House of Commons Library

Special Advisers

Published Monday, March 5, 2018

This briefing sets out details of roles and responsibilities of special advisers and information about the number of special advisers.

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What are special advisers?

Special advisers are temporary civil servants, employed to help Ministers on political matters where it would be inappropriate for permanent civil servants to become involved.  They can provide political assistance in a way that the permanent civil service cannot. The role of special advisers is subject to regular scrutiny, with an ongoing debate around their work, numbers and cost.

How many special advisers are there and what do they cost?

As of December 2017, there were 88 special advisers working across the whole of Government.  The pay bill for special advisers for 1 April 2016-31 March 2017 was £7.3 million.  In addition, £1.5 million was spent on severance pay.

The numbers of special advisers fluctuate; annual lists of special advisers are published by the Cabinet Office.  The number of special advisers was higher during the Coalition Government between 2010-2015.  In November 2014, there were 103 special advisers in post – the highest there have been since the Government began releasing annual figures.

Rules of conduct for special advisers

Special advisers most comply with the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers.  This sets out the guidance and rules for the work of special advisers.  The most recent version of the Code was published on 21 December 2016. 

Commons Briefing papers SN03813

Authors: Lucinda Maer; Ray McCaffrey

Topics: Central government, Civil Service, Ministers

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