A special adviser works in a supporting role to the British government. With media, political or policy expertise, their duty is to assist and advise government ministers. They are often referred to as "SPAD"s (special political advisors). Being a special advisor has become a frequent career stage for young politicians, before being elected Members of Parliament, which has attracted criticism in recent years.
Special advisers are paid by central government and are styled as so-called "temporary civil servants" appointed under Article 3 of the Civil Service Order in Council 1995. They contrast with "permanent" civil servants in the respect that they are political appointees whose loyalties are claimed by the governing party and often particular ministers with whom they have a close relationship. For this reason, advisers may resign when a general election is called to campaign on behalf of their party. Special advisers have sometimes been criticised for engaging in advocacy while still on the government payroll or switching directly between lobbying roles and the special adviser role.
Advisers are governed by a code of conduct which goes some way to defining their role and delineates relations with the permanent civil service, contact with the media and relationship with the governing party, inter alia:
The rules for their appointment, and status in relation to ministers, are set out in the Ministerial Code.
Some former special advisers, such as Ed Balls, James Purnell, Ed Miliband and David Miliband, go on to become Members of Parliament or, like Lady Vadera, are given a peerage in order that they may take up a ministerial post. A large number have also gone on to accept lucrative jobs in the private sector. Other famous special advisers include former Director of Communications and Strategy Alastair Campbell and Jo Moore, who was embroiled in scandal while working as adviser to the Secretary of State Transport, Local Government and the Regions Stephen Byers.
There is no legal limit on the number of special advisers, although the current total is less than it was under Tony Blair. The government had previously accepted calls, made in 2000 by the Neill Committee on Standards in Public Life, for such a legal cap. By 2002, however, the government had altered its position, saying in response to the Wicks Committee report on standards in public life that "the Government does not believe that the issue of special advisers can be considered as a numerical issue. The issue is about being transparent about accountability, roles and responsibilities and numbers". At the last full reporting the government had 68 such personnel in its employment, 18 of whom worked in 10 Downing Street. Special advisers may be paid up to £142,668. Before his resignation Andy Coulson was the highest paid special adviser with a salary of £140,000. The total cost of special advisers in 2006–07 was £5.9 million.
Former special advisers to David Cameron:
First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth AffairsArminka Helic
Chancellor of the Exchequer, Second Lord to the TreasuryRupert Harrison
Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for JusticeDavid Hass
Secretary of State for the Home DepartmentFiona Cunningham (resigned June 2014)
Secretary of State for DefenceHayden Allan
Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and SkillsEmily Walch
Secretary of State for Work and PensionsPhillipa Stroud
Secretary of State for Energy and Climate ChangeChris Nicholson
Secretary of State for EducationDominic Cummings (Announced resignation in October 2013)
Henry de Zoete
Chief Whip (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury)Ben Williams
The Cabinet Office released a full list of special advisers as of 10 June 2010 but because of subsequent ministerial resignations and appointments this is already out of dateDan Corry – Head of Policy Unit
Gavin Kelly – Deputy Chief of Staff
David Muir – Director of Political Strategy
Sue Nye – Director of Government Relations
Spencer Livermore – Director of Strategy
Justin Forsyth – adviser to the Prime Minister on political press issues
Joe Irvin – Political Secretary to the Prime Minister
Gordon Brown released a full list of special advisers as of 22 November 2007.
Fiction set within the Westminster village frequently includes characters that are special advisers, such as Frank Weisel in Yes Minister and Glen Cullen in The Thick of It at the ministerial level, and figures like Malcolm Tucker (also of The Thick of It) seen operating at the apex of power, often overriding or manipulating Prime Ministers and other world leaders.