New code to cap salaries of special advisers to North’s Ministers

Revised policy agreed by the Executive includes measures to improve transparency and accountability

The revised measures make clear that Ministers are responsible for the management, conduct and discipline of their special advisers. Photograph: Getty Images

The revised measures make clear that Ministers are responsible for the management, conduct and discipline of their special advisers. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Salaries for special advisers to Northern Ireland’s Ministers are to be capped at £85,000 per year (€99,600) under a revised code of conduct published on Monday. The new policy, which has been agreed by the North’s Executive, also includes measures to improve transparency and accountability.

Sixteen special advisers are due to be appointed by Ministers this week following the restoration of the North’s power-sharing Assembly at Stormont.

Concerns had been raised over the influence and lack of accountability of special advisers during the inquiry into the Renewable Heating Initiative (RHI) scheme. The inquiry’s report is due to be published soon.

The revised measures make clear that Ministers are responsible for the management, conduct and discipline of their special advisers. They are required to “keep good records and use official email accounts”, as well as to publish details of their meetings with external organisations and gifts and hospitality received.

Special advisers are required to serve the Executive as a whole, not just their own Minister. There will be an annual statement of the cost of special advisers, including any severance paid, and the salaries of those in the two highest pay bands will be published.

The maximum salary cap of £85,000 is almost £7,000 less than the previous maximum salary of £91,809. Salaries will now be in three bands of up to £54,999, £55,000 to £69,000, and £70,000 to £85,000.

They will also be required to declare any conflict of interests.

High standards

The North’s Minister for Finance, Conor Murphy, said special advisers were a “critical part” of the ministerial team, and they “should be subject to, and adhere to, the high standards expected of those in public life”.

“Given the public’s legitimate concerns in this regard I have moved quickly to produce and agree strengthened rules.If public confidence in these institutions is to be rebuilt it is essential that these rules and the values that underpin them are put into practice.”

Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister MLA said the code did not go far enough.

“Much of the content of changes to the code of conduct I do not disagree with, but the fundamental point remains: for a code of conduct to be given bite it needs to be complemented by legislation underscoring its provisions and providing for enforcement.”