UK police forces spend more than £36m a year on PR and communications

The Metropolitan Police employs more than 100 communications staff and has an annual budget of more than £10m, Press Gazette research has found.

A series of Freedom of Information requests have found that 775 people work in communications positions across 38 UK police forces.

The Met has the largest operation, employing 105 communications workers. The next biggest forces in terms of comms and PR are Police Scotland (68), West Midlands (37), Thames Valley (32) and Devon and Cornwall (30).

Of the 46 forces asked for this information, 38 responded, five have not yet provided answers, two have declared themselves exempt from answering under FoI rules and one did not answer the question properly.

The 775 staff work across the 38 forces which responded in full to the request. Further, 39 forces have a combined communications budget of more than £36m.

The figures emerge after Press Gazette revealed last month, from another round of FoIs, that more than 3,400 people work in communications for the UK’s 435 local councils. Last year Press Gazette revealed that more than 1,500 communications staff work across central Government departments.

Met Police

Ed Stearns, head of media at the Met Police, told Press Gazette that the force's 105 communications staff and £10,236,029 budget for 2014/15 covers much more than press relations. He said the department also deals with recruitment publicity, marketing, internal communications and advertising.

But he did point out that the press department receives around 60,000 calls a year and that most are answered within 30 seconds by the press bureau, which is available 24/7.

He rejected the suggestion that police press offices are a "barrier" between the media and officers, pointing to the fact that police staff do interact with journalists without press office approval.

In its FoI response, the Met provided its communications budget for each financial year from 2009/10 to 2014/15. In this time, its reported budget has increased from £6,695,943 to £10,236,029. However, the force said that these two figures are incomparable because of a departmental reshuffle in 2013.

It said: "In 2013, the Directorate of Media & Communication (DMC) was formed in place of the Directorate of Public Affairs (DPA), and a large number of posts previously outside the DPA were brought into the DMC throughout the year.

"This included the recruitment marketing function and an expanded internal communications and intranet remit. The DMC also took on the workload of borough press liaison officers.  As such, it is not possible to directly compare budgets for the DMC and the previous DPA."

The FoI showed that the Met's DPA communications budget was £6,695,943 in 2009/10, £7,550,642 in 2010/11, £6,946,861 in 2011/12 and £6,981,308 in 2012/13.

Following the foundation of the DMC, in 2013/14, the budget was increased to £9,555,616, and then was increased to £10,236,029 in the last financial year.

The Met estimated that its total communications spend was £12.6m in 2012/13 and that this was reduced by around £2.35m to 2013/14 with the loss of 40 to 45 jobs.

Reaction

Earlier this week, former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie (above, Reuters) – who now has a column in the paper – condemned Surrey Police for not releasing information to journalists about the theft of a professional footballer's car. He said the force had not informed the local media of the incident, despite a public interest in local residents knowing about it.

Asked what he made of Press Gazette's figures – which show that Surrey Police has 28 communications staff and a £1.5m budget for 2014/15 – he said: "My sense is that the police hire more and more people in their comms area in order to stop journalists from finding out what is going on.

"The senior officers hate what appears in papers as they are in the unusual position of having no control. They also hate the public knowing what is going on because it may reveal the police haven’t done or aren’t doing their job properly.

"Further they dislike the argument that they have to answer through the journalists to their ultimate paymasters – the public. How are the public supposed to find out what is happening crime wise in their local area without the media?"

He added: "Take my case in Cobham, Surrey, where I found out in a casual conversation over dinner that a car gang was literally nicking cars off driveways. It happened three weeks ago but not a peep from the cops. Why not?

"What right had they to keep that information to themselves? For instance if the gang stole again say ten days later, could the owner sue the cops (you can’t at the moment) for failing to alert them so that they could have supplied more security to their driveway?

"Only small things but they do matter. The cops must understand that papers are there to help. At the moment they treat them like the enemy."

MacKenzie also added that his perception of police had changed "dramatically" in recent years following the trials of Sun staff. He said: "All my life I have  viewed the cops as the good guys. If I were an editor today I would be asking myself all the time, is that police officer telling the truth?"

In July last year, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary found that police forces had been forced to cut back their budgets by £2.5bn. Its report forecast that between March 2010 and March 2015, 34,400 police officers, staff and PCSOs would lose their jobs.

Press Gazette also shared the figures with House of Lords peer and Green Party London Assembly Member Jenny Jones (above, Reuters), who has been a critic of the Met Police.

On the Press Gazette numbers, Jones said: "I'm sympathetic to the idea that the Met needs a press budget to report good news stories, as well as try to rebut the bad, but at a time of savage cuts it's disappointing to see growth.

"The press machine has also been known to put out rather dubious releases, so some slimming down and more accountability is urgently needed."

Presented with the figures, John Twomey, who has been a Daily Express crime reporter since 1987, said that what "really matters is not the size of the budget or staff numbers but the willingness of press officers to answer questions from journalists".

He said: "Far too often, the response from police press officers is 'not prepared to discuss', 'we’re not giving a running commentary' or some variant when they are being asked even the most basic of questions.

"They seem to be so scared of criticism – from senior officers, the IPCC, politicians, the Home Office – information is too often kept to the barest minimum.  

