Councils are spending nearly £430million a year on publicity, according to new figures.

Town halls have been laying out the cash on activities such as press offices, promoting services, and advertising jobs.

Birmingham Council was the highest spender in the last financial year. Its bill of £9.2million was up from £6.9million in 1996-7, but down from £10.4million in 2006-7.

On average, each council spent £965,986 last year – although six had a bill of more than £5 million.

The figures were obtained by pressure group the Taxpayers’ Alliance using freedom of information laws.

Chief executive Matthew Elliott said: “It is incredibly disappointing that, despite the economic downturn and the loss of millions in Icelandic Banks, local authorities are still spending nearly half a billion pounds a year on publicity.

“In the middle of a recession, councils need to cut back on propaganda and spin doctors and deliver savings.”

The Local Government Association – which represents more than 400 councils in England and Wales – said it was “absurd” to suggest local authorities were wasting money on “armies of spin doctors”.

“People need to know how to access the £100billion worth of services councils provide every year,” he said.

“Lumped into advertising figures are statutory notices councils by law have to advertise for, such as job adverts or site notices for planning applications. The amount makes up 0.0043 per cent of councils’ total spend.”

Local authorities that provided figures laid out £429.8million on publicity in 2007-8 – a reduction from £446.4 million. Average council spend increased to £965,986 from £954,023 because only 445 councils provided data, compared to 458 in 2006-7.

Shadow communities secretary Eric Pickles warned the bill was likely to increase because the government was loosening regulations on town hall publicity.

“I fear government plans to revoke vital guidance will lead to a return of partisan propaganda on the rates, and will do nothing to improve frontline services,” he added.