Stormont’s small army of political special advisers are costing taxpayers almost £2 million a year, it has emerged.
A total of 19 special advisers (Spads) – the bulk of whom are from the DUP and Sinn Fein – last year cost a total of £1,967,240 in salaries, national insurance contributions, pension contributions and severance payments.
The figure, which is the first time that a total bill for Stormont’s Spads has been published, comes in a report published by the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP).
The report was forced on Stormont as part of Jim Allister’s Special Advisers Bill (also known as Ann’s Law), which forces the Executive to annually publish the total cost of its 19 political advisers.
The report appears to have been published on the DFP website last summer, but it was not publicised by the department at the time.
Unlike Westminster, the Executive refuses to publish the exact salaries of its Spads. The report also reveals that the upper limit of the payband from which advisers’ secret salaries are set was increased by almost £1,000 last year.
The top salary for Spads was increased from £90,900 to £91,809. In 2011, the News Letter revealed that a nine per cent hike in Spad salaries was approved by then Finance Minister Sammy Wilson just weeks after the Assembly election, despite cuts across the public sector at the time.
Salaries for many of the Spad roles have more than doubled since devolved government returned to Northern Ireland after the Belfast Agreement of 1998.
As reported by the News Letter yesterday, Sinn Fein has now voluntarily led the way in publishing the exact salaries of its advisers. According to its figures, the seven Spads receive more than £500,000 between them (although most of that money is then given to the party), with one of the four Sinn Fein Spads in Martin McGuinness’s department, Dara O Hagan, its top paid adviser, taking a salary of £87,812.
Former DUP special adviser Graham Craig, who is now a UUP councillor in Belfast, said that the exact salaries should be published.
“Senior civil servants have their salaries published,” he told the News Letter.
“As Spads, we are members of the senior civil service. We are very well remunerated and I don’t see why we should get special treatment as opposed to any other members of the senior civil service.
“We may be appointed by ministers, but in all senses we are bound by the civil service code.”