Allister on why we need further reform of SpAds at Stormont

The leader of the TUV, Jim Allister MLA is proposing a private members bills to reduce the number of SpAds at Stormont. Writing for Slugger, he sets out his case for reform of the current system

After successfully piloted a Special Advisers Bill through the Assembly to remove convicts as SpAds, I have now drafted a further Bill to do three things – (i) reduce the number of SpAds, (ii) cut their salaries and (iii) ensure they are subject to Civil Service disciplinary processes.

The move follows unease over the Stormont Executive’s spend on Special Advisers and the fact that the DSD minister was able to intervene to save Stephen Brimstone from disciplinary action over the Redsky affair and his treatment of Cllr Jenny Palmer.

Northern Ireland employs significantly more Special Advisers than the other devolved institutions. Scotland has 14 which cost a total of £1,022,396 per annum . Two weeks ago the Welsh Government published its annual report on SpAds revealing that they have nine which cost the public £626,995 between 1st April 2014 and 31st March 2015 (http://gov.wales/about/cabinet/cabinetstatements/2015/spad/?lang=en).

Northern Ireland, by way of contrast, has a total of 19 SpAds who, in 2014/15, cost the taxpayer £2,016,362.31, meaning our spend on Special Advisers is more than three times that of the Welsh .

My Bill would reduce the number of SpAds in OFMDFM from 8 to 4 and link their maximum salaries to the senior civil service pay band for Assistant Secretaries (Grade 5).

At a time of austerity the number and salaries of SpAds at Stormont are a disproportionate drain on public resources.

My Bill also seeks to address another important issue. The Red Sky affair and treatment of Jenny Palmer highlighted the fact that although Special Advisers are paid from the public purse they are not subject to the normal disciplinary procedures. Although a report recommended that Stephen Brimstone be disciplined for his conduct towards Councillor Palmer the Minister was able to intervene and prevent action being taken. Such conduct undermines public confidence in politics. My Bill would ensure that this could not happen again by ensuring that SpAds, who are classified as civil servants, are subject to the Civil Service disciplinary process.

The Bill is currently out for consultation. You can respond online here

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  • Brian Walker

    It’s doubtful whether NI spads can become fully subject to civil service disciplinary processes. . In Whitehall they are required to maintain the basic standards of good behaviour contained in the civil service code e.g

    ” . 2. As a( temporary) civil servant, you are.. expected to carry out your role with dedication and a commitment to the Civil Service and its core values: integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality. In this Code: integrity‟ is putting the obligations of public service above your own personal interests;„honesty‟ is being truthful and open..”

    But the whole point of having spads is that they are not required to be impartial or fully subject to civil service discipline. They are accountable only to the minister personally who appoints them. (In Stormont this may mean the party). The minister who appoints them is unlikely to be keen on disciplining them for anything but the grossest transgressions. Dismissal or retention of a controversial spad will be made out of political calculation rather than objective criteria.

    In Whitehall, the PM has oversight of his party’s spads through the Downing St chief of staff but this is light touch as the chief of staff is overburdened and he and the PM are reluctant to cross a minister who continues to support a spad who is under pressure,.In many cases the pressure applies to them both anyhow so they might sink or swim together.

    In Stormont, I guess this supervision is even laxer due to the nature of power sharing and the Assembly is likely to divide on bloc lines in most cases, in spite of Jim’s notable earlier victory

  • Catcher in the Rye

    You got ahead of me Brian – they’re supposed to be independent. I suspect Allister may end up dropping that part of the bill.

  • Jag

    If Jimbo’s difficulty is primarily with the cost (whilst recognising he has other issues) then why not start off by reducing MLAs?

    In Scotland, they have 129 assembly members for a jurisdiction with a population of 5.3m.
    In Wales, they have 60 assembly members for a jurisdiction with a population of 3.1m.
    In Northern Ireland, we have 108 assembly members (at present, 96 after next year’s elections) for a jurisdiction with a population of 1.8m.

    If cost is truly what is playing on Jimbo’s mind, then surely the biggest saving can be achieved by reducing the number of MLAs down to around 40? That would save around £10m in salaries for the MLA and staff and expenses – 10 times more than Jimbo’s targetting of spads. Of course, it would mean an end to Jimbo’s career in Stormont but surely that’s not a consideration when honestly promoting value for money in public life?

  • mary

    Seems Jim Allister, is the only one working in Stormont. Need a Thorn, in their back sides Dup , PSF. Milking the system. Wasting tax payers money. God Man Jim.

  • chrisjones2

    “The minister who appoints them is unlikely to be keen on disciplining them for anything but the grossest transgressions” ……or on the evidence, even then. After all they are often the sexton

  • barnshee

    If there is one politician safe in Stormont its Jimbo-like the 40 MLAs tho

  • PSF?

  • Andrew

    “If cost is truly what is playing on Jimbo’s mind, then surely the biggest saving can be achieved by reducing the number of MLAs down to around 40?”

    I would argue that reducing the number to zero would be much better.