Panorama to re-open Govt ad spending row

Two former government advertising chiefs have criticised the rise in adspend by the Blair administration in the run-up to last year's general election.

The criticism, in a Panorama programme to be shown on BBC1 on 26 May, will reopen the controversy over the Government's record £192 million ad budget in the 2000-2001 financial year.

Neville Taylor, the former director-general of COI Communications, tells the programme: "To concentrate expenditure and impact and message all in a very tight timescale in a run-up to an election has to smell - it has to indicate another motive for doing it."

Brian Nicholson, the former chairman of the Advisory Committee on Advertising, which monitors COI, admits to being surprised by the spending surge before the election, describing it as "a very strange and odd matter".

He also criticises the change introduced in February under which Carol Fisher, COI's chief executive, reports to Alastair Campbell, Downing Street's director of communications and strategy.

He says: "From the moment I heard of that appointment I really did worry that things that people had stood for and achieved over so many years, that word 'integrity', was very difficult to actually apply in the new set-up."

Panorama has carried out its own detailed research and reveals new figures showing just how much money was spent. It examines three high- profile pre-election campaigns - aimed at getting lone parents back to work (Publicis), combating benefit fraud and nursing recruitment (both D'Arcy).

Ministers insist the 70 per cent rise was due to extra cash for public services coming on stream after two years of sticking to the Tories' spending plans.