Special adviser (UK)

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A special adviser works in a supporting role to the British government. With media, political or policy expertise, their duty is to assist and advise government ministers. They are often referred to as ’SpAds’ or ’Spads’. Being a special adviser has become a frequent career stage for young politicians, before being elected Members of Parliament, which has attracted criticism in recent years.

Special advisers are paid by central government and are styled as so-called ’temporary civil servants’ appointed under Article 3 of the Civil Service Order in Council 1995.[1] They contrast with ’permanent’ civil servants in the respect that they are political appointees whose loyalties are claimed by the governing party and often particular ministers with whom they have a close relationship. For this reason, advisers may resign when a general election is called to campaign on behalf of their party.[2] Special advisers have sometimes been criticised for engaging in advocacy while still on the government payroll or switching directly between lobbying roles and the special adviser role.[3]


Special advisers were first appointed from 1964 under the Harold Wilson's first Labour government to provide political advice to Ministers and have been subsequently utilised by all following governments.[4]

Code of conduct[edit]

Advisers are governed by a code of conduct which goes some way to defining their role and delineates relations with the permanent civil service, contact with the media and relationship with the governing party, inter alia:

the employment of special advisers adds a political dimension to the advice and assistance available to Ministers while reinforcing the political impartiality of the permanent Civil Service by distinguishing the source of political advice and support [...] Special advisers are employed to help Ministers on matters where the work of Government and the work of the Government Party overlap and where it would be inappropriate for permanent civil servants to become involved. They are an additional resource for the Minister providing assistance from a standpoint that is more politically committed and politically aware than would be available to a Minister from the permanent Civil Service.[5]

The rules for their appointment, and status in relation to ministers, are set out in the Ministerial Code.

Former special advisers[edit]

Some former special advisers, such as Ed Balls, James Purnell, Ed Miliband and David Miliband, go on to become Members of Parliament or, like Lady Vadera, are given a peerage in order that they may take up a ministerial post. A large number have also gone on to accept lucrative jobs in the private sector[citation needed]. Other famous special advisers include former Director of Communications and Strategy Alastair Campbell and Jo Moore, who was embroiled in scandal while working as adviser to the Secretary of State Transport, Local Government and the Regions Stephen Byers.

Number and cost of special advisers[edit]

There is no legal limit on the number of special advisers, although the current total is less than it was under Tony Blair. The government had previously accepted calls, made in 2000 by the Neill Committee on Standards in Public Life, for such a legal cap. By 2002, however, the government had altered its position, saying in response to the Wicks Committee report on standards in public life that "the Government does not believe that the issue of special advisers can be considered as a numerical issue. The issue is about being transparent about accountability, roles and responsibilities and numbers".[6] At the last full reporting the government had 68 such personnel in its employment, 18 of whom worked in 10 Downing Street.[7] Special advisers may be paid up to £142,668. Before his resignation Andy Coulson was the highest paid special adviser with a salary of £140,000.[8] The total cost of special advisers in 2006–07 was £5.9 million.[7]

Recent special advisers[edit]

Johnson Ministry (December 2019)[edit]

As of December 2019, there are 109 (full time equivalent) special advisors working for the government.[9] This includes 44 special advisors working for the Prime Minister. The following advisors are included in Pay Band 4, and are paid between £95,000 to a maximum of £145,000, though this salary differs per advisor.

Special Adviser Role
Lee Cain Downing Street Director of Communications
Dominic Cummings Chief/Senior Adviser[10][11]
Nikki Da Costa Director of Legislative Affairs
David Frost Prime Minister's Europe Advisor
Andrew Griffith Prime Minister's Chief Business Advisor
Sir Ed Lister Prime Minister's Chief Strategic Advisor[12]
Munira Mirza Director of Number 10 Policy Unit

Other special advisors for other departments include:

Chancellor of the Exchequer

  • Mats Persson
  • Sam Coates
  • James Hedgeland
  • Adam Memon
  • Jennifer Powell
  • Tim Sculthorpe

Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, First Secretary of State

  • Beth Armstrong
  • Simon Finkelstein
  • Simon Jupp
  • Christina Robinson

Secretary of State for the Home Department

  • James Starkie
  • Hannah Guerin
  • Charlotte Miller
  • Alexander Wild

Cameron ministry (May 2010)[edit]

Office of the Prime Minister[edit]

Special Adviser Role
Edward Llewellyn Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister
Kate Fall Deputy Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister
Oliver Dowden Deputy Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister
Andrew Cooper Director of Strategy to the Prime Minister
Craig Oliver Director of Communications to the Prime Minister
Clare Foges Chief Speech-writer
Gabby Bertin Press Secretary
Liz Sugg Head of Operations and Events
Andrew Dunlop Adviser on Scotland
Rohan Silva Senior Adviser on Policy
Ameet Gill Head of Strategic Communications
Michael Salter Adviser on Broadcasting
Ramsay Jones Adviser on Scotland
Alan Sendorek Press Officer
Shaun Bailey Adviser on Youth and Crime
Laura Trott Adviser on Women
Isabel Spearman Personal assistant to the Wife of the Prime Minister (Samantha Cameron)
Alex Dawson Policy Researcher

Former special advisers to David Cameron:

