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 (

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