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by Louise Wilson
05 May 2023
Scottish Government adviser costs balloon by 87 per cent in ten years

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with her chief of staff Liz Lloyd | PA Images

Scottish Government adviser costs balloon by 87 per cent in ten years

The bill for taxpayer-funded Scottish Government advisers has risen by nearly 87 per cent in the last ten years.

The number of special advisers, known as SpAds, has grown from 14 to 18 since 2013-14, while salary costs have ballooned to more than £1.9 million.

SpAds provide advice to ministers across all portfolio areas of government.

The Scottish Government has today confirmed the total cost of SpAds employed for the last three financial years.

In 2022-23, 18 special advisers received a combined £1,909,843. Two of them are paid in excess of £100,000 per year. 

In 2013-14, the total cost was £1,022,396.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The pay framework for Special Advisers is set by the Cabinet Office. The annual review for Special Advisers takes account of the pay award for staff within the Scottish Government Main bargaining unit.”

In 2021-22, the total cost was slightly less than the most recent year at £1,434,693.34 for 18 advisers. That was also down from 2020-21, when 15 SpAds made £1,618,713.47.

The costs of SpAds have risen each year since 2016/17, when the total cost was £897,714. During that year the maximum number of advisers employed by government at any one time was 13, though 16 individuals were employed when taking into account departures, re-appointments and new appointments after the 2016 election. During the election period, three advisers remained in post.

Prior to that year, SpAd costs hovered around £1 million.

The total number of SpAds broadly remained stable between 2013-14 and 2019-20 at 14, with the exception of 2016/17.

Scottish Labour has labelled the rising costs “morally indefensible”. Finance spokesperson Michael Marra said: “This is symbolic of the SNP government’s skewed priorities – cutting funding for vital sectors while bolstering the ranks of spin doctors and apparatchiks.

“The fact is that the only job creation scheme that the SNP has succeeded in implementing is one for government SpAds. This is a bloated government that is out of touch with the people of Scotland.”

Lib Dem MSP Willie Rennie said: “These eye-watering sums would be far better spent on battling the crisis in our NHS, cleaning up the sewage in our rivers and beaches and getting islanders the ferries that have never arrived.”

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