Central Government has more than 1,500 comms staff – 'and it's still impossible to get answers until after deadline'

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Political journalists have expressed surprise and concern after research by Press Gazette revealed that 20 central Government departments employ more than 1,500 communications staff.

Freedom of Information Act releases and transparency figures show that the Home Office (pictured: Reuters) has 276 full-time equivalent staff with communications responsibilties.

Elsewhere, the Department of Work and Pensions employs 184 and the Cabinet Office employs 205.

In total, some 1,514 FTE staff across the main Government departments are communications professionals or have communications responsibilities.

Daily Mail political sketch writer Quentin Letts described the figure as "ludicrous overstaffing".

"The citizen in me is outraged by the cost," he told Press Gazette. "The journo in me wonders how come, with so many press officers, it can still be impossible to get answers from the Whitehall machine until after deadline." 

Guardian and Spectator writer Nick Cohen said the revelation was a sign that current leaders are "as determined as the last government to propagandise".

He said: "Even when it is cutting essential public services, it will not cut the number of press officers back to a reasonable and affordable level.

"We will soon be at the point when there are more PRs in Whitehall than there are journalists scrutinising Whitehall.  Indeed we may already have passed it. Honest debate and accountable government are the  first victims of our shift into manufactured political reality."

Daily Mirror associate editor Kevin Maguire said: "I never realised there was such a large army declining to answer questions and be unhelpful.

"I'm a great believer in the value of public services so I'd love this lot to justify their expense by being open instead of blocking information the public has a right to know."

One national newspaper political editor described 1,500 as an "enormous number", adding: "They will, I'm sure, say it reflects the growth of the 24-hour news cycle. 

"What concerns me is not the number but whether this army of press officers exists to provide information or to control it. 

"In my experience, government press officers were more willing – or perhaps they had more authority – to answer questions from the press 25 years ago."

The Cabinet Office defended the number, detailing savings that have been made on communications across the Government since the 2009/2010 financial years.

A spokesman said: “Since 2010 we have thoroughly reformed government communications to ensure that it is effective, professional and delivers best value for hard-working taxpayers. For example, the GREAT Britain campaign secured a confirmed economic return of over £500 million from its first year of activities.

“We have made a 44 per cent saving on salary and overheads and a 95% reduction in spend on communications consultants in 2013/14 against a 2009/10 baseline. We have also introduced controls on advertising and marketing spend which helped save £378m in 2012/13 against a 09/10 baseline.”  

Departments totals for full-time equivalent positions (decimals reflect fact some staff work part-time)

Below are the figures for each department and a brief description of how they have been arrived at. While some departments provided figures in response to Press Gazette FoIs, others passed on a link to transparency databases.

Home Office: 276.28

The Home Office’s 276.28 staff number includes 60.8 press office positions, including to its transparency data, which was published in March 2014.

Staff are divided between two databases: one for senior staff and one for junior staff.

In the senior staff database, there are seven people listed as communications professionals. In addition, there are seven further senior communications positions listed, including a head of news.

There are 262.28 communications staff positions listed in the junior database.

Cabinet Office: 204.81

The Cabinet Office’s total includes 54.86 press officers.

It lists 16 senior staff, including 14 in the specific division, with communications responsibility, and 188.81 junior staff are listed in the communications division.

Department of Work and Pensions: 183.74

The DWP lists 13 senior staff in a database with communications responsibility.

There are 170.74 junior staff listed as communications professionals.

Ministry of Defence (head office): 139

According to MoD transparency data, five senior staff have communications duties in its head office.

Additionally, there are 93 junior staff listed as communications professionals. Press Gazette has also counted 41 junior staff with press, media or communications responsibilities.

Four staff listed under human resources have press and media duties, as well as three military press officers.

Department of Health: 106

The Department of Health told Press Gazette in response to an FoI that it employs 106 communications staff, 32 of whom are press officers.

Department of Education: 80.74

This figure for the Department of Education includes 11 senior staff with communications responsibility, 65.74 listed as junior communications professionals and a further four members of staff in the “communications group”.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office: 74.89

The FCO lists one senior member of PR staff, its director of communications.

In its junior staff database, it lists 73.89 positions under communications.

Ministry of Justice: 68.4

The MoJ told Press Gazette in an FoI response that it has 68.4 FTE communications positions, including 26.4 press officers.

Department of Business, Innovation and Skills: 59

BIS told Press Gazette in an FoI response that it employs 90 FTE staff in its communications department, including 34 press officers.

Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: 54.89

DEFRA lists four senior staff with communications duties on its transparency document from March 2014.

Among junior staff, there are 51.89 PR professionals listed.

Department of Energy and Climate Change: 50.38

The DECC figure includes six senior positions and 44.38 FTE junior positions, according to transparency databases.

Department for Transport: 51.5

DfT told Press Gazette as part of an FoI response that it employs 51.5 communications staff, including 15 press officers.

Department of Communities and Local Government: 46.75

This figure includes ten senior staff members with communications responsibilities and 36.75 junior staff, with 15.2 press officer positions.

Department for International Development: 46

This department released its 46 figure following an FoI request. It includes within it ten press officer positions.

Her Majesty’s Treasury: 35.4

The latest figures for the Treasury show that eight senior staff have communications duties and 27.4 junior people working in communications.

Department of Culture, Media and Sport: 19.05

The DCMS has four senior members of staff with PR responsibilities and 15.05 junior communications roles, according to transparency data.

According to FoI responses, the Wales Office has five PR roles, the Scotland and Northern Ireland offices have four each and the Attorney General’s Office has three.

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