Special Adviser Role
Andy Coulson Director of Communications to the Prime Minister resigned in 2011, later convicted in News International phone hacking scandal replaced by Craig Oliver
Steve Hilton Adviser on Strategy left in 2012 for Stanford University
Henry Macrory Adviser on Press left in 2011 to join CCHQ as deputy political director
James O'Shaughnessy Director of Policy left in 2011 to join Portland Communications and Policy Exchange
Tim Chatwin Head of Strategic Communications left in 2011 to join Google replaced by Ameet Gill
Gavin Lockhart-Mirams Adviser on Policy Left in 2011 to set up Crest Advisory
Peter Campbell Researcher and Briefer for Questions to the Prime Minister left in 2011
Sean Worth Adviser on Policy left in 2012 to join Policy Exchange
Patrick Rock Adviser on Policy resigned in 2014 after arrest on suspicion of making indecent images of children, was later convicted

Office of the Deputy Prime Minister[edit]

Special Adviser Role
Jonny Oates Chief of Staff to the Deputy Prime Minister
Joanne Foster Deputy Chief of Staff to the Deputy Prime Minister
Ryan Coetzee Director of Strategy replaced Richard Reeves
Neil Sherlock Director of Government Relations to the Deputy PM
James McGrory Adviser on Press
Julian Astle Adviser on Policy
Olly Grender Director of Communications to the Deputy PM replaced Lena Pietsch
Sean Kemp
Tim Colbourne
Monica Allen Special Adviser

Other Cabinet Ministers[edit]

First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Second Lord to the Treasury

Lord Chancellor, Secretary of State for Justice

  • Fraser Raleigh
  • Anita Boateng

Secretary of State for the Home Department

  • Fiona Cunningham (resigned June 2014)[15]
  • Nick Timothy

Secretary of State for Defence

Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills

  • Emily Walch
  • Giles Wilkes

Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

  • Phillipa Stroud
  • Lizzie Loudon

Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

  • Chris Nicholson
  • Katie Waring

Secretary of State for Education

Chief Whip (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury)

  • Ben Williams

The Cabinet Office released a full list of special advisers as of 10 June 2010 but because of subsequent ministerial resignations and appointments this is already out of date

Brown Ministry (June 2007 – May 2010)[edit]

Office of the Prime Minister[edit]

  • Dan Corry – Head of Policy Unit
  • Gavin Kelly – Deputy Chief of Staff
  • David Muir – Director of Political Strategy
  • Sue Nye – Director of Government Relations
  • Spencer Livermore – Director of Strategy
  • Justin Forsyth – adviser to the Prime Minister on political press issues
  • Joe Irvin – Political Secretary to the Prime Minister

Other ministers[edit]

Gordon Brown released a full list of special advisers as of 22 November 2007.

In fiction[edit]

Fiction set within the Westminster village frequently includes characters that are special advisers, such as Frank Weisel in Yes Minister and Glen Cullen in The Thick of It at the ministerial level, and figures like Malcolm Tucker (also of The Thick of It) seen operating at the apex of power, often overriding or manipulating Prime Ministers and other world leaders.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Civil Service Order in Council 1995". Civil Service Commissioners. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 June 2010. Retrieved 10 March 2008.
  2. ^ "Special advisers". Red Star Research. Archived from the original on 14 February 2008. Retrieved 10 March 2008.
  3. ^ "Adviser's move to lobby firm attacked". The Telegraph. London. 12 June 2002. Retrieved 8 March 2010.
  4. ^ (PDF). Institute for Government https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/special%20adviser%20research%20paper%20final_0.pdf. Retrieved 2 December 2018. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ "Code of Conduct for Special Advisers". Cabinet Office. Archived from the original on 7 April 2010.
  6. ^ Oonagh Gay. "Special advisers" (PDF). House of Commons Library Parliament and Constitution Centre. Retrieved 10 December 2010.
  7. ^ a b Numbers and Cost of Special Advisers, written statement by Gordon Brown, 22 Nov 2007 : Column 147WS, Hansard
  8. ^ "Written Ministerial Statement on Special Adviser numbers from Cabinet Office, 10 Jun 2010". Cabinetoffice.gov.uk. Archived from the original on 10 November 2010. Retrieved 7 December 2012.
  9. ^ [Civil Service Numbers Retrieved 23 March 2020]
  10. ^ "Dominic Cummings: Who is Boris Johnson's senior adviser?". BBC News. BBC. 13 February 2020. Retrieved 1 May 2020.
  11. ^ Kuenssberg, Laura (24 July 2019). "One big appointment coming today - Dominic Cummings expected to be senior advisor to the new PM - Vote Leave chief moving into govt - huge brain and experienced in govt, and will be applauded by Brexiteers - highly controversial too". @bbclaurak. Retrieved 1 May 2020.
  12. ^ "Sir Edward Lister resigns as Homes England Chair". GOV.UK. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  13. ^ "George Osborne hires thinktank chief who said the Tories had to win the North". Telegraph. Retrieved 7 December 2012.
  14. ^ "George Osborne loses his gatekeeper as love blossoms". Telegraph. Retrieved 7 December 2012.
  15. ^ Toby Helm; Daniel Boffey; Warwick Mansell (7 June 2014). "Furious Cameron slaps down Gove and May over 'Islamic extremism' row". The Observer. Retrieved 8 June 2014.
  16. ^ Garner, Richard and Cusick, J (Oct 2013). "Michael Gove's controversial adviser Dominic Cummings 'quits to open new free school'", The Independent, 7 October 2013. Accessed 26 June 2014

External links[edit]