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Spad numbers at Stormont remain a real mystery

Published 09/10/2015

According to a recent freedom of information (FoI) request, the Northern Ireland Executive spends more on special advisers (Spads) than any other UK devolved government. The Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister has the most advisers, with nine of the 21 posts.

Spads are not elected, but they can end up running the kingdom.

The Spad cost figure for Northern Ireland is £2m. This is for 21 Spads (the cost is derived from the published financial year 2013/2014), which is more than the Scottish and Welsh governments combined.

Interestingly, three of the Spads in Northern Ireland served only between three and six months of that year. These, oddly enough, ended up as unelected MLAs.

For the same period in Scotland, there were 14 advisers, costing just over £1m. And in Wales, there were just nine advisers, costing less than £500,000.

In 2013/2014, the pay bands and grades for Spads varied across the UK; anything from £36,000 up to £91,000. In Scotland, just three of them were in the top pay band, while at Stormont all 21 Spad posts were at the top pay band.

Just why Northern Ireland ministers need so many Spads is a real mystery. With all their supposed expertise, one would have expected miracles. Instead, we have ended up the proverbial without a paddle.

Perhaps it is because they cannot think for themselves. It is rather like, as AA Milne says in Winnie the Pooh, "I am a bear of very little brain and long words bother me".


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