Yesterday saw the great pre-Christmas ‘data dump’ where a number of government departments published their final set of statistics and releases before the holidays. One of the items, a list of special advisers and how much they are paid, has received some media attention and in the process become something of a political football. The number and the cost of special advisers (spads) has risen over the last year, with the pay bill coming in at £8.4 million. Critics accuse the government of breaking their commitment not to increase the number of special advisers and of paying them too much while other parts of the public sector face staff reductions and budget cuts. Like so many debates about spads, this one suffers from a few misunderstandings. First, ‘spads’ is a catch-all term and those in the role get rather unfairly caricatured. The popular image is of the media bruiser, the spinner – in short it’s Malcolm Tucker. In truth, and as former spads Nick Hillman and Giles Wilkes make clear in their respective assessments of doing the job (both published recently by the Institute for Government), there are a variety of roles spads can play. Spads do cover media work, […]

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