Counting the cost of public image

DESPITE tough financial times at Suffolk County Council is spinning all the way to a £600,000 bill to promote its work - compared to Ipswich Borough Council's £51,000 bill.

By Paul Geater

DESPITE tough financial times at Suffolk County Council is spinning all the way to a £600,000 bill to promote its work - compared to Ipswich Borough Council's £51,000 bill. We decided it was time for political editor PAUL GEATER to investigate.

TODAY our council's external communications department is looking for a new press officer, to join the team to explain the council's work.

This year's budget for the department, based at the Endeavour House headquarters in Ipswich Village, is £591,000.


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That covers the salaries of five communications managers, two press officers, a quarter of the salary of a part-time staff member, part of the salary of the departmental manager and his personal assistant - and the cost of producing and distributing council newsletters and leaflets across Suffolk.

This year's budget for the department is lower than it was last year - in 2005/6 it had £593,000 to spend.

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But it also had a £140,000 debt that had to be paid off during that year.

Francis Thomas, director of communications at the county council, said his department had slimmed down considerably since his arrival two years ago.

“When I arrived there were a total of ten staff in the department, now there are 7.5 full time equivalents. We had two communications managers who left. They were not directly replaced - we had a reorganisation of the department and brought in a further press officer at a lower cost.”

Mr Thomas said there had been other changes, with the number of hours worked by some staff being reduced.

“Effectively we have reduced our staff by 25 per cent - but the amount of work we are handling has certainly not fallen,” he said.

As well as dealing with press inquiries, the external communications department is also responsible for publishing the About Suffolk newsletter which comes out three times a year, and other information sheets for people who live or work in the county.

Mr Thomas said they were currently hoping to appoint another press officer to replace a member of staff who left earlier this year. “We tried to see if we could work without that press officer - but it became clear the post had to be filled. We are currently advertising internally and hope to appoint someone already working for the council,” he said.

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WHILE the county's publicity budget is substantial, district and borough councils spend much less on communications and publicity - but their organisations are much smaller than the county council.

Babergh's publicity budget is £99,000 for both internal and external communications. There are two people employed in the department - one works a three-day week.

Suffolk Coastal council's budget is £74,000 and the department employs one staff member full-time and three part-time.

Mid Suffolk's communications office has two employees - but it does not have a separate publicity budget except for the £15,000 it spends on the Mid Suffolk Messenger every year.

Ipswich Council has one and a half employees in its publicity department, with a budget of £51,000 a year.

Weblinks:

www.suffolk.gov.uk

www.ipswich.gov.uk

www.suffolkcoastal.gov.uk

www.midsuffolk.gov.uk

www.babergh.gov.uk

NEW research has uncovered the fact that taxpayers are funding 3,259 press officers across Whitehall and its quangos.

The Conservatives unearthed the information from the latest internal handbook of government press officers. The 200-page book, not normally available to the public, was obtained through a Parliamentary question.

Spin doctor stats:

229 for the Ministry of Defence

181 for the Department for Work and Pensions

145 for the Home Office

117 for the Deprtment of Helath

107 for DEFRA

60-80 for other government departments on average

On top of this many quangos and public bodies have their own army of press officers.

69 The Met Police

58 Health and Safety Executive

51 HM Revenue and Customs

39 UK Trade and Investment

38 Food Standards Agency

Quasi public bodies like the BBC and the Royal MMail, were in the handbook but excluded from the analysis.

Source: www.conservatives.com

Despite no longer having a proper government department John Prescott still has three press officers.

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