Back in July I came across this blog post from UCL’s Constitution Unit that was critical of the level of transparency around the numbers of government special advisers: ‘Return to the dark: the continuing lack of transparency over spads‘
It seems that the last official publication of the names of special advisers and their salaries was on the 19 October 2012. This despite the fact that at least ten new spads have started working for ministers since that date.
Special advisers have a unique and highly privileged role. They operate at the heart of government and are able to influence the policies that effect our lives — but do so without the constraint of impartiality that civil servants have. It ought to be fairly straightforward for citizens to find out who they are. Not least because you need to know who they are before you can ask pertinent questions about their background. For instance; how many of the special advisers are privately educated? Who did they work for before joining the government?
This inspired me to ask the question: who are the Liberal Democrat special advisers? That is to say who are the people employed to give political advice to Liberal Democrat ministers in the Coalition Government?
An online search yielded few results. There were several critical press stories, the aforementioned official data from October 2012, a story on ‘Civil Service World’ from April 2011, and a post by Mark Pack on Lib Dem Voice from 2010. One of the most recent sources of information I found came from a predictably negative piece on Labour List.
There doesn’t appear to be an accurate and easily accessible list of special advisers for the government — or indeed the Liberal Democrat bit of the government which I am largely interested in. I think there should be. If the Government (or indeed the Liberal Democrats themselves) are not going to keep an up to date list somebody should.
So I am considering trying to compile such a list myself and then publishing it here, or somewhere else more appropriate. But I may need some help. Would this be a worthwhile project? What information should be included? What sources of information have I missed?
For the record, I don’t approach this issue with any sense of outrage. I don’t regard spads as an evil that needs to be exposed. In fact I am fully in favour of the role of special advisers within government. I believe ministers should have a close by and trusted source of political advice. I also believe that this leads to better government. However, I do not believe that people in this role should in any sense “live in the dark”.