The DWP has revealed it spent £13m on comms between April and December 2011, suggesting an overall spend of about £17.3m across the financial year. This represents a fall of 73% from £64m in 2009-10.
The number of staff in the department's comms team fell from 301 in 2009-10 to 215 by the end of December 2011, with the cost of press office salaries dipping from £2.8m in 2009-10 to £1.9m in 2011-12 (see table, below).
The figures, revealed as part of PRWeek's 'state of the public sector' series of reports, came as the TUC warned that almost half of unemployed workers over the age of 50 have been jobless for a year or more. It also showed that the number of 18- to 24-year-olds out of work for at least six months has risen by more than a third in the past year.
Responding to the figures, Fishburn Hedges CEO Fiona Thorne called for some 'rebalance' after austerity cuts wiped out Government comms budgets in 2010. She added that DWP campaigns could be 'fantastic at reaching communities of people and helping them to help themselves'.
Thorne, whose agency handled several DWP contracts in the past, said: 'The scale of public spending cuts inevitably meant valuable and effective campaigns disappeared, as the decks were cleared. Now there is perhaps some need to rebalance.'
Thorne added that while such new spending is justifiable, it will need a clear business case.
DWP director of comms John Shield said: 'Spending money alone is not the answer. It is about getting value for what you spend and using a variety of approaches to reach the public - not all of those involve big spending.
'Few would argue that the DWP has not made a strong and compelling argument on the need for welfare reform.'
The DWP also revealed that campaign costs associated with the economic downturn totalled £8.79m in 2009-10.
The department has not used an agency since 2009-10, when it engaged Grayling UK, Band & Brown, Fishburn Hedges and Blue Rubicon (see table below for money spent on agencies).
How Department for Work & Pensions comms spending has changed
|Year||Total comms spend||Press officer salaries|
Cash spent on PR agencies in 2009-10
|Band & Brown||£225k|