​Propaganda police: FoI docs show UK cops spend £36mn a year on PR

Reuters / Luke MacGregor
Police forces spend tens of millions on public relations each year, with the Met alone employing over 100 ‘communications’ staff and an operating budget of over £10 million, documents released under Freedom of Information (FoI) show.

The investigation, carried out by the Press Gazette, has revealed there are 775 PR staff working across 38 national police forces.

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Besides the 38 forces that responded, a further four ignored the request, two claimed to be exempt from answering and one did not address the question.

The overall figures involved are calculated to be in the region of £36 million per year.

The Met’s head of media Ed Steams told Press Gazette the London force’s substantial budget was used for many activities beyond routine PR, such as recruiting and internal communications.

Some critics claim the rising number of PR staff and press officers throws up a barrier between public and police, and stops journalists exploring the inner workings of law enforcement.

Former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie told Press Gazette: “My sense is that the police hire more and more people in their comms area in order to stop journalists from finding out what is going on.

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The senior officers hate what appears in papers as they are in the unusual position of having no control. They also hate the public knowing what is going on because it may reveal the police haven’t done or aren’t doing their job properly."

Further, they dislike the argument that they have to answer through the journalists to their ultimate paymasters – the public. How are the public supposed to find out what is happening crime wise in their local area without the media?

The FoI covered the period from 2009/10 and 2014/15, and showed that budgets had actually grown despite simultaneous fiscal austerity.

On seeing the figures, senior political figures expressed disappointment that the PR budget had swollen.

Green Party London Assembly Member Jenny Jones told Press Gazette: “I'm sympathetic to the idea that the Met needs a press budget to report good news stories, as well as try to rebut the bad, but at a time of savage cuts it’s disappointing to see growth.