Figures obtained by PRWeek via the Freedom of Information Act show that the DWP spent £679,313 on PR agencies in 2007. This compares with a much higher spend of £1,412,000 in 2003.
DWP head of news Pete Fitch called the reduction a 'blip'. He added: 'It is not a deliberate move away from PR campaigns. PR is very much in the mix.'
The figures are the latest part of an ongoing investigation in to public sector PR spend being carried out by PRWeek.
Agencies used by DWP in 2007 include Manning Selvage & Lee, Fishburn Hedges, Trimedia and Consolidated Communications. The department currently retains five members of PR staff in-house.
The revelation that the DWP is spending less than it used to on PR agencies follows the department's refusal in March to launch a campaign to make poor families aware they are entitled to council tax reductions.
As previously reported (PRWeek, 14 March), the Local Government Association (LGA) believes poor families are missing out on council tax rebates because the rules for claiming relief are complex and poorly communicated.
The LGA wants the DWP, headed by secretary of state James Purnell, to launch a campaign to encourage take-up of council tax rebates, in particular among pensioners.
LGA senior media officer Nick Mann previously said that 'as far as we know the DWP is doing very little to encourage people to get their money'.
The department said this week that the main focus for PR this year is communicating to people the importance of getting them back to work and off benefits.
The DWP is also changing the way it tests people for incapacity benefit, which will require a large amount of comms support.
The department's most expensive campaign so far has been the Age Positive campaign which is ongoing.
The campaign was intended to promote the benefits of employing a mixed-age work force, and has cost £2.3m over the past five years.
DWP spend on external agencies
- pounds: 679,313
- 2006: £1,061,000
- 2005: £1,206,000
- 2004: £1,435,000
- 2003: £1,412,000