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Officers stop the press release

PERHAPS someone should tell Gordon Brown. For the Chancellor's demand for more bangs for the extra bucks he is giving to public services has yet to register with press officers at the Department for Education and Skills.

It is The TES's painful duty to report that productivity of these vital public servants - as measured by press releases per head - has fallen by almost two-thirds in the past three years.

Sources close to the press office point out that the department no longer has responsibility for employment. It also has five fewer press officers than in the heady days of 1999, when under former education secretary David Blunkett, 28 press officers issued more than two press releases for every working day of the year. The salary bill during the same period has risen, though, by more than pound;150,000 and the 23 members of the DfES press office now cost the taxpayer pound;1,266,626 per year - an average of pound;55,000 each.

Government press officers have been a growth industry over the past decade and a half.

In 1988, the year the then education secretary Kenneth Baker changed the education world forever with his Reform Act, the Department of Education and Science had just six press officers. In 1999 departmental press releases peaked at 605. The number fell to 538 the following year, 395 in 2001 and 210 last year.

A senior member of the DfES press office said that a fall in the number of press releases issued did not mean that productivity had declined.

"The world has changed in the way you communicate with different audiences.

Press releases are part of a mix of methods - including things such as our website - which we use to get our message across."

But Graham Lane, education chair of the Local Government Association, said:

"If this carries on there will be a need for action. Perhaps the press office should be privatised like underperforming councils."

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