PM accused of breaking promise to cap special adviser salaries

Theresa May’s two leading advisers are being paid £140,000 each despite an attempt to curb the pay of Whitehall’s special advisers, according to official figures.

Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill are among 27 politically appointed advisers who receive more than £72,000. Reports earlier this year claimed that £72,000 would be the ceiling figure for “Spad” pay under the prime minister’s administration.

Timothy, who has been likened to Rasputin by ministers, and Hill, who was at the centre of a row with the former minister Nicky Morgan over May’s leather trousers, are paid nearly twice the salary of a backbench MP. The data also shows that there are 83 Spads at a cost to the taxpayer of nearly £8m a year.

They include James Chapman, the former Daily Mail political editor who is now paid £115,000 to be the key adviser to the Brexit secretary, David Davis.

The figures, published on Wednesday, have been seized upon by Labour as evidence of a broken promise to curb pay by an out-of-touch prime minister.

According to a Times report in August, May had said no new government special adviser would receive more than £72,000 a year without authorisation from Downing Street.

The report was widely followed in the media at the time, with Downing Street sources adding the caveat that it was not yet clear if such restrictions would be placed on May’s own staff. The new figures show that the number being paid more than £72,000 stretches well beyond May’s office and includes three advisers in the Treasury, one in the Home Office, one in the Department for Exiting the European Union, and one in the Foreign Office.

They include David Frost, an adviser to the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, who is paid £120,000, and Karen Ward, a key Treasury adviser, who is paid £93,450. Of May’s aides, 18 are paid more than the £72,000 threshold, the figures show. The prime minister is paid £149,000 a year.

Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, said May came in to Downing Street promising to put ordinary people first and to cap pay for special advisers.

“While most people are having to tighten their belts under the Tories, it’s a completely different story for those in Theresa May’s inner circle. Some of these pay rises are eye-watering. It shows that, for the Tories, it’s one rule for them and another for everyone else,” he said.

The original reports followed May’s pledge to work for ordinary working families, or those who are just about managing, while in government. Reports said that Sue Gray, the director general of propriety and ethics at the Cabinet Office, had been given the job of enforcing the policy.

It was also widely reported that the planned pay decreases had led to a number of potential special advisers turning down new posts.

David Cameron gave some of his special advisers bumper pay rises just months before they were given generous severance packages. The former prime minister increased the salary of some of his advisers by as much as £18,000, or up to 24%, according to an analysis by Civil Service World. The double-digit increases were ordered despite pay rises being capped at 1% across the public sector.

Trade unions and taxpayer groups said the increases were shameful at a time when government departments had faced cuts. The prime minister has the same number of special advisers, 32, in her team as Cameron but has reduced the number across government from 95 to 83.

The projected annual pay bill for the year ahead for the advisers is £7.9m, down from £8.4m last year.

A government spokesman did not respond to questions about why many reports of a £72,000 cap on Spad pay had not been followed with official denials.

He said: “Contrary to media reports, there never was a £72,000 cap; there are a series of pay bands. The most senior staff are in the highest pay bands – in the same way that the civil service has a series of grades.”

Powered by article was written by Rajeev Syal, for The Guardian on Wednesday 21st December 2016 19.49 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010