NEWS: Govt regulations seek to end political bias in Whitehall ads

The Government has introduced new rules aimed at answering criticism that it uses its pounds 60 million-a-year advertising budget for party political propaganda.

The Government has introduced new rules aimed at answering criticism

that it uses its pounds 60 million-a-year advertising budget for party

political propaganda.



Ministers have toughened up the guidelines under which they and their

civil servants must operate when running ad campaigns in the run-up to

elections.



The move follows years of criticism by the Labour Party that Tory

ministers have used taxpayers’ money for campaigns which should have

been funded by Conservative Central Office.



Although ministers have denied the charge, their decision to rewrite the

rules is seen in Whitehall as a sign that they are determined to avoid

further allegations of ‘political sleaze’ in the approach to the general

election.



The new regulations cover the three-week campaign period before the

annual elections to local authorities and the European Parliament

elections, which take place every five years.



The regulations state: ‘Officials of all departments should take special

care during the period of local or European election campaigns not to

undertake any activity which could call into question their political

impartiality.



‘Special care should be taken in respect of paid publicity campaigns,

particularly new campaigns, which should not be open to the criticism

that they are being undertaken for party political purposes.’



Political ad campaigns already come to a halt during the three weeks

before a general election, unless the parties agree they can continue.



The new guidelines, drawn up by the Cabinet Office, recognise that local

and European elections are increasingly fought on national issues and as

national campaigns by the parties.



Whitehall officials said this week they were not immediately aware of

any campaigns which should be shelved in the run-up to the local

government elections, which take place on 2 May.



They said many departments were still reviewing their advertising

budgets and planned campaigns for the new financial year, which started

on 1 April.



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