Ministers pledge bigger role for government ad advisers

LONDON - The Cabinet Office this week sought to head off a revolt by the watchdog body for government advertising following the Department of Transport's decision to break away from COI Communications.

Two ministers, Lord Macdonald of Tradeston and Douglas Alexander, held "clear the air" talks with members of the Advisory Committee on Advertising (ACA) on Wednesday at which they offered the group an enhanced role.

The meeting was called amid fears in Whitehall that other ACA members would follow the chairman, Derek Dear, in resigning over the Government's decision to ignore ACA's opposition to the Department of Transport's "go-it-alone" plan.

A Government source said that ministers wanted "a better relationship" with ACA which would ensure the committee had "more teeth".

Privately, though, some ACA figures were sceptical, with one source saying: "It's a stitch-up."

The ministers told the ACA representatives that there could be no going back on the Department of Transport's breakaway. "Both sides accepted it was a done deal," a Whitehall official said.

Macdonald and Alexander made clear they could not overrule Alistair Darling, the transport secretary, but promised that his department's separate rosters would be reviewed after 12 months to see if they provided better value for money than COI.

Despite the peace talks, the tensions between the Government and ACA were clearly illustrated when Dear was "uninvited" from the meeting on Tuesday even though he will remain chairman until the end of the year.

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