Blog: Putting a price on saying it right

Spending more than a quarter of a million pounds on PR and communications advice over the course of five years by Jersey's government may not seem that much at face value, but when you consider they have a full time Communications Unit staffed with communications specialists, it does beg questions.

When it emerged, earlier this year, that the government had spent £50k on training ministers and officials in how to deal with the inevitable global interest in the care inquiry report when it's published in July, it got me wondering just how much else - and on what else - they were spending our money.

Earlier this year £50k was spent on training ministers and officials in how to deal with the global interest in the care inquiry report

I submitted a Freedom of Information request, the results of which ITV News is revealing today.

I was quite surprised. Some of it makes sense. For the External Relations Department to need outside support when it comes to making the most of forging relationships at UK political party conference has merit, though that they spent £97,000 in 2013, a year with no elections and very much pre-Brexit, does seem excessive.

And there are other surprises.

Between April 2012 and December 2014, the Treasury & Resources minister (then Senator Philip Ozouf) and the Treasurer (who resigned at short notice amid talk of a rift in the department) spent an eye-watering £181,257 on "communications support". Really? What the heck was that for?

Then there's £3,500 of media training for the Social Security minister and members of Scrutiny panels in 2015.

And, last year, the Treasury & Resources minister (Senator Alan Maclean) spent £11,200 on help with communicating the government's Medium Term Financial Plan - that was the list of savings and spending plans that were debated last September. That a perfectly normal part of the governmental cycle, the MTFP, needs outside help does bring me back to my initial observation... what's the Communications Unit actually for?

There are staff in a central unit at Cyril Le Marquand House, as well as communications staff in Health and at the police station, among other places. A couple of them are absolutely superb - they get it, they understand the competing needs of the media, and they demonstrate the desire to communicate rather than act as gatekeepers.

But, at a time of watching the pennies and making efficiency savings, it is only fair to ask: is spending hundreds of thousands on full time staff each year, and then a further quarter of a million on outside advice really necessary?

If it is, now's the time to communicate an answer.