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Ministers Warned Over Employing 'Spads'
Ministers have been warned over employment of special advisers after they were repeatedly ridiculed in a TV sitcom.
In a report entitled Special Advisers In The Thick Of It, the cross-party Public Administration Select Committee called for greater transparency in the employment of so-called Spads.
The report, named after the cult BBC political sitcom which satirises the inner workings of Whitehall, said the show contained "more than a grain of truth" about Spads.
Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin said that special advisers - taxpayer funded but personally appointed by individual ministers - should be neither "shady characters practising the political dark arts" nor "political bag carriers" for politicians.
In addition to greater transparency about their appointments, clarity is urged for their qualifications for the job and the specific remit they have been asked to fulfil.
It called for ministers to take full responsibility, rather than just accountability, for the activities of their Spads, pointing out that no minister in living memory has resigned over an adviser's behaviour.
The committee urged the Government to explicitly state in its guidance that special advisers must not be involved in quasi-judicial matters in future.
Spads are temporary civil servants who, unlike keenly impartial career civil servants, are usually loyal to one particular minister and provide party political assistance.
The committee called for ministers to ensure that their Spads are people of "standing and experience" - as recommended by the Fulton Committee during Harold Wilson's first premiership.
The new report also urged that they be given better training and support for the roles that they are being asked to undertake.
Mr Jenkin said the power of The Thick Of It, which portrays Spads as scheming and amoral, lies "in the fact that there is more than a grain of truth in the drama".
He said: "We have seen special advisers sacked for being the focus of potential scandal; for a past which caught up with them; for being wholly under-qualified; and taking the rap for failing to understand the limits of their role which should have been explained to them. All this is avoidable.
"Clearly, as a succession of departures has exposed, governments of both parties should take more care about the character and record of whom they appoint as special advisers."
Mr Jenkin added: "They have become indispensable because they can remove the need for permanent civil servants and support the more political roles of ministers."