Public Administration CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Steve Bates (SPAD 12)

I apologise for being late in the submission of evidence for your inquiry but thought there might be some perspectives I can offer as the Special Advisor who has been in the most departments of government in history (Northern Ireland, Cabinet Office, Leader of the House, Department of Health, Ministry of Defence and Home Office) in the Blair administration.

I am of the view that political special advisors fulfil a vital role and should be supported better in the task they do, because good special advice helps deliver good government in line with manifesto commitments.

I am strongly of the view that some form of SPAD school should be set up—this should be compulsory for all incoming SPADs and be operated on an all party basis—perhaps in parliament—open both to those who senior politicians think might be asked to do this role, or individuals who wish to apply. Successful completion could be seen as a development/training opportunity for researchers etc—but not be seen as guaranteeing such a job.

As a new SPAD I learnt the job as I went along—and this puts an individual and a department at risk if a mistake is made. Different departments treat SPADs in very different ways. Working in a department is also a significantly different role to working in No 10 or a central function—a view you heard a lot of in your oral evidence.

SPAD school could also help SPADS who do not have a strong appreciation of party processes and structures understand the importance and structure of