Tories hear concerns over government ad budget cut

LONDON - Advertising industry figures told a forum held by the Conservative Party of their concerns over embattled shadow chancellor George Osborne's plans to cut government adspend and how this could endanger the future of public information campaigns.

An audience of senior marketing and agency figures yesterday joined a panel featuring Baroness Peta Buscombe, chief executive of the Advertising Association, contributing views to senior Tory figures such as shadow business secretary Alan Duncan and party vice chairman Richard Spring.

Other industry members on the panel were Fiona Dawson, managing director of Mars UK, Andy Duncan, chief executive of Channel 4, and Moray MacLennan, president of the IPA.

They heard warm words of support for fewer restrictions on advertising -- in particular from Ed Vaizey, shadow minister for the arts who professed to be "a massive fan of advertising and the industry".

Vaizey said he wanted to relax many restrictions, including rules on the length of ad breaks. There was also agreement that the industry was key to Britain's future competitiveness.

The Tories were on the back foot on the topic after shadow chancellor George Osborne's declaration that once in power he would cut the Government's marketing spend back to 1997 levels -- reducing it from £391m to £163m -- to fund a two-year freeze on council tax bills.

The audience voiced concerns about its impact on long-running public information campaigns such as driving-themed 'Think!' and drugs information push 'Frank' as MPs heard a defence of the quality and accountability of the COI's work from panel members.

Following a plea from Buscombe for the politicians "to think really hard" about what to cut, it was agreed the Advertising Association would provide a list of COI campaigns with good cases to avoid the axe.

Vaizey later told Brand Republic: "Where we think that government has used money effectively to promote its own policies...as opposed to presenting public information, I think we're going to rein back on that kind of spending. Particularly in the credit crunch, government is going to have to cut its cloth as much as any other kind of organisation."

Other issues that animated the event were internet regulation, which Alan Duncan particularly focused on, and the Tupe employment law.

Two senior industry figures complained about Google's non-participation in the self-regulatory regime, leading Buscombe to say she believed the AA was close to bringing the search giant and AOL "under the umbrella of self-regulation".

"We are using all the pressure we can think of...We have spent 18 months on this."

While none of the Tories ventured an opinion on Google and regulation, there was support for the idea of levelling the playing field between broadcast and internet regulation.

There was also interest in one media agency boss's discontent with the Tupe regulations, which govern the transfer of employees on a piece of business when a client moves to another agency, and a promise to look into what could be done to solve the problem.

The event coincided with Osborne landing in hot water for revelations that he had discussed a donation to his party from a foreigner, Russian aluminium tycoon Oleg Deripaska. Today Osborne is fighting for his political reputation.

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