Govt slams Tory ad plans

Labour claims Tories' adspend plan will hit high-profile public health campaigns.

Labour has warned that vital government campaigns will be scrapped under controversial Conservative Party plans to slash the Whitehall advertising budget.

The two main parties clashed after the Tories announced they would cap the budget of COI if they win power. The party claimed it could save taxpayers £230 million a year by returning spending to the level it was at when Labour came to office in 1997.

Labour accused the Tories of getting their sums wrong and producing a "back of an envelope" policy as they scrabbled around for "bogus savings".

At the Tory conference in Birmingham, the Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, promised a squeeze on Whitehall spending on ads, and the use of consultants to allow a two-year freeze on Council Tax bills if local authorities keep their planned rises below 2.5 per cent.

Tory officials said COI bosses would negotiate individual caps with each government department and decide which campaigns should survive. "Vital public health campaigns will be protected," a Tory spokesman said. Campaigns that would be halted would include those promoting policies such as tax credits and outlining an immigration points system for non-European Union residents who want to come to Britain.

Labour insisted such a huge cut was bound to affect campaigns such as drink-driving. It pointed to long-standing rules saying that campaigns by departments had to be based on factual information rather than party propaganda.

In 2007 to 2008, COI spent £391 million - up from £163 million in 1996-97 at today's prices. Of that total, £157 million went on ads, with the remainder split between digital, DM, PR, sponsorship, events, publications and research.

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