Osborne gives political adviser 42% rise amid public sector pay freeze

Chancellor boosts team of aides to 10 in same year he imposes another four-year pay freeze on teachers, nurses and police

George Osborne has given the adviser responsible for his new image a promotion and a pay rise of more than 40%, and boosted the number of his political aides by three while asking public-sector workers to accept a pay freeze.

Thea Rogers, a close associate of Osborne, received the biggest rise among all the political special advisers across government, an increase of 42% since the figures were released last November, giving her £98,000. She is now his chief of staff.

A former BBC producer who once worked with the corporation’s former political editor Nick Robinson, she is said to have been responsible for Osborne’s Caesar-style haircut and for placing him on the 5:2 diet. A year ago, she acted as a special adviser, handling his image and events.

Thea Rogers, a close associate of Osborne, has received the biggest pay increase of 42%
Thea Rogers, a close associate of Osborne, has received the biggest pay increase of 42%. Photograph: Andrew Parsons/Rex/Shutterstock

A year ago Osborne employed three special advisers and had four more political appointees sitting on his council of advisers. Since then, advisers hired by the chancellor include James Chapman, the Daily Mail’s political editor until the election, who is now paid £125,000; and Sue Beeby, who previously worked for Jeremy Hunt and is being paid £73,000 to be part of the Treasury team.

Osborne has three other people employed in his office whose pay levels are not registered. Another special adviser to Osborne, Eleanor Wolfson, is currently on maternity leave, a footnote adds.

The footnote to the data also shows that the chancellor has taken on three other politically employed advisers who sit on the council of economic advisers – Richard Davies, who is paid £98,000; Neil O’Brien, who is paid £93,450; and Jennifer Donne, whose pay is not registered.

The chancellor talking to James Chapman at the Treasury. James Chapman was employed this year by Osborne.
The chancellor talking to James Chapman at the Treasury. James Chapman was employed this year by Osborne. Photograph: Robin Bell/ANL/Rex Shutterstock

The disclosure comes in data that shows the bill for special advisers across the government rose to £9.2m in 2014-15, up from £8.4m the previous financial year.The report was one of a deluge released by the government on subjects ranging from the bedroom tax to fracking on the last day of Commons business before Christmas. Ministers released more 424 documents online by 5pm on Thursday, including 36 written ministerial statements on subjects of national importance.

Amongst the information was a report on the bedroom tax, described by Labour as “damning”, that revealed three-quarters of those affected were cutting back on food, and a local government spending settlement that involves billions of pounds in cuts and potential council tax rises.

Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, said: “David Cameron can’t bury the fact that he’s broken a direct promise he made to reduce the cost of politics and curb the number of special advisers in government.”

In July, the chancellor told thousands of teachers, nurses, police, firefighters and civil servants that they would face another four years of having pay rises limited to 1% a year, effectively a freeze, as part of planned savings worth £17bn. Many more jobs are also set to be lost across the public sector.

The increase in money spent on special advisers is particularly embarrassing for David Cameron because of previous pledges to cut the cost of government and the number of special advisers.

The data shows that Cameron has 32 advisers – six more than in November last year. Twenty-three are paid more than £63,000 a year. Topping the list are his head of communications, Craig Oliver, and chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn, who both earn £140,000.

Craig Oliver, head of communications, earns £140,000 annually.
Craig Oliver, head of communications, earns £140,000 annually. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

A string of special advisers across all government departments have had above-inflation pay increases over the last year. They include Ameet Gill, an adviser to Cameron, who is now being paid £98,000 – an increase of 22%; Nick Seddon, another Cameron adviser, who is being paid £88,000 – an increase of 12%; and Graham Hook, an adviser to the defence secretary, Michael Fallon, who is paid £70,000 – an increase of 7.7%.

The number of “spads” in the highest pay grade of PB4 has jumped from four to 10. The number in the next highest paygrade, PB3, has grown from 15 to 26.

Last November the government announced that the cost of its special advisers had passed £8m – a rise of more than £1m over a 12-month period.

At the beginning of this year there were just over 100 spads. During the last months of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, a total of 26 special advisers worked for Cameron in Downing Street, with 20 working for the former Lib Dem leader and deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg.

Although the number of advisers necessary for the two-party coalition was expected to fall after the Conservatives’ return to government as a majority single party, there had been no financial information given out until now.

Under Gordon Brown in 2009-10, the cost of special advisers was said to be £6.8m, with 71 on the government payroll.

A Whitehall source said: “Osborne may have 10 Spads, but that is
still one less than Gordon had in the Treasury.”

A Downing Street spokesman said he was not aware of any plans to reduce the number of special advisers.

“Special advisers provide an important role and it is important that they are there,” the spokesman said. “By providing political advice to ministers, they allow the important distinction to remain between impartial civil servants and special advisers who provide political advice.”

Asked whether Cameron was happy that his government employed more than 25% more special advisers than Gordon Brown’s administration, the spokesman would say only that the number and overall cost of special advisers was lower than in the last year of the coalition government.

Another document released on Thursday showed that the chancellor spent £11,000 taking Royal Air Force planes to meetings in Europe and Turkey between July and September, and a further £10,000 chartering a plane to China.


Rajeev Syal

The GuardianTramp

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