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The BBC's John Pienaar
"Where positive publicity is concerned every penny counts"
 real 56k

Dominic Mills, Campaign magazine
"If you want to reach a large number of people you have to spend a large ammount of money"
 real 28k

Charles Kennedy, Liberal Democrat leader
"This level of advertising, quite frankly, is obscene"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 25 April, 2001, 21:18 GMT 22:18 UK
Blair defends advert spree
Alistair Darling, Social Security Secretary, launches a stakeholder pensions poster this month
The government is now Britain's biggest advertiser
Prime Minister Tony Blair has defended the doubling of the government's spending on publicity as the general election approaches.

This level of advertising quite frankly is obscene

Charles Kennedy
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 Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy who described them as "obscene" - and from Conservative leader William Hague, who called them "ludicrous".

The Tories have written to Cabinet Secretary Richard Wilson, head of the civil service, demanding an inquiry.

But Mr Blair told MPs it was being used to help recruit teachers, nurses and police.

Commons exchange

The issue sparked angry exchanges in the House of Commons.

Mr Hague compared the 60m advertising bill with the 6m given to the British Tourist Authority to market Britain abroad during the foot-and-mouth crisis.

He asked: "Isn't it time the government stopped spending record sums advertising themselves and spent it on advertising Britain?"

The prime minister replied: "The vast bulk of these government advertisements are for campaigns that either ensure we recruit the people we need for our public services - or that we make sure that, for example, people entitled to the child tax credit get it."

He said more money to promote tourism would be announced "in the next few days".

McCartney: Spending rise a coincidence.
Spending on publicity averaged 7.3m a month last year - but jumped in the first three months of this year to:

  • January -16m
  • February - 16.4m
  • March - 30.2m
This makes the government Britain's biggest advertiser.

The total for the first three months is about the same as the combined spend by Britain's next two biggest advertisers, Unilever and Procter & Gamble.

Advertising spending rose overall by less than 3% during the same period.

Cost of campaigning

Figures from media monitoring service AC Nielsen MMS show that in March, the government launched 15 campaigns costing more than 500,000 each.

These included a 3m campaign against benefit fraud and a 2m campaign encouraging businesses to go online.

In February, the biggest government campaigns aimed to encourage families to claim the new children's tax credit, to recruit more nurses and to persuade people to plan their pensions.

Isn't it time the government stopped spending record sums advertising themselves and spent it on advertising Britain?

William Hague

A survey of the world's 10 biggest advertising markets in the latest edition of trade magazine Ad Age Global suggests the government's spending is unusually high.

Canada is the only other country where the government appears among the top 10 advertisers.

'Regulation needed'

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy told BBC News: "I think this level of advertising quite frankly is obscene."

He did not think it was a coincidence that the spending came when a May general election had been likely.

"I really do think some kind of independent, outside regulation is going to have to be introduced to keep a check on what the government is spending on your and my behalf as taxpayers," said Mr Kennedy.

Cabinet Office Minister Ian McCartney insisted that the rise in spending before a likely election was a coincidence.

But shadow Cabinet Office Minister Andrew Lansely called for an inquiry.

In his letter to Sir Richard, he said: "I hope you will wish to investigate this; I would urge you to reassert the rules on government advertising, even if recent events have allowed Ministers to push through much more than they should."

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See also:

16 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Government is biggest advert spender
29 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Bill saves posters from the shredder
15 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Parties fail to agree adverts code
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