"That’s been the situation since the crisis blew up about the News of the World in 2011. There are signs the people in charge are beginning to realise they’ve got it wrong.  

"But we still can’t talk informally to detectives or to press officers for that matter.  Everything has to be recorded and logged.

"That’s a crazy situation and the sooner it is changed the better for police, the media and the public."

Similar research into police force communications budgets was carried out by crime reporter turned lecturer Nigel Green in 2009. 

He found that 32 forces across England and Wales were spending £23m a year on communications and that this was up around 21 per cent in four years.

Green (right) said: “Generally, forces told me they have had to increase spending and staff numbers to cope with the demands of the media, such as the increase in 24-hour TV news channels.

“They are now also often communicating directly with the public, for example via Twitter, rather than relying on journalists to process what they tell us.

“But the elephant in the room is that these police media officers are filling the void left by experienced journalists who have been made redundant, particularly by the regional newspapers."

He added: “I am not pretending there was ever a golden time when journalists didn’t rely heavily on what they were told by police.

“However, my research proved that there is now a major problem with regional newspapers merely publishing precisely what the force’s media services department told them and this was often spun on positive PR.

“Sadly, this means numerous crimes, which may portray the force in a negative light, are being missed or run very late. If the force doesn’t want to tell us about them, we don’t find out about them.

“At other times, they will sit on crimes for days, weeks or even months and only tell the public as a last resort.

“I found forces had failed to tell the public about numerous serious crimes, including rapes and armed robberies.

“Ultimately, as journalists we only get the service we deserve and, if we don’t challenge what forces do and don’t tell us, we will continue to be kept in the dark.”

Figures

As part of this Freedom of Information request, Press Gazette asked police forces for the number of communications staff they employed and also asked for their communications budgets.

More than half of forces produced figures showing that their communications budgets had been reduced in recent years. However, because of the ways different communications budgets are calculated (some without salaries) – and because of various department reshuffles – force-by-force and year-by-year budget comparisons do not appear possible. Additionally, many forces were not able to provide figures for either 2009/10 or 2014/15,

Below is a table showing how many communications staff police forces employ, along with how they say their budgets have changed in recent years.

Force Comms staff count  2009/10 budget (unless stated) 2014/15 budget (unless stated)
Metropolitan Police* 105 £6,695,943  £10,236,029
Police Scotland 68 N/A £2,734,050
West Midlands 37 £314,500 £101,200
Thames Valley 32 £1,677,060 £1,143,429
Devon and Cornwall 30 £265,000 £247,000
Surrey 28 £2,098,000 (2010/11) £1,462,000
Kent Police 27 £1,389,603 £1,215,220
Norfolk and Suffolk 27 £1,708,771 £1,068,587
Hampshire 26 £760,900 £979,300
Warwickshire and West Mercia 25 £966,782 £1,100,448
Northumbria 25 £1,428,536 £1,054,628
PSNI 24 N/A £1,536,935.60
Avon and Somerset 24 £760,100 £735,000
Leicestershire 19  £62,080 (2009) £43,492 (2014)
Essex Police 18 £1,036,772  £718,103.78 (2013/14)
Gwent 17 £800,209 £1,091,158
Hertfordshire 16 £864,024 (2010/11) £814,271
South Yorkshire 16 £851,685 £700,861
Staffordshire 16 £404,929 £527,416
Bedfordshire 15 £622,800 £491,800
Cheshire 15 £500,493 £920,459
Dorset 15 £857,400 (2009) £426,900 (2013)
Lancashire 15 £704,468 £532,888
Nottinghamshire 15 £699,336 £626,460
Wiltshire 15 £569,831 £599,571
Gloucestershire 14 £355,782 (2011/12) £620,238.00
Derbyshire 13 £494,100 (2009) £570,000 (2013)
Merseyside 12 £1,467,119 £688,236
City of London 12 £557,000 £742,000
Cambridgeshire 9 £539,555.29 £357,520.77
Cleveland 9 £26,395 £11,965 (2013/14)
Northamptonshire 9 £596,000 £685,000 (2013/14)
Cumbria 8 £125,523 £75,148
Humberside 8 £219,290 £100,290
Durham 7 £186,911 (2009) £230,375 (2014)
Dyfed Powys 4 £178,490 £263,893 (2013/14)
Sussex Not answered £1,122,056 £1,207,756.00
North Wales No answer    
Lincolnshire No answer    
British Transport Police No answer    
South Wales No answer    
North Yorkshire No answer    
Greater Manchester Cost exemption    
West Yorkshire Cost exemption    

It said: "In 2013, the Directorate of Media & Communication (DMC) was formed in place of the Directorate of Public Affairs (DPA), and a large number of posts previously outside the DPA were brought into the DMC throughout the year.*The Met Police said that these two figures are incomparable because of a departmental reshuffle in 2013.

"This included the recruitment marketing function and an expanded internal communications and intranet remit. The DMC also took on the workload of borough press liaison officers.  As such, it is not possible to directly compare budgets for the DMC and the previous DPA."

It estimated that its total communications spend was £12.6m in 2012/13 and that this was reduced by around £2.35m to 2013/14 with the loss of 40 to 45 jobs.

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