Misleading advertising

Roger Evans AM is the Conservative transport spokesman on the GLA. He has written a letter to the Advertising Standards Authority about the recent flurry of congestion charge advertising.
I have a problem with this advertising on a number of levels. Firstly it is political advertising and it is being done with public money, political advertising should be done with political money not public money.

The congestion charge is not popular and of dubious effectiveness, despite this our tax money is being spent telling us that Ken’s pet project is working. What do you think the reaction would have been if Margaret Thatcher spent millions of pounds of public money on adverts saying “The Poll Tax is good for you”?

Secondly the adverts are based on some rather flimsy stats, this is the basis Roger Evans’ complaint. Here are some extracts from his letter which make the point well.

“The phrase “Less Congestion” is not strictly accurate, given that the most recent report by TfL showed that the average speed in central London was just 10mph. This is an increase of just 0.5mph since the introduction of the charge. In addition, the report also showed that the observed excess delays have risen since 2003/2004 from 1.6 minutes per kilometre to 1.8 minutes per kilometre. Recent proposals by the Mayor to shift the focus away from tackling congestion to tackling emissions show that this point is accepted.”

“Similarly, the phrase, “Less road traffic emissions” is also misleading. According to the London Air Quality Network, the body tasked with monitoring air quality in London, the measured levels of the most harmful pollutants showed an overall average increase of 2.5% since the introduction of the charge. At some sites, the increase was as much as 67.9%. Again, the new focus on emissions testifies that the Congestion Charge has not been successful in reducing emissions. The Mayor recently admitted that London is on course to miss the European Union emissions targets.”

“I understand the need for effective communication between public authorities and
the public at large, but I do believe that a clear balance must be struck between communicating in order to inform and communicating in order to electioneer. I believe that, in this case, the tone and content have deliberately over stepped the mark into electioneering. You do not, for example, see Treasury adverts with phrases such as, “Millions invested in health and education”. Such phrases would, rightly, be deemed as electioneering and have indeed featured in Labour Party campaign posters in the past. There is nothing wrong with promoting your party and their policies during an election campaign, but using public money and the perceived independence of public bodies to promote the same party political messages is an abuse of resources.”

Richard Barnes AM had previously used the Freedom of Information Act to discover that Transport for London spent £3.1m on recent advertising campaigns and responding to news that £1.77m had been spent on a TV and advertising campaign Roger Evans said:

“Instead of wasting it on self-promoting PR stunts, [Ken Livingstone] could have
spent it on 11 more double decker buses or 14 further single decker buses. It
might have been spent improving measures to tackle the extreme heat within the
Tube system, or even handing out free bottles of chilled water to travelers. All
of these would be a far more effective use of London taxpayers money than this
shameless piece of political grandstanding.”

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