High earners: Gavin Barwell and Robbie Gibb top special-adviser pay list

Written by Jim Dunton on 18 December 2017 in News

Transparency data reveals pay bands and appointing ministers for Whitehall’s 88 spads

Prime minister Theresa May with chief of staff Gavin Barwell. Credit: PA

Whitehall departments are currently host to 88 special advisers, the best paid of whom are Theresa May’s chief of staff Gavin Barwell and director of communications Robbie Gibb, new transparency data has revealed.

Barwell and Gibb are both described as earning £140,000 for their work, and are among a group of six “spads” identified as earning £100,000 a year or more – all but one of whom works for the prime minister.

Barwell was housing and planning minister and MP for Croydon Central until he lost his seat in May’s disastrous snap election earlier this year. He was hired to replace previous joint chiefs of staff Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, who resigned amid the fallout of the Conservative Party's lost majority.


Gibb was the BBC’s head of operations at Westminster until he was hired to replace Katie Perrior, May’s former director of communications who announced her decision to quit ahead of the June election. Gibb is the brother of junior education minister Nick Gibb.

The Cabinet Office said that Whitehall’s current spad roster was one fewer than the 89 employed in December 2016 and insisted their wages represented “an estimated 0.05% of the total civil service pay bill”. It said that despite being political appointments, advisers should be considered as "temporary civil servants".

It said the total spad pay bill for 2016-17 had been £7.3m, including employer pension contributions, but had covered the period when former prime minister David Cameron resigned in the wake of the EU referendum result and controversially approved boosted exit packages for his spad team – against the value-for-money advice of civil service chief executive John Manzoni.

After the backlash over Cameron’s decision, Theresa May reportedly ordered a clampdown on spad pay, with all special adviser salaries to be capped at £72,000 without the express consent of Downing Street.

Nevertheless, 23 of the current spad roster earn more than that amount – including 14 of the 32 spads whose appointing minister is May.

One of May’s spads is former Uxbridge MP John Randall, who was hired for his environment expertise and is listed as receiving a £72,000 salary for part-time work.

In addition to Barwell and Randall, former Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson is included in the spad list as part of Brexit secretary David Davis’ team. His salary is £78,000. 

Advising May on business relations is James McLoughlin, who is the son of Conservative Party chairman Sir Patrick McLoughlin. The former Institute of Directors deputy head of policy is paid £72,000 a year for his current role.

Outside of No 10, foreign secretary Boris Johnson’s spad David Frost is the only special adviser to break the £100,000 a year mark, commanding a salary of £120,000 for his work.

Frost served as a diplomat earlier in his career and was ambassador to Denmark from 2006-2008 before a spell as the Foreign Office director for strategy and policy planning and a period on loan to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills as its Europe, trade and international director.

He quit Whitehall in 2014 to become chief executive of trade body the Scotch Whisky Association, only to return to King Charles Street as Johnson’s spad in autumn 2016.

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