Opposition slams Govt ad increase

Labour MPs were accused of going on a pre-election advertising

spree this week after government departments revealed big increases in

their ad budgets in the past year.

The Tories and the Liberal Democrats attacked the Government, claiming

that it was using taxpayers' money to enhance its image.

The criticism came as five big Whitehall departments disclosed that they

planned to spend more in this financial year than in the previous


The Department of Social Security will boost its budget from pounds 2.7

million to pounds 11.3 million, a big jump on the pounds 3.6 million

spent by the Tory government in the year before the 1997 election.

The Department for Education and Employment will see its budget rise

from pounds 11.9 million last year to pounds 15.1 million.

The Home Office will spend pounds 11.1 million this year, up from pounds

5.6 million last year and double the pounds 5.2 million spent by the

last Tory government.

At the Department of Trade and Industry, the ad budget will rise from

pounds 1.7 million to pounds 4.5 million this year. The Tories spent

pounds 3.1 million.

John Prescott's Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions

will see its adspend grow from pounds 12 million to pounds 14 million,

double the 96-97 figure.

The figures suggest the Blair administration's total spend will exceed

the previous pounds 113 million budget.

David Willetts, the Tory spokesman on social security, said: 'It is

questionable whether the Government should spend so much more on

advertising in an election year than in other years.'

Ministers denied the charge, saying the figures varied each year as

different campaigns came on stream.