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Tuesday, 18 December, 2001, 01:43 GMT
No open field for special advisers
Jo Moore, special adviser to Transport Secretary Stephen Byers
Jo Moore renewed concerns about special advisers
Calls for the appointment of special advisers like controversial spin doctor Jo Moore to be thrown open to full competition have been rejected by the government.

An influential committee of MPs had argued the change could reduce the risk of ministers unfairly being accused of "cronyism".

The personal appointment of advisers by ministers inevitably makes them vulnerable to unfounded accusations of cronyism

Tony Wright
Labour MP
Instead, the government says it is "not persuaded" it should fall in line with the example set by Welsh First Minister Rhodri Morgan, who has opened special adviser jobs to competition.

Ministers have also refused to cap the amount of public money spent on special advisers, saying they have already agreed there should be a limit on their overall numbers.

Moore controversy

The 81 special advisers employed by the government cost taxpayers around 4m a year and compare with the 38 given jobs under the last Conservative government.

Controversy over special advisers was reignited this autumn by the furore over Jo Moore, the special adviser to Transport Secretary Stephen Byers.

Ms Moore sparked anger when she wrote an e-mail suggesting 11 September was a "good day" to bury bad news.

Government communications director Alastair Campbell
Communications director Alastair Campbell is the most high profile adviser
The government's response to the Commons Public Administration Committee's report on special advisers is published on Tuesday.

MPs on the committee recommended in March this year that special adviser posts be publicly advertised and ministers given a choice between suitable applicants.

But the government says it is unpersuaded a change was needed.

"Since their inception in the early 1970s, it has been the nature of special adviser appointments that they should be outside the rules of fair and open competition as they are personal appointments made by the minister at his or her request to meet particular needs," says the government response.

It argues ministers need a combination of political and personal commitment, expertise and personal trust.

'End cronyism attacks'

Public Administration Committee chairman Tony Wright urged the government to act rapidly to deliver on its pledge to introduce a Civil Service Act.

Such a move could help improve public confidence in the way the UK was governed, he argued.

Dr Wright continued: "The personal appointment of advisers by ministers inevitably makes them vulnerable to unfounded accusations of cronyism.

"Our recommendations would have lessened that danger.

"The decision of the Welsh First Minister to advertise his special adviser posts challenges UK ministers to re-examine their own less transparent approach."

The MPs praised the government for making "commendable recent progress" on special advisers, including a code on how they should operate.

But they pushed for clear lines of accountability for special advisers in Downing Street, where a new policy directorate is jointed chaired by a civil servant and a political adviser.

The government argues special advisers are not a new innovation and points out that only 11 of the 81 now employed are primarily involved in communications.

Tony Wright, Commons Public Administration Committee
says they are making progress but more changes are required
See also:

17 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Aide's memo 'stupid and wrong' - Blair
13 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Government advisers under fire
13 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Spinning out of control
26 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Ministers agree to limit spin doctors
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