The government is spending more money than ever on political advisers, despite a promise by David Cameron to cut the cost of politics.
New figures snuck out on the final day of the parliamentary year show the total bill for the 96 Conservative political advisers is now £8.4 million a year. These are paid by the public to provide political and media advice to ministers and receive salaries worth up to £140,000 a year.
The list of political advisers – known as spads – show David Cameron now has more than 30 political staff working directly for him in Downing Street.
Meanwhile, the chancellor, George Osborne, has expanded his team to 10 staff at a total cost of £700,000, including new economic advisers and media staff, leading to suggestions that he is building a rival power base ahead of a potential bid to become Conservative party leader when Cameron steps down. His adviser Thea Rodgers, a former BBC political producer, also received a substantial pay rise to £98,000 after turning around his public image.
Despite this his aides insisted he still employs fewer people than Gordon Brown did when he held the same position under Tony Blair.
Labour attacked the chancellor's spending on his own staff while imposing a public sector pay freeze: "It's clear George Osborne has one eye on the leadership as he continues to build his empire within government," said Labour MP Jon Ashworth. "To hand a pay rise of over 40% to one of his closest advisers at a time when many families across the country are struggling to make ends meet is nothing short of outrageous."
The opposition party said there were now 26 more spads than when David Cameron became prime minister in 2010.
Last year, under the coalition government, the Conservatives employed 69 special advisers and the Lib Dems employed 38. All advisers lose their jobs automatically if their minister is sacked, meaning many were left out of work after May's general election and the end of the coalition government. The taxpayer paid out £1.9 million in severance pay to sacked spads due to the election result.
The government has already announced plans to cut the money given to fund advisers for opposition parties – known as Short money – by 19%, meaning Labour is set to lose £1 million in funding and may struggle to hire many political advisers while in opposition as it has in the past.
Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Jim Waterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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