Iain Duncan Smith splashed out £75,000 of taxpayers' money on media training for gaffe-prone junior minister Lord Freud and officials at the Department of Work and Pensions, a Freedom of Information Request by the Huffington Post UK has revealed.
Critics seized on the revelation to condemn the DWP's "ridiculous waste of money" as the department revealed that it spent £74,074 since May 2010 on teaching 253 people how to look good on camera and to handle journalists.
The DWP confirmed that the people who received media training included local Jobcentre district managers and "external relations" staff, but they were unable to break down how much was spent on training millionaire Lord Freud to handle the media. The minister last received a media training session back in 2011.
Labour MP Teresa Pearce, member of the Commons Work and Pensions committee, told HuffPostUK that the DWP's £75,000 bill for media training was a "waste of money".
In response to the revelation that Lord Freud was among those who received training, Pearce said: "I hope he kept the receipt."
"I have seen no presence in my local press of Jobcentre Plus spokespeople and as the department has fully staffed Press and Media office, I think this is a waste of money."
Here are the 5 crassest statements made by ministers - was the DWP's £75,000 media training bill good value?
- Lord Freud attacks people for pursuing a "lifestyle" on benefits, saying they were "too comfortable" claiming benefits.
- Iain Duncan Smith accuses the Trussell Trust food bank charity of "scaremongering"
- Lord Freud says there is no link between the government's benefit cuts and an increased use of food banks.
- Lord Freud says families hit by the bedroom tax can "go out to work or use a sofa bed".
The DWP's budget has recently come under pressure as chancellor George Osborne has pushed for greater cuts to the welfare budget, prompting sources close to Iain Duncan Smith to warn against "hacking at the same people".
Labour MP Gordon Marsden told HuffPostUK that Lord Freud's media training was "wasted money based on his speeches".
He added: "Just buy him a copy of 'How to Win Friends and Influence People!'.
@asabenn training Lord Freud.Wasted money based on his speeches.Just buy him copy 'How to Win Friends & Influence People'— Gordon Marsden MP (@GordonMarsden) January 29, 2014
Dia Chakravarty, political director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "This is a ridiculous amount for any government department to waste on PR training.
"Taxpayers don’t want to see their hard-earned cash being spent on making ministers and mandarins more media savvy. The DWP should focus on delivering results with welfare reform, not on looking better on camera to explain when things don’t go right."
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: "This covers the cost of media training for a department of around 100,000 staff since 2010, and it's sensible that new ministers and staff who speak to the media are given initial training."
The revelations about the DWP's spending comes as the Foreign Office revealed it had spent over £450,000 on media training for nearly 700 officials, including ministers, ambassadors and civil servants.
Meanwhile, it recently emerged that ministers had splashed out £10,000 on acting lessons from Britain's premier drama school Rada.
According to Government credit card records, the Treasury last year paid for two sets of Rada courses – £1,541 in October and £1,500 in February – just days after the Chancellor warned of the need for further cuts.
The Department of Health, meanwhile, spent just over £3,500 for three courses in 2012 while the Cabinet Office ran up a £612 bill in December, 2012.
And the Department for International Development spent £2,370 on coaching in 2012/13.
A Government spokesman said: "Civil servants need the right skills to perform at the highest level and deliver better, more efficient services for the public."