Average council spends £1 million on advertising

The average local council spends nearly £1 million on advertising, researchers have revealed.

The total spending by town halls totalled £430 million.

“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,” said Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, which conducted the research.

Average council spending rose to £965,986 this year, twice the amount spent on publicity in 1996/97. Six councils spent over £5 million. Birmingham City council spent more than £9 million on publicity.

Birmingham Council said its expenditure reflected its size.

“As the largest local authority in Europe, with a population of over one million people, Birmingham is significantly larger than all other authorities on the TaxPayers’ Alliance list,” a spokesman said.

“It is actually spending less per head on publicity, including recruitment advertising and other statutory requirements, than most other councils listed.

“It is also worth noting that our spend has decreased 11.5 per cent compared to last year – one of the biggest decreases of the top 20 authorities on the list.”
There is a clear divergence between councils, with the top 20 spending councils accumulating almost £100 million in publicity expenditure.

Two hundred and eighteen councils have decreased spending on publicity, collectively cutting over £25 million from their budgets.

“In the middle of a recession, councils need to cut back on propaganda and spin doctors and deliver savings to taxpayers,” Mr Elliott continued.

Councils are required by part two, section five of the Local Government Act 1986 to “keep a separate account of their expenditure on publicity”. Publicity is defined in the Act as “any communication, in whatever form, addressed to the public at large or to a section of the public”.

The Tories have warned council spending on publicity could soon increase after the government repeals certain sections of the code of recommended practise on local government publicity.

The code prevents partisan propaganda, regulates spending during elections, and requires councils to meet a ‘cost-effectiveness test’.

Shadow local government secretary Eric Pickles said: “I welcome the publication of this information, as it will help the press and public hold their councils to account for the spending of taxpayers’ money.

“Local residents struggling to pay their council tax bills will be alarmed that Labour Ministers are giving the green light for more town hall spin. I fear government plans to revoke vital guidance will lead to a return of partisan propaganda on the rates, and will do nothing to improve frontline services.”