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Steerpike

Can Mogg tackle the spiralling spad bill?

Can Mogg tackle the spiralling spad bill?
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Jacob Rees-Mogg has been out and about making the most of his new role. Appointed minister for government efficiency in last month’s reshuffle, the Somerset MP was quick to announce his plans for the brief: a cut of least 65,000 civil servants to shrink Whitehall to the size it was pre-pandemic. The former leader of the Commons also plans to personally review every new vacant post to see if it should be filled.

News of a mandarin crackdown will be welcomed by many in Rees-Mogg’s party, hungry for a diet of red meat after months of Tory drift. But will special advisers be included in the planned bonfire of the bureaucrats? Despite being elected in 2010 on a promise to cut the cost of politics, David Cameron faced a backlash five years later after it was revealed that the amount of taxpayers’ money being spent on these political advisers had increased to £8.4 million.

Since then, that figure has only continued to spiral, with the special adviser pay bill rising by more than 40 per cent from £8.4 million in 2015/16 to £11.9 million in 2020/21, the most recent year for which official figures are available. The number of spads has jumped by nearly 25 per cent from 92 in 2015/2016 to 113 in 2020/21. Indeed the ‘people’s government’ under Boris Johnson now boasts 42 more special advisers than the 71 Gordon Brown had in 2009/10, at a cost to the taxpayer of an extra £5 million a year. Ooft.

It's worth looking to see where all these extra spads are now being hired. David Cameron’s final year in Downing Street saw him employ 32 special advisers as part of his No. 10 team. But according to the most recent annual report, Boris Johnson now has 43 advisers working for him, plus an additional six in his joint Treasury team with Rishi Sunak. If Mogg wants to slash some jobs, perhaps he could ask why the PM’s team has grown by 50 per cent in five years?

Other posts have increased their aide count by a similar scale. Take the post of Foreign Secretary for instance. In Cameron’s last year, poor Philip Hammond had to make do with just three special advisers. Lucky Liz Truss has seven by contrast, though she does have an increased portfolio too. Health Jeremy Hunt had a trio of aides in 2015/16; his successor Sajid Javid now has six instead. The latter’s defence is the exceptional circumstances of Covid. But given Mogg’s logic, shouldn’t Javid reduce his team to pre-pandemic levels too?

Steerpike wishes the minister for government efficiency the best of luck in his role. But if he really does plan on judging each application for a new job, he might have his work cut out, fending off Cabinet colleagues’ desire to hire more apparatchiks.