Blair's army of Whitehall press officers?

Inevitably there’s more to the Conservatives’ claim that ‘spending on Government spin has trebled under Labour and taxpayers are now supporting an army of more than 3,200 press officers‘, the lead story in this morning’s Daily Telegraph, than initially meets the eye.
For one thing, Graeme Wilson seems to use the term ‘press officers’ very loosely: he goes on to confirm that it actually covers ‘press officers and other public relations staff’, which would typically include the press office, publications managers, online activities, maybe even call centre people. He mentions in passing that ‘when Labour came to power in 1997, just over 300 fully-fledged press officers were working in Whitehall‘ – note, we’re now talking about ‘fully fledged’ press officers, undermining the original comparison – ‘although that figure excluded a small number of other public relations staff.‘ Well, I was in Whitehall at the time, and I can tell you that it was far from a ‘small number’ of other people employed in PR activity.
Besides, as a Cabinet Office press officer points out in the Guardian’s write-up, we’re looking at a very different media landscape now, compared with ten years ago. Not least thanks to the development of direct-to-consumer channels, like the internet. I’m not saying the increase hasn’t been substantial; and I’m certainly not saying that there isn’t fat to be trimmed. But please guys, let’s make valid comparisons for the sake of sensible debate.

One thought on “Blair's army of Whitehall press officers?”

  1. You’re quite right – there’s no clearly defined baseline, and the two sets of figures aren’t comparable. But hey, leaving that aside, isn’t a tenfold increase in staff for a mere trebling of cost actually rather good value?
    I do find the branding of pretty much any effort at goverment communication as “spin” a little crass, though. Who’d be the first to complain if government _didn’t_ communicate?

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