Downing Street website for special adviser jobs slammed by civil service union chief

Written by Alain Tolhurst and Richard Johnstone on 2 March 2020 in News
News

FDA general secretary Dave Penman says online recruitment of digital and comms specialists ‘looks like a ruse to get around open and fair selection’

Credit: PA

Downing Street has been accused of attempting to use the hiring of special advisers as a way to circumvent civil service recruitment rules after the government launched a website intended to centralise appointments of ministerial aides.

The website, www.spadjobs.uk, was launched last with the aim of attracting people from the corporate world to take on roles as special advisers in government rather than those who work in and around Westminster.

It follows a call by Boris Johnson's chief adviser Dominic Cummings for “weirdos and misfits” to apply for roles alongside him in a bizarre job ad posted on his personal blog.

The new site is calling for those with a "track record of success working in communications or digital fields to apply", to help "support the government’s work to level up the country".

It is a Conservative party rather than government initiative, with the website stating: “Traditionally these roles are not made available for anyone to apply, but it is the Conservative party’s ambition for the whole country to be represented in government, and the party is therefore encouraging talented applicants from all walks of life and from all parts of the UK to apply to work at the heart of government.”


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It has hired the firm Hanbury Strategy to oversee the new system, which will mean every new spad has to be screened and vetted by the Conservative party, in a further centralisation of the hiring of special advisers. 

A number of special advisers were moved to work for new ministers in this month’s government reshuffle, breaking the personal link between the minister and adviser. There have also been moves to merge the special adviser teams between No.10 and the Treasury. 

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA civil service union, said the reforms raised concerns the government is abusing the provision that allows special advisers to be hired as temporary civil servants outside open and fair selection rules.

The exemption for special advisers exists because they are “essentially personal advisers to individual ministers”, he said on Twitter yesterday, but these reforms essentially turn the jobs into policy roles “that should filled by open and fair competition”.

“They’re currently being moved on a whim and under threat to avoid link with ministers, the very essence of what makes a spad,” he said. “This will just embed that. Ministers losing trusted advisers and roving policy “experts” recruited outside O&F [open and fair] selection won’t make for better government.”

The launch of the centralised recruitment process “simply confirms No.10 is abusing this exemption to try to get around CS impartiality rules,” he said. “Policy advisers who move around Govt departments should be civil servants. This looks like a ruse to get around open and fair selection.”

 

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