David Rendell, Liberal Democrat MP for Newbury and a member of the powerful House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, said the programme had raised serious questions about the propriety of New Labour's adspend prior to the May general election.
Rendell has written to the National Audit Office (NAO) to ask it to assess whether the pre-election spend was justifiable. If it decides to proceed with an investigation, the NAO will report back to the Public Accounts Committee, which would then conduct its own hearing.
The Panorama investigation, news of which was revealed exclusively by Marketing (May 9), alleged that the government spent £49m on advertising in March 2001, a record for a single month. More than half New Labour's £192m adspend during 2000-2001 was crammed into the first three months of last year.
The programme said that campaigns promoting the New Deal for Lone Parents, nursing recruitment and targeting benefit fraud, were attempts to promote the Labour Party, and were not essential information campaigns.
"It is crucial that Parliament knows government adspend is both proper and value for money, Rendell said. "The evidence suggests that money should not have been spent on that kind of advertising, because it appears to be skewed in favour of the party, and because it was ineffective."
Panorama also suggested the new role of COI Communications chief executive Carol Fisher, reporting to Alastair Campbell as chief adviser on marketing communications, could be prejudicial to the impartiality of government information campaigns. Fisher refused to comment.
This article was first published on Marketing