A WAR of words has broken out amid claims that millions of pounds in taxpayers cash is still being spent by both sides of the independence debate on spin doctors to “market” their campaigns.
The UK government spends half a million pounds a year on its media team in Scotland – a fourfold increase in five years.
But it prompted a tit-for-tat row after it also emerged that the SNP’s government spending on “public engagement” has reached almost £5 million over a similar period.
The Scotland Office had just two communications staff at a cost of £108,439 when the Tories took office in 2010, official figures uncovered by the SNP through Freedom of Information have revealed. This will rise to nine staff in the coming year at a cost of £474,000.
SNP MSP James Dornan said: “As the Tory government are implementing massive cuts to spending on public services and slashing the incomes of the poorest through welfare cuts, people will be shocked that they are spending over 430 per cent more on press officers for David Mundell.
“The Scotland Office now spends half a million of its tiny budget on just nine press officers – a staff cost of almost £6,500 per press release since April. It is clear that the Scotland Office’s only role is as a marketing campaign for the Union.”
But finance secretary John Swinney’s draft budget set out earlier this month, allocates £4.9m for public information and engagement. This compares with more than £2m on salaries for its communications staff in 2010 alone. A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said public information and engagement covers a wide range of functions, including digital communications, and “not just the cost of communications staff”.
A Scotland Office spokesman said: “The UK government has a duty to inform the public about its policy and work. These modest year-on-year increases bring the office into line with similar UK departments. It also adds new functions such as digital communications, ensuring key information reaches as many people in Scotland as possible.”