David Cameron's special advisers got bumper pay rises in final year, CSW analysis shows

Civil service unions hit out as new CSW analysis shows that many outgoing Number 10 advisers had substantial year-on-year pay rises, as well as enhanced redundancy terms and honours​

By Jonathan Owen

29 Aug 2016

Some of David Cameron’s closest special advisers were rewarded with bumper pay rises just months before the former prime minister granted them severance packages over and above what they were contractually entitled to, Civil Service World can reveal.

The salaries of Cameron's spads were increased by up to 24 per cent last year, with some individuals getting rises worth more than the £14,976 that someone on the ‘national living wage’ set by the government earns in a year.

Civil service trade unions have condemned the levels of remuneration given to Downing Street special advisers as “shameful" at a time when pay is being held down across the wider public sector.

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Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, which represents senior officials, said: “It would seem hypocrisy knows no bounds from a prime minister who preached pay restraint and austerity to public servants and the public, whilst at the same time awarding double-digit pay rises to his special advisers.”

He added: “It will be a further body blow to the morale of thousands of hard-working civil servants to learn that the very same special advisers who received enhanced redundancy terms from the outgoing prime minister also received pay rises of up to 24% in one year.”


Cameron went against the advice of John Manzoni, chief executive of the civil service, in giving his spads inflated exit pay last month. 

The decision to pay his advisers six months’ salary — to compensate them for being out of a job after his departure from Downing Street — amounted to individual packages of at least £70,000 in some cases.

Manzoni, who is also permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office, registered his opposition to the move by requesting a written ministerial direction.

Cameron’s controversial decision resulted in at least 17 spads being paid more than their contracts stipulated they should receive. This came at an extra cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds to the taxpayer.

Yet most of the spads who benefited from that move had already been rewarded for their efforts through substantial pay increases.

Seven out of 10 of the Downing Street advisers re-appointed after last year’s general election — and who therefore became entitled to bigger severance packages — received pay rises of up to 24 per cent in 2015. 

The salary increases, revealed by a CSW analysis of the government’s official lists of special advisers in 2014 and 2015, were made in a year when inflation averaged zero per cent.

They were in stark contrast to the maximum one per cent pay rise given to the civil service and far outstripped the two per cent average pay award across the private sector in 2015.

“These increases, which were agreed by the then prime minister, reflected changes to the scope and range of responsibility in the roles of a number of special advisers following their reappointment after the 2015 general election" - Cabinet Office

Adam Atashzai, one of the spads given an enhanced severance package, saw his salary jump from less than £58,200 in 2014 to £72,000 in 2015 — an increase of at least 24 per cent. He was further rewarded by being given an MBE in Cameron’s resignation honours list.

Others included Ameet Gill, former director of strategy, and Liz Sugg, former head of operations at No 10. They both received pay rises of 23 per cent — their salaries rising from £80,000 in 2014 to £98,000 in 2015. 

Sugg, awarded a CBE last year for her service, was another spad to get an honour in the wake of Cameron’s departure, being given a life peerage.

Special adviser Kate Marley went from being on Pay Band 1 in 2014 – capped at £54,121 – to earning £65,000 in 2015, an increase of at least 20 per cent.

Another spad whose pay was increased was Daniel Korski, who was deputy director of the No 10 policy unit. His pay went up by 16 per cent, from £80,000 in 2014 to £93,000 in 2015. Korski was also among those honoured earlier this month, being given a CBE.

Special adviser Nick Seddon, who was awarded an MBE, benefited from an 11 per cent pay rise last year, with his salary increased to £88,000.

Max Chambers, former speechwriter, and another adviser, Laura Trott, enjoyed more modest increases, with their salaries going from £67,000 to £72,000 – a seven per cent rise. Trott was another of Cameron’s former aides to be given the bonus of an honour, being awarded an MBE.

Special adviser Richard Parr; former head of operations Martha Varney; and Kate Shouesmith, ex-deputy head of external relations — all of whom were given MBEs for their service — were moved up a pay band. The three spads went from earning between £40,352 and £54,121 in 2014 to being paid between £53,000 and £62,999 in 2015.

“We believe that every civil servant deserves a decent pay rise. It is frankly shameful that David Cameron thinks that this should just apply to his close circle of political friends" - Mark Serwotka, PCS union

And Frances Trivett, the political private secretary to the prime minister's chiefs of staff, progressed from being in Pay Band 0 in 2014, which is up to £40,352 a year, to Pay Band 1 in 2015 – capped at £52,999 per annum.

"Background and experience"

In a statement responding to the figures, a Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "Decisions about special adviser salaries take into account various factors including the level of responsibility associated with a particular role and the background and experience of the individual concerned.”

They added: “These increases, which were agreed by the then prime minister, reflected changes to the scope and range of responsibility in the roles of a number of special advisers following their reappointment after the 2015 general election."

At the time of writing, Cameron’s parliamentary office had not responded to a request by CSW for comment.

Cameron’s treatment of his own spads contrasts with his attacks, during his time in opposition, on the last Labour government over its use of special advisers.

The payroll bill for spads in the final year of the last Labour government, in 2009/2010, was £6.8m. Yet there was a 24 per cent increase in the amount of money spent on the salaries of special advisers at the end of Cameron's time in office. 

Although official figures will not be released until later this year, it will amount to £8.4m in 2015/16, according to the government’s own estimates.

While many special advisers have enjoyed pay increases far above inflation, permanent civil servants have seen their pay cut by nearly a third in real terms since 2010, according to the FDA.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet Office has reopened talks on the Civil Service Compensation Scheme — which sets redundancy pay for permanent officials — with a view to reducing payouts to civil servants who are made redundant.

Dave Penman, FDA general secretary, commented: “Fair reward and the necessary resources to deliver the government's objectives are reasonable demands that are long overdue in being met by the government. These urgently need to be addressed by the new chancellor in this year's Autumn statement.”

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union said: “We believe that every civil servant deserves a decent pay rise. It is frankly shameful that David Cameron thinks that this should just apply to his close circle of political friends.”

He added: “Our members will be rightly outraged by the double standards of a prime minister who richly rewards a privileged few, while ignoring the falling living standards of hundreds of thousands of dedicated civil servants.”

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