The number of spin doctors and communications staff in government departments is on the increase again even after National swore to rein in the numbers.
National put a cap on the public service staff numbers in 2008 and also swore to cut back on communications and public relations staff after criticising the numbers employed under the former Labour Government.
It managed to get numbers down from 321 in 2008 to a low of 263 in mid-2011. However, numbers have gradually increased to 288 - an increase largely driven by the establishment of the Canterbury Earthquake Authority. Cera now has 26 communications staff - up from 18 last year and six in its first full year of existence. Of those, about eight are marketing staff for the central city rebuild. The numbers are also only for core government departments, so do not include staff employed by the Defence Force or Police.
Communications staff in big ministries including Education, Social Development and Inland Revenue have also increased over the past three years, partly because of mergers with other units. After the merger with the Ministry of Fisheries and high-profile food safety and biosecurity scares affecting exports, such as Fonterra's false whey contamination scare, the Ministry of Primary Industries has increased its public relations staff from 16.6 to 21.5.
Others have dropped staff, including Internal Affairs and Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Department of Internal Affairs still has the most with 44 - including about 35 press secretaries for the Prime Minister and Government ministers. By comparison, the Ministry of Health has just six.
There has been increasing focus on the relationship between spin doctors, media and bloggers after Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics revealed cases of staff from the Prime Minister's office working with controversial blogger Cameron Slater on some topics, such as an OIA release on the SIS briefing to Phil Goff by Warren Tucker. Many media were concerned about the way Official Information Act requests were being handled by communications staff with delays common and suspicion that information was being withheld for political reasons.
After ongoing concerns about the increased pressure on the Ombudsman's workload, extra resources were provided in last year's Budget.
Change from June 2011 to June 2014 in numbers of fulltime PR / comms staff: 262.6 to 288
• Internal Affairs: 44 (including ministers' press secretaries)
• Business, Innovation and Employment: 40.3
• Inland Revenue: 26.1
• Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority: 25.7
• Primary Industries: 21.5