Labour plans health comms cuts

The Government has been criticised by a leading PR academic for its plans to make major health communications cuts in the run up to the general election.

Gordon Brown: proposed budget cuts

Gordon Brown revealed at the Labour Party Conference that the Department of Health (DH) would be providing free personal care for 350,000 elderly people in their homes.

Downing Street sources then revealed that the DH comms budget would be pared down to fund the personal care. Some £400m will be raised by cutbacks to the health department budget for advertising and marketing, 'lower priority' research and IT.

The DH has no further information on how much of this figure would come from its comms budget and could not comment on whether major existing briefs, such as Freud's Change4Life campaign, would be trimmed back.

But University of Westminster visiting professor of public relations Trevor Morris responded: 'Personal care is a hugely expensive part of what the NHS does, while comms is much, much cheaper. And in theory a lot of personal care is about providing for people needing treatment - in these terms, you would say effective comms is a much better investment than paying for care. The one proviso is the evidence is mixed that the comms programme has worked.'

Meanwhile, the leading public sector trade union Unison has launched its largest campaign for a decade, aimed at protecting public services from cutbacks.

Unison has appointed The Good Agency to promote the Million Voices campaign in the run up to the general election.

The campaign launched at the Labour Party Conference with experiential activities and 'room drops' of promotional materials, such as heat-sensitive mugs, carrying the campaign message.

The campaign continued at the Conservative Party Conference.

Unison head of press and broadcasting Mary Maguire said: 'We are in a crucial period, running up to the general election - there is huge pressure on the public sector. We want to make sure the public is aware of the damage that will be caused by cutting public services. The Government talks about protecting frontline workers, but if you get rid of backroom staff, the front line would collapse.'

Unison is particularly concerned about protecting backroom staff in local government, as well as health and education.

HOW I SEE IT - Alun James, UK chief executive, Four Communications Group

The 'c' word has been the focus of the party conferences. The implications of government cuts for PR will be influenced by three factors.

Firstly, political philosophy vs the need to communicate change - if the Conservatives prevail, a laissez faire approach to state interference could be counter-balanced by the need to explain.

Secondly, choice of channels - traditional routes, such as advertising, will be under pressure from digital channels, whereas PR complements rather than competes.

Finally, justification - the need for greater accountability and ROI will continue.

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