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Thursday, 13 July, 2000, 12:40 GMT 13:40 UK
Annual report: a hostage to fortune?
Tony Blair
Tony Blair will present the annual report to Parliament
Tony Blair's decision to play it straight by presenting this year's annual report to parliament and not at a flashy news conference has not prevented the controversies that became synonymous with previous editions.


If we all wrote our own end-of-term reports, we'd all give ourselves top marks.

Charles Kennedy
The last two annual reports - an innovation introduced by Mr Blair after the 1997 election - were not public relations successes.

And this year the government has already been attacked for the way it has presented its progress or otherwise on Labour's 177 manifesto pledges.

Selling success

Although the government has spent less money - 170,000 rather than 180,000 - on the report this year than last, it still faces criticism from some quarters for producing self-congratulatory government propaganda for which the taxpayer foots the bill.

Last year, ministers faced embarrassment after the government was forced to buy back thousands of copies of after only 12,000 of the 100,000 copies on sale in supermarkets were sold.

"It's not exactly Harry Potter," William Hague pointed out in the Commons.

The government has bravely decided to go ahead and sell the 2.99 reports again this year in WH Smith and Tesco.

But the print run has been halved to just 50,000 copies.

No detail

The goverment has faced fresh criticism this year for failing to detail its progress on each election pledge.

In previous years the report stated whether each promise had been achieved, was underway, or "yet to be timetabled".

A government spokesman defended the change of style, insisting that it was an "honest factual account", and it was up to individuals to make their own judgement as to whether the government had kept its promises.

Government's 2000 annual report on sale
"Not exactly Harry Potter:" the report is on sale in shops
Opposition MPs say it is "ridiculous" that the government assesses its own performance anyway, instead of getting an independent body to judge its successes and failures.

Judge and jury

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said the government was acting as "judge and jury" on its own manifesto commitments.

"The prime minister says he is doing well in most subjects, could do better in a few others and probably will.

"But if we all wrote our own end-of-term reports, we'd all give ourselves top marks," he said.

Commentators have also criticised the way the government has chosen specific regional examples of successful public services rather than give the national picture.

Parliamentary launch

The decision to present the report to Parliament may also be an attempt to counter criticism that Mr Blair sidelines the House in favour of staged press conferences and photo opportunities at which he faces less scrutiny.

In 1998 Mr Blair was criticised for launching the report at a press conference in the Downing Street rose garden.

Last year's report was launched at Homerton Hospital in east London.

On both occasions MPs were robbed of the chance to respond to it and question Mr Blair in Parliament.

After presenting the report Mr Blair will lead for the government in an opposition day debate on exactly that subject.

His decision to do so followed a challenge from Mr Hague, who had earlier announced his own intention to lead for the Conservatives.

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See also:

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