You may remember, back in February, my highlighting advertising hoardings which had been popping up all over the South West.
At the time, I guessed that this could have been your taxes being used to lobby the government on its own 'public' consultation.
The above hoarding would appear to have been commissioned by NHS Smokefree South West and the order placed with this company, who don't look like they're averse to issuing the odd eye-watering invoice.Since then, fellow jewel thieves have made themselves busy with requests under the Freedom of Information Act and, yes, this is indeed the case.
On top of the design fees, as far as I can ascertain, this space would cost around £200 per week and, of course, we don't know how many of them there are dotted around, or for how long. Add on printing costs and beer money for the bill posters and we're talking a pretty penny being spent from your taxes, I reckon.
All this, remember, purely and simply to lobby the government on a public consultation which has yet to be published!
It's quite a staggering sum, too.
Total budget in financial year 2011/12: £468,462.06Is this perhaps funded by a generous donor? Not according to a reply I received from the chocolate box-named Pan Dorset Cluster, no.
Billboards - £100,398.00
Digital advertising (including website design) - £127,685.77
Community events (including related payments to staff) - £99,146.00
Other social marketing avenues - £141,232.29
"Funding for the plain packs protect project is included within the annual contribution paid to Smokefree South West."NHS Devon tended to agree.
"NHS Devon does not specifically fund the Plain Packs campaign. However, it has a standard annual contribution to Smokefree South West which for 2011-12 was £370,409. This funding is the PCT’s contribution to all the activities of Smokefree South West, of which the Plain Packs campaign is one."Another jewel robber received a reply even more unequivocal from Smokefree South West itself.
"The Plain Packs Protect campaign has no sponsors or sponsoring organisations."So therefore, the budget of nearly half a million comes entirely from regional PCTs receiving their money from the NHS strategic health authority budget, which in turn is funded by the Department of Health.
And guess where the Department of Health gets its money from, ladies and gentlemen. Yes, that's right. You.
This £468,000, remember, is just in one section of the country. If the same per capita spend is rolled out subsequently by other tax spongers elsewhere, we're talking about nigh on £5m of your taxes being wasted by government, to lobby government.
In light of this, let's just revisit Eric Pickles' comments on what he termed "the wasteful practice of government lobbying government", shall we?
Government agencies and councils in England that spend public money on lobbying ministers face a crackdown.Indeed it is, Eric. So why, oh why, is your own administration doing exactly that? And why is Anne Milton so very coy about admitting it?
Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said it was wrong that taxpayers' money was being spent on political lobbying.
Well, I think they're valid questions. Don't you?
UPDATE: The Hands Off Our Packs campaign have their say on the subject here.