MPs' probe of comms salary spend reveals changing fortunes of Government departments

Some government comms teams have shrunk from significant cuts while others have grown bigger, according to recently released figures provided to MPs - triggering criticism of Whitehall departments that have not reduced the amount they spend on comms.

Some government comms teams have grown bigger, despite cuts (©ThinkstockPhotos)
Some government comms teams have grown bigger, despite cuts (©ThinkstockPhotos)
A PRWeek analysis of responses to Parliamentary questions in the past few weeks reveals significant differences between departments in the value placed on comms – using the amount spent on the total salaries of comms teams.

The Department for International Development’s spend has virtually doubled in less than a decade, from £1.4 million in 2006/7 to £2.6m in 2015/6. 

In stark contrast, the amount spent by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has plummeted from £9.1m in 2006/7 – when the Whitehall department had a 161-strong team – to £3.4m in 2015/6, with the team standing at just 61 full-time equivalent staff. 

Disclosing the figures earlier this month, George Eustice, Defra minister, commented: "This amount has fluctuated as the composition of the communications directorate within Defra has changed over time in response to departmental priorities."

The new data has been provided in response to questions from Labour MP Justin Madders. 

He has asked major departments to disclose how many people work in media relations and comms roles, and the total amounts spent on their salaries in each of the past ten years. 

While some departments have responded in full, others have not and some have yet to respond at all. 
Nonetheless, the details provided to date demonstrate significant differences – as seen in the contrasting fortunes of DfID and Defra.  

Madders told PRWeek: "In a time of unprecedented pressure on public sector spending, it beggars belief to see that some departments are protecting or even increasing their press and marketing budgets."
He added: "It gives the impression that it is one rule for Government departments and another for the rest of the public sector."

The Department of Health, Department for Transport and Home Office have all seen rises in the amount they spend on their comms teams in recent years. 

However, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for Work and Pensions are spending less than they used to, with DWP spending £8.2 million in 2013/14 and £7.2m in 2015/16.

The debate over Scottish independence is partially responsible for the Scotland Office's spending on comms salaries rising from £108,000 in 2010/11 to £426,000 in 2015/16. 

David Mundell, Scottish Secretary, commented: "The communications team in the Scotland Office has been resourced during this period to enable effective engagement and communication with the public on the constitutional arrangements for Scotland."

The Ministry of Defence does not hold information centrally when it comes to comms staff salaries, but defence minister Mark Lancaster said: "It is important that the work our Armed Forces do to keep Britain safe is communicated effectively."

HM Treasury, Ministry of Justice and Department for Communities and Local Government did not provide figures for the wage bills of their respective comms teams, due to the data not being "held centrally" and/or the "disproportionate cost" of compiling the information.

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