A new row over the Government's soaring advertising budget erupted
this week after the Department of Social Security admitted a blunder
that underestimated its spending by pounds 7 million.
The Tories accused Labour ministers of misleading Parliament in an
attempt to cover up a big hike in their spending ahead of the general
election expected next month.
Two months ago, the DSS said its ad budget for the financial year, which
ended in March, was pounds 11.3 million. It now admits the correct
figure is pounds 18.4 million.
Jeff Rooker, the social security minister, blamed the error on a lack of
co-ordination between separate DSS offices running different
He said: 'Everyone involved recognises the seriousness of this failing,
and officials are taking urgent steps to ensure a centralised process
for monitoring spend and compiling information in response to
Parliamentary questions is put in place as soon as possible.'
Rooker insisted: 'It was never my intention to mislead and I want to
assure you the accuracy of all information supplied by my department is
recognised as paramount by myself and my officials.'
David Willetts, the Tory spokesman on social security, attacked
ministers for allowing the mistake to happen and said that it raised
further questions about the use of taxpayers' money to promote Labour
policies in the election run-up.
'It is an admission that the Government has been seriously
underestimating the costs of DSS advertising,' Willetts said.
DSS campaigns in the past year include pounds 6.5 million on pensions
education, pounds 4.7 million on combating fraud and pounds 2.5 million
on the New Deal for lone parents.
The Tories unveiled a Yellow M poster on Wednesday (2 May) showing a
pregnant Tony Blair to illustrate what they called the Government's
'failure to deliver'.