Did the Labour council leader just pluck a figure of £5 million out of the air?

cowanYesterday I noted how Cllr Max Schmid had got his figures wrong – to an astonishing degree – over the catering costs at council meetings.

The good news for Cllr Schmid is that the council leader, Cllr Stephen Cowan, is in no position to rebuke him.

In Labour’s “election manifesto” – which was only made public after the election – there was the following pledge:

“The Conservatives spend £5 million on propaganda, including expensive vanity banners hanging from the borough’s lamp posts.

We will end all non-statutory advertising by the council and the use of council funds to promote party politics.”

But where does this figure of £5 million come from?

I asked the council to provide the figure for total spending on council publicity for the financial year 2013/14 and what it went on.

Here is the reply:

Materials people would generally think of as publicity are charged against a range of print and publicity codes. These total £1.8m for 2013/14.

The main publicity items within this total were:

Your Magazine

Your Home magazine

H&F share of the tri-borough fostering & adoption campaign

Council tax banners and other materials

Recycling campaign

Materials on the West Ken, Earls Court redevelopment

Team White City promotional material and Fanzine

Charing Cross publicity materials

Get Moving promotion

Hammersmith flyunder proposals

Adult education prospectus

Schools admissions brochures

Tri-borough youth activities (Summer in the City guide)

Buzz magazine (school pupils and their parents)

Crime public meetings/roadshows

Doing Business with the Council guide

Zone J parking consultation

Routes into Employment magazine

Silver Sunday brochure

Fulham primary schools consultation

Now I think that most reasonable people would accept that it is unfair to characterise all the above as “propaganda” – even though much of it is non-statutory. Isn’t it reasonable to try and recruit more foster carers? Or encourage more people to recycle? Certainly if such publicity is effective then it represents value for money. Agency foster carers cost a lot more. So far as recycling is concerned according to the last figures I saw the cost to the Council Taxpayer is £90 a ton for general waste, which is incinerated, and £67 a ton for recycling. The council pays £10 million a year to the Western Riverside Waste Authority to get rid of the stuff – one way of another. That was a few years ago but the saving to the Council Taxpayer from recycling is probably greater.

Is it propaganda to encourage people to sign up for adult education courses rather than having empty chairs? If there are plans to change the parking arrangements for people in Zone J isn’t it reasonable to ask them whether or not they think it is a good idea?

Anyway let us, for the sake of the argument, accept Cllr Cowan’s description of all council publicity as “propaganda”. That still leaves the discrepancy between his figure of £5 million and the council’s of £1.8 million.

I thought I had better give him the chance to explain. So on July 1st I wrote to Cllr Cowan as follows:

The Labour manifesto said that the council had annual spending of “£5 million on propaganda.”

There would seem to be a discrepancy between that figure and the tally in the attachment of £1.8 million for total spending on Council
publicity in 2013/14. (Much of which would be unreasonable to characterise as “propaganda.”)

Please would you clarify how your figure of £5 million was calculated?

Best wishes,

Here we are two weeks later and still no reply.

Of course he is a busy man – creating new Cabinet posts with extra allowances and setting up new committees and new units and coming up with bold plans for paid co-optees for the new committees…Perhaps he doesn’t want to bother about a footling gap of £3.2 million in his savings target.

But I hope he replies soon. Otherwise some cynical types might suspect that he had simply invented the figure of £5 million

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