ALEX Salmond has reshuffled his back-room team of political advisers, signing up the largest number of so-called “Spads” to a Scottish Government since the start of devolution.
A total of 13 political advisers are to be employed within the Scottish Government at a cost of £933,000, officials confirmed yesterday. That exceeds the 12 advisers employed by former First Minister Jack McConnell in 2006. However, the SNP insisted last night that the real terms cost remained fractionally less.
The shake-up comes after two senior advisers, Kevin Pringle and Colin Pyle, left the government in recent weeks to take up roles in the SNP and the Yes Scotland campaign.
Three recruits were unveiled yesterday to replace them; former adviser Colin McAllister, SNP press officer Alexander Anderson and recent graduate Delancy Johansson.
Previously, the Scottish Government was barred from hiring more than 12 special advisers, but that rule was scrapped in 2010 following UK legislation. Special advisers are employed at the public expense to give political advice to ministers that would be inappropriate coming from impartial civil servants.
Critics claim the “Spads” have overly politicised the civil service, but others argue they aid the process of government by liaising with the media and the party machines.
The SNP government cut the cost and number of Spads after taking over from the Lab-Lib coalition in 2007, cutting the cost to £528,000. This has increased steadily since to reach £933,000 this year, more than the £854,000 spent by Mr McConnell’s administration in 2006 – though the Scottish Government said yesterday that taking inflation into account, today’s figure remains lower, by some £54,000.
Other key aides include chief of staff Geoff Aberdein, head of policy Alex Bell and head of communications Stuart Nicolson.
Paul Martin MSP, said: “Alex Salmond has started his own job creation scheme – adding to his own army of advisers. Building up for the battle he’s always wanted – to break up Britain. While public spending is being slashed, the fact that [First Minister Alex Salmond] is adding to his team of spinners show just how out of touch he has become. But spinners can’t hide him from the real record of his government: 12,000 construction jobs lost in the last 12 months, record female unemployment and an SNP government simply passing on Tory cuts across Scotland.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The cost of the Scottish Government’s special advisers compares to a pay bill of £6 million for the UK government’s special advisers at Westminster, where costs have risen by almost 40 per cent in a single year.”