

He added that the publicity budgets were just a tiny proportion of the councils' total spend.

Shadow communities secretary Eric Pickles warned that the bill was likely to increase because the government was loosening regulations on town hall publicity.

Under accounting rules for town halls, publicity is defined as "any communication, in whatever form, addressed to the public at large or to a section of the public".

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