THE BIG QUESTION: Should there be a limit to the number of government special advisers?

The Committee on Standards in Public Life is to investigate the

role of media briefing special advisers. One option being considered is

to cap their numbers.


'There should be a limit. Under Blair the numbers have spiralled as each

minister hires as many as they can as a show of their political


I'm tempted to say the limit should be zero but ministers do need

someone they trust who can speak for them, do battle against the civil

service and provide policy analysis. Dan Corry, a former adviser at the

DTI now with Stephen Byers in transport, is the best example of a

genuine special adviser. Too many ministers just want spin doctors.

One "policy adviser"per minister seems about right to me. Cut their

number and those made redundant can work in the lobbying industry

selling access to their old bosses.'


'Some of my former colleagues at the Committee on Standards in Public

Life are pretty hot under the collar about the number of advisers. But

I'd be more interested in their role, and particularly in the way the

older type of adviser - the policy expert - has to be doubled up in each

department with a teenage version of Alastair Campbell. My experience in

the civil service was that special advisers, able to bring an explicit

political dimension to policy-making, were useful and there should be

more of them. Whether paying people who seem to spend their time talking

up their boss in the papers and rubbishing his or her ministerial

colleagues is a proper use of public money is much more



'There's no need for a limit on numbers but there's a need for clarity

in the roles they play. Special advisers fulfil different functions from

civil servants and as long as the difference is clear there's no need

for a limit. Special advisers can help preserve the impartiality of the

civil service rather than threaten it. By having an overtly political

role they ensure civil servants are not drawn into politics. Previous

Number 10 press officers, all civil servants, found increasing pressure

to offer political comments in response to journalists' political


Now there are special advisers in Number 10 they are able to do the

politics, leaving the civil servants to speak only on government issues.

To ensure policies are delivered correctly, there will continue to be a

need for special advisers in Number 10.'


'Yes, we are probably close to that limit now. Special advisers have a

legitimate function as an independent source of advice, as confidante,

speechwriter and ministerial conduit to the outside world, but it should

be a circumscribed role. The growth in special advisers, from six to 76

during the past 20 years, will not per se bring the best traditions of

civil service impartiality to its knees. It is better to have a small

number of people in explicitly political roles than find that, under the

pretence of impartiality, civil servants are promoted on the basis of

their perceived ideological enthusiasm. It is essential to have

delineation of roles between political and career civil servants.

Departmental information heads must continue to be career civil

servants, but the parallel briefing role of special advisers should be

more explicit.'

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