Page last updated at 09:07 GMT, Sunday, 14 February 2010

Government advertising spending 'rises by 40%'

Government swine flu poster
The government advertises to warn over issues like heath and road safety

Government spending on advertising and marketing has risen by almost 40% to £253m in the past year, the BBC's Politics Show has learned.

Individual departments reported particularly large increases, with the Department for Education spending £17.9m, up 178% on the previous year.

The figures for 11 departments in 2008/09 were obtained through a Freedom of Information request.

The government said campaigns can help save lives and money.

Elsewhere, the Department of Health doubled its spending to £66m.

'Boundaries blurred'

Mike Granatt, former head of the Government Information Service, said ministers applied pressure to ensure there was more advertising in the year before an election, to publicise what the government had done to achieve its programme.

He told the Politics Show: "One of the dangerous things that has happened over the years is that the boundaries as they are seen between what is proper and what is not proper have become more and more blurred.

"And it is quite clear that Whitehall, the mandarins, the civil servants, have become much less able to actually turn to the politicians and say 'don't do this, this is going to be wrong'."

It makes government advertising incredible, people just get bored with it. And of course, it's a gross waste of public money
Mike Granatt
Former senior civil servant

Mr Granatt said the government wanted greater visibility for what it was doing for all sorts of reasons, and would find a good reason within the rules for each campaign to be increased during that year.

"There are dangers involved in this that are obvious. Firstly that it slips into political advertising, somehow it becomes just part of sloganeering," he said.

"Secondly, it makes government advertising incredible, people just get bored with it. And, of course, it's a gross waste of public money."

Jonathan Baume, general secretary of the First Division Association said there was always a grey area between what was legitimate information and what was just communicating a political argument.

He told the Politics Show: "It's very important for the civil service not only that money is spent wisely, we have a duty to help protect taxpayers' money, but also that civil service resources are not being drawn into the election campaign or simply boosting ministers' chances of retaining office after the election count is held."

'Value for money'

The Cabinet Office said government campaigns played a crucial role, with smoking rates and road deaths now the lowest on record. It said the online tax returns campaign generated savings of £547m.

The need for government to communicate with the public was greater than ever as society faces challenges such as obesity, climate change and the economic recovery, a spokesman said.

"The Central Office of Information provides the best possible value for money when delivering these campaigns: in 2008-9 it secured a record 49.9% reduction in media costs against recognised industry benchmarks which are certified by both the NAO and OGC.

"However, we are always striving to get even better value for the money we spend on communications. With this in mind, in December the Smarter Government document pledged to cut 25% from marketing and communications budgets by 2014."

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