Scottish Government appoint 18th special adviser despite new civil service recruitment 'controls'

The number of special advisers at the Scottish Government has risen to 18 despite new controls being implemented by the civil service on recruitment.

The number of special advisers has doubled since 2007/08 when the SNP entered power under Alex Salmond with nine, statistics show, following the appointment of 12 special advisers in the last year of the Labour/Liberal Democrat administration.

Catriona Matheson, who previously worked as the chief of staff to the SNP leadership in Westminster and head of communications for the SNP in London, has joined the government’s economy team.

However, it comes as civil servant managers announced a continuation of the recruitment freeze and new controls over the regrading – which includes promotions and pay rises – for existing civil servants.

Special advisers are political appointees who provide political advice and support to ministers, as opposed to the impartial work of normal civil servants.

The average salary for a special adviser is around £60,000, but can be as high as £110,000.

Critics said it was the latest example of the SNP focusing “only on themselves” and not on the public.

The Scottish Government said the appointment was made prior to the freeze of the civil service pay bill and the recruitment control measures.

A new special adviser has joined the Scottish Government

“The SNP are cutting public services to the bone while pouring more and more money into their own bloated operation,” said Neil Bibby, business manager for Scottish Labour.

“The spiralling number of Ministers, advisers and spin doctors propping up this failing government is the closest the SNP have come to delivering a working job creation scheme.

“This ballooning government with their unprecedented resources are focused only on themselves and not those they serve.

“The public's money should be spent supporting people through this cost of living crisis, not helping the SNP spin the cost of their failures."

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said the return to pre-pandemic staffing levels would be done by “effective vacancy and recruitment management”.

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This commitment, made by Kate Forbes in the Resource Spending Review, could see 30,000 employees across Scotland’s public sector lose their jobs, most likely through contracts not being renewed or roles not being replaced when an employee leaves.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Special Advisers provide important assistance to Ministers on the development of policy and its presentation. Their appointment is designed to reinforce the political impartiality of the permanent Civil Service by providing Ministers with a separate channel for political advice and assistance.

“The Scottish Government is committed to contributing to achieving the broad aim set out in the Resource Spending Review to return the total size of the devolved public sector workforce to around pre-COVID-19 levels by 2026-27. This will be achieved through effective vacancy and recruitment management. We are already taking action and have enhanced recruitment controls in place, ensuring as much money as possible is directed onto the delivery of the policy priorities of the Government and improving the lives of the people of Scotland.”

The third episode of the brand new limited series podcast, How to be an independent country: Scotland’s Choices, is out now.

It is available wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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