The Labour MP Michael Dugher tabled a Parliamentary Question to the Communities and Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles, which asked:
“How much his Department and its associated public bodies spent on (a) external public relations consultants and (b) public affairs consultants, in each of the past three years; and for what purposes such consultants were engaged.”
I suppose Mr Dugher was keen to denounce Mr Pickles as a hypocrite – indulging in lavish spending on these areas while lecturing local councils to desist from doing so.
If so, Mr Dugher will not have found the answer helpful.
It was delivered by Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis:
The information is as follows:
External public relations
The core department has spent nothing on external public relations from 2010-11 to 2012-13. This compares with the last Administration which spent nearly £1.1 million in 2009-10, on top of employing over 100 in-house communications staff, as outlined in my answer of 13 June 2013, Official Report, columns 386-87W.
The Homes and Communities Agency spent approximately £1,000 on external public relations in 2010-11, but this was a late invoice for 2009-10 activity.
The Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre does undertake some public relations spending in its capacity as a commercial trading fund to generate sales leads for the venue. It does not have an in-house press office. It spent £39,000 in 2009-10 and in 2010-11, and £36,000 in 2011-12 and in 2012-13. This spending is fully covered by the revenues from commercial bookings.
Public affairs consultancy
My Department has spent nothing since 2010-11 on public affairs consultancy. Ministers in this Government in May to July 2010 instructed all our arm’s length bodies to cancel all such contracts, and there should have been no further expenditure other than the termination of those contracts during 2010-11, as outlined in the answer to my question of 14 December 2010, Official Report, column 676-77W.
To place this in context, taxpayers’ money in the last Administration was being spent on the likes of:
LLM Communications by DCLG to run a “sock puppet” campaign in favour of Regional Spatial Strategies;
Chelgate by West Northamptonshire Development Corporation with a remit including the goal of securing “additional funding” from DCLG;
Mandate by Ordnance Survey, which included lobbying the Conservative Party in Opposition behind Labour Ministers’ backs;
APCO Worldwide by the Tenant Services Authority, which included the executive agency asking the lobbyists to arrange meetings with Labour Ministers;
Connect Public Affairs and London Communications Agency and Euro RSCG Apex Communications by the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation;
Connect Public Affairs and London Communications Agency by Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation;
Communique by the Homes and Communities Agency;
Four Communications by the Fire Service College;
APCO Worldwide by the Housing Ombudsman; and
Connect Public Affairs by the Audit Commission to “combat the activities of Eric Pickles” (arguably, one of the least successful lobbying campaigns in history).
Information is not otherwise held for DCLG arm’s length bodies which have been abolished over this period.
However there is some money from the DCLG that ends up spent by PR officers and lobbyists. There is the £3 million a year to Shelter – campaigning group which has charitable status but doesn’t provide a single home to anyone. Then there is £25.5 million a year given by the DCLG to the Local Government Association. These are rather perverse payments that the DCLG makes for groups to lobby against the Department. They should be stopped. However, I doubt they were what Mr Dugher had in mind.