Only two councils in the UK employ more press officers than Shropshire Council – prompting criticism from a senior councillor.

The authority said it employs 20 people (18.3 full-time equivalent) in its press and communications department in reply to a Freedom of Information request.

Only Sheffield Council (24) and Dorset Council (23) employ more staff in public relations, research from the TaxPayers’ Alliance has found.

But Shropshire Council has said it only employs four communications officers and a communications assistant.

It said it could not explain the number in the FOI.

A Shropshire Council spokesperson said: “Shropshire Council employs four full-time communications officers and one communications assistant. As well as liaising with the media, they work closely with teams across the council to ensure that residents are well informed about local services.”

The number has been criticised by Councillor Roger Evans, leader of the Lib Dem group on Shropshire Council.

He said: “I am totally amazed that with all the cutbacks Shropshire Council has made and the number of staff being asked to do two jobs that there are 20 people in that department.

“That is a staggeringly high figure and 18.3 full-time equivalent roles goes to show that this is one of the best-stocked departments in the authority.

“We have been reeling from the amount of rain we have had this past week and seen how understaffed the council is in terms of bodies on the ground.

“To hear that we have 20 people in public relations is amazing. I call on the ruling Conservative group to examine this immediately and see what can be done.

“Preserving the council’s reputation seems more important than actually helping people out.

“Actions speak louder than words – and something needs to be done about this.”

The research found that councils throughout the UK employ an average of four press officers each. 

In 2018-19, at least 1,370 people were employed as press officers in local councils throughout the UK. This was 26 more than in 2016-17.

Scott Simmonds, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “With council tax hammering hard-working families, town hall directors should question whether hiring more spin doctors than big government departments is the best use of taxpayers’ money.

“It’s of course useful for councils to communicate information about local services, but some residents may wonder if there is too much focus on fancy PR and not enough on fixing potholes and collecting bins.

“Some councils are able to keep residents up-to-date without bloated PR teams. Other councils should be following in their footsteps to ensure the best value for taxpayers’ money.”