Drinks firms will be tasked with covering COI shortfall

Drinks firms will be tasked with covering COI shortfall

Drinks companies are set to exert greater influence on public information campaigns in the UK after the Government's Central Office of Information (COI) has said it will cut jobs and focus only on essential work.

The Government has frozen the COI's budget until at least March 2011 and the department said in its annual accounts today (27 July) that job cuts are inevitable as it looks to reduce costs.

Details within the COI accounts make it clear that private companies will be handed a greater role in public information campaigns, which include advertising on healthy lifestyles and responsible drinking.

"Government will continue to commission campaigns this year, but only where there is an essential need to do so," according to the COI accounts. All proposals for COI-funded public campaigns will also be vetted by the Government's new Efficiency and Reform group.

"This year we are more focussed than ever on achieving outcomes at a much lower cost," said COI chief executive, Mark Lund. "We anticipate more partnerships with brand owners, media owners and civic groups," he said.

The COI said that it is conducting an internal review of its shape and size. Government spent GBP531m (US$825.2m) on marketing and communications in the 2009/10 fiscal year, down by GBP9m on the previous year.

Earlier this month, Health secretary Andrew Lansley signalled that the GBP75m social advertising campaign supporting the Change4Life programme would be cut. However, he urged private firms such as PepsiCo and The Coca-Cola Co to step in and cover the cost of the Government's withdrawal from the campaign.

Ministers have also said that Change4Life should be expanded into alcoholic drinks, but that industry needs to provide funding.

The Government intends "to create a large space for health information", Anne Milton, parliamentary under secretary of state for public health, told a conference on alcohol misuse recently.

Advertisers' trade body ISBA, which represents both industry and Government departments, said at the same conference that Government-funded information campaigns are not always effective in changing public behaviour.

"Messages from companies are likely to be more effective than ones that come from the Government," said ISBA's director of public affairs, Ian Twinn.