Paying for PR instead of investigators

I’m not the only one concerned about the Information Commissioner’s use of a private public relations firm. Oliver Heald (Conservative MP for North East Hertfordshire) asked the Secretary of State for Justice what public expenditure was incurred by the Information Commissioner’s office in hiring (a) public affairs companies and consultants and (b) public relations companies and consultants, in each year since its creation.

He discovered that since its creation in January 2001, the ICO has incurred costs for public relations companies as follows.

Financial year ending 31 March

2002 0
2003 35,250
2004 100,984
2005 189,852
2006 270,534
2007 304,249

The company used by the Information Commissioner is Trimedia Harrison Cowley, formerly it was Citigate Dewe Rogerson. According to their website, Citigate is “the leading international consultancy specialising exclusively in financial and corporate communications. Its work for clients, ranging from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups, focuses on developing and building corporate brands and actively managing corporate reputations, with all stakeholder groups from capital markets to consumers.” Trimedia, meanwhile, splits its time between the ICO and clients McDonalds, the Home Office and the NHS.

So precisely why is a public body spending taxpayer money on a Fortune 500 service? The Information Commissioner is a regulator. He’s in the business of regulating, not making himself popular at public expense. A regulator’s reputation suffers if he fails to do his job fairly, competently and efficiently. So perhaps a better use for the £304,240 spent on PR would be to hire 12 new senior investigators or 20 basic investigators (average salary for a basic investigator is £15,000, £25,000 for a senior investigator).

On that note, another written question reveals the extent of the backlog at the ICO’s office. Nearly 1,000 open cases are older than 118 days. Between 10 October 2006 and the end of May 2007, 69 cases were closed which were older than 597 days. One of my own cases has been with the Commissioner’s office since 31 May 2006 and has still not even been assigned to a caseworker!

2 Responses to “Paying for PR instead of investigators”

  1. Dan says:

    But the IC would not have the job as a regulator if he and his colleagues didn’t already have positive PR

  2. tom says:

    And doesn’t the ICO need good PR to raise the profile of data protection issues within the UK? I’d say 3/4 of the country doesn’t even know what the ICO is, so any coverage is good coverage.

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