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Special Advisers

 

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Special advisers ('spads') are popularly seen as malign figures- 'people who live in the dark'. The focus remains on well-publicised controversies, on a single role ('spin') and on a tiny number of special advisers (eg Alastair Campbell or Andy Coulson or Dominic Cummings). But in fact we know very little about special advisers: who they are and what they do has not been properly documented.

So to provide a stronger evidence base about the role and impact of special advisers, this project, which ran from 2012 - 2014, asked: who are special advisers; how are they appointed; what do they do; and how can their role and effectiveness be improved? To answer these questions we constructed a database of all special advisers then appointed, and conducted semi-structured interviews with special advisers, their ministers and civil servants.

We intended to move the policy debate on from a negative attitude to accepting the presence of special advisers in government and discussing how to improve their effectiveness. Special advisers exist for a reason: Ministers need them. Ministers can feel overwhelmed by the civil service and the information overload. That is why, in spite of calls for a cap, the number of special advisers has continued to rise: from 70 under Blair to just over 100 under Johnson.

The project looked at the work of special advisers under three different governments: the Conservative governments of 1979-97; the Labour governments of 1997-2010; and the coalition government 2010-15. We found that special advisers needed better induction and training, and far more support and supervision once in post in order to improve their effectiveness. To help with this we produced a Handbook for Special Advisers, and a book which reported our main findings and conclusions. For other resource materials, articles, database and research notes, see Outputs below.

The project team consisted of Robert HazellBen Yong, Peter Waller, David Laughrin, Brian Walker, Hilary Jackson and a research assistant, Max Goplerud. This project was funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust.

Outputs

5 January 2015

The latest product of our Special Advisers project is a package of online resource materials for Special Adviser. During our research on Special Advisers, one heartfelt plea was for better induction and training materials. This cache of resource material aims to help meet that demand.

19 September 2014

This searchable database contains a list of all special advisers working in Whitehall between 1979 and 2013. The data comes from Hansard, Cabinet Office data releases, and key periodicals. It is searchable by special adviser, minister, department, date and premier.

8 August 2014

Book: 'Special Advisers: Who they are, what they do and why they matter'.

February 2014

The Constitution Unit produced a Handbook, Being a Special Adviser, which is an invaluable guide for Special Advisers on how to operate.

17 December 2013
Max Goplerud's article 'The First Time is (Mostly) the Charm: Special Advisers as Parliamentary Candidates and Members of Parliament'.

31 May 2013

Daniella Lock 'Research Note: Special Advisers and Public Allegations of Misconduct 1997- 2013'.

30 January 2013

Matthew Honeyman 'Research Note: Former Special Advisers in Cabinet, 1979-2013'.

29 May 2012

Robert Hazell, Ben Yong, Peter Waller and Brian Walker 'Constitution Unit submission to the Public Administration Select Committee inquiry on special advisers'.

Resources

Special Adviser Online Resources
The latest product of our Special Advisers project is a package of online resource materials for Special Adviser. During our research on Special Advisers, one heartfelt plea was for better induction and training materials. This cache of resource material aims to help meet that demand.

This searchable database contains a list of all special advisers working in Whitehall between 1979 and 2013. The data comes from Hansard, Cabinet Office data releases, and key periodicals. It is searchable by special adviser, minister, department, date and premier.

Constitution Unit Handbook: Being a Special Adviser
The Constitution Unit has produced a Handbook, Being a Special Adviserwhich is an invaluable guide for Special Advisers on how to operate. 

Institute for Government report: InsideOut: In Defence of Special Advisers
This report by Nick Hillman attempts to explain the job of a departmental special adviser 

Cabinet Office webpage
The official site of the Cabinet Office. Lists of spads are published here.

House of Commons Public Administration Committee: Special Advisers in the Thick of It
The report of the most recent inquiry into the work of special advisers.

Wikipedia entry
Covers the role of spads in the British political system.

Institute for Government
Link to the IfG's research into the role of special advisers.

Blogs and online articles on or by special advisors

Duncan Brack
'Being a special adviser under the coalition' Total Politics (8 May 2012)

Mark Davies
'Farewell to my life as Jack Straw's special adviser' Guardian (18 May 2010)

Nicholas Jones
'The rise and fall of the spin doctor' Personal blog (23 April 2009)

Hywel Williams
Spads-u-like? Why British politics needs its special advisers' Guardian (20 September 2011)

Damian McBride's blog

Conor Ryan's blog

Book Launch
News
SPADs on the Blog