Saturday, 26 December 2009

How to waste money

It might seem like a minor tweak but when ministers added the number 60 to the NHS logo for its anniversary, they employed two designers, took ten days — and sent taxpayers a bill for £12,000.

The disclosure comes as part of an investigation by The Times exposing how ministers across Whitehall routinely pay top commercial design firms to “conceptualise” and “update” simple logos, often for failing schemes and minor agencies. Projects cost tens of thousands of pounds — yet one department admitted that it could produce logos in-house for £648.

Spending revealed under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act includes £153,522 on branding and logos to launch FERA, an agency that inspects plants and bees, and a £21,090 rebrand that changed the colours of the HomeBuy programme’s logo only months before one of its key schemes ran out of money.

Many departments refused to respond to FoI requests for branding and logo design costs over the past five years or withheld details relating to subsidiary agencies. But even with full disclosure from only three departments, the bill is more than £1 million, a fraction of the true total. Thousands more were spent on printing updated stationery.

The revelations come weeks after Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, promised to “drive through efficiency, cut waste and cut lower priority budgets”.

The NHS60 logo was commissioned by the Department of Health through the Central Office of Information (COI) “to raise awareness of the 60th anniversary of the NHS” last year. A creative director and senior designer took ten days designing the number 60 next to the usual NHS emblem, charging £6,000 a digit.

The Department of Health said that the work was cost-efficient as it “avoided local NHS organisations creating their own designs for the 60th anniversary — preventing duplication and reducing costs”.

The Tory MP Greg Hands said: “Surely adding two digits doesn’t need to be outsourced at all. Civil servants can do this themselves. Modern graphic design packages surely allow anyone with an average brain to design something as good as, or better than, what we see in front of us here.”

When the Department for Communities and Local Government was founded in May 2006, it paid The Team, a leading design firm, £3,830 for branding work including a logo. Five months later it paid Bell Design £24,764.99 to develop the brand — including a new logo.

The department paid the advertising agency Chick Smith Trott £21,090 to “update the HomeBuy identity” in January this year. The logo was changed from a yellow-and-blue to a pink-and-purple version to match the colours of the Government’s Real Help Now campaign. By May a HomeBuy scheme to help first-time buyers had exhausted its funds. The department said that the redesign came from the existing communications budget.

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