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National’s publicity criticism exposes true agenda

2 September 2004 Media Statement

National's criticism of Working for Families publicity exposes true agenda

Don Brash's criticism of the government's Working for Families communications campaign has smoked out National's real agenda, says Social Development and Employment Minister Steve Maharey.

The Auditor-General this afternoon issued a largely positive report in to the need for the $21.1 million campaign. Recommendations to better coordinate the activities of Inland Revenue and the Ministry of Social Development are being followed.

Steve Maharey said in the 1990s National relied on people not taking up their entitlements to save money and it was clear Don Brash wanted to do the same thing again.

"Working for Families is a $2.75 billion package spread over four years.

"All the money will go to low to modest income households. Some 300,000 families will benefit.

"To receive the entitlements eveyone will have to apply. Many people who have never been entitled to support will be entitled to support in the future. There will be no back-dating. So it is vital that people know when and how to apply.

"The Auditor-General approved the overall communications campaign prior to the Budget. The Auditor-General's office will be consulted about all future elements of the campaign and has already approved two parts of it.

"The government believes that when it is spending such a large amount of money it is vitally importanty that those who are entitled to receive it do so," Steve Maharey said.

BACKGROUND & Q&A

- Working for Families a major package making a large number of changes over 4 calendar years to family income assistance, accommodation assistance and childcare assistance

- Its aim is to provide additional income for low and middle income families and to make work pay for them

- The package needs to be communicated effectively so that those who may be eligible for any of the changes can apply for them - the Auditor-General acknowledges this (see quote below)

- Development of the estimates of the cost of the communications campaign of necessity had to be done under budget confidentiality, so only limited information could be provided to an advertising agency in seeking estimates of costs

- The Audit Office was consulted prior to the Budget about the intention to have a communications campaign and in particular about the information on the Working for Families package that was released on Budget day and satisfied itself that it complied with the Cabinet Guidelines for Government Advertising

- The Audit Office will also be consulted about all future elements of the communications campaign and has recently cleared the advertising campaign about the 1 October changes to accommodation supplement and the 4 October changes to childcare assistance.

- For many families this will be the first time they have qualified for assistance of any kind. Families who become eligible for assistance for the first time need to apply for it as neither Inland Revenue (IRD) or the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) hold the information which would enable them to identify newly eligible households. Payments are unable to be back-dated.

- The government makes no apology for providing assistance to poor people and for making sure they know exactly what assistance they are entitled to and can apply for.

Is the Working for Families communications campaign justified?

Paragraphs 14 and 15 of the Auditor-General's letter:

"In our view, it is appropriate for there to be communications strategy to ensure that people are aware of their entitlements under the Working for Families package, ... particularly when people will not receive a benefit to which they are entitled, unless they make a formal application."

The Working for Families package contains changes that

"affect up to 300,000 families - including current beneficiaries and significant numbers of people who do not currently receive benefits (and will not do so unless they apply)"

Political publicity, not public information?

The Cabinet Guidelines for Government Advertising include the statement that "governments may legitimately use public funds for advertising and publicity to explain their policies, and to inform the public of government services available to them and of their rights and responsibilities" [para 14 of A-G's letter]. The Auditor-General is of the view that the Working for Families communications campaign is consistent with this statement.

Is the planned expenditure justified?

Auditor-General's conclusion (paragraph 59)

"the estimated costs of the proposed communications strategy in the Budget 2004 bid are consistent with the cost information supplied to the MSD and the IRD by the advertising agency, based on the limited information provided to the agency"

The Auditor-General also notes the "need to observe confidentiality requirements of Budget 2004 in regard to that information" (paragraph 37) and notes that under long-standing Cabinet financial delegations "further approvals will be required from the responsible Ministers before any advertising expenditure of more than $100,000 is actually incurred" (paragraph 11).

Are MSD and IRD working together?

The Auditor-General (paragraph 43) found that

"in February 2004, the MSD and the IRD decided to have a joint communications strategy"

and that

"they worked together on the strategy from then until the date of the Budget announcement".

The two departments continue to work closely together on the joint communications strategy.

Will the campaign cost $21 million?

$21 million over 3 financial years was approved in Budget 2004 as the best estimate at that time of the cost of communicating a series of changes occurring over 4 calendar years. As the Auditor-General notes (paragraph 19)

"the MSD and the IRD are continuing to revise and tailor the detail of the communication strategy as part of their ongoing assessment of the communication needs for the Working for Families package. As the detail - in particular, the mass media advertising campaign, which is at the early stage of requesting proposals from advertising agencies - has yet to be finalised, the actual cost of the communications strategy is not yet certain".

The Auditor-General concludes that "there is potential for cost savings" (paragraph 61) on the Budget 2004 estimate. We will know whether such savings are possible only when this detailed work, which could not have been done prior to the Budget announcement, is carried out.

ENDS


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