The Government has introduced new rules aimed at answering criticism
that it uses its pounds 60 million-a-year advertising budget for party
Ministers have toughened up the guidelines under which they and their
civil servants must operate when running ad campaigns in the run-up to
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
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
‘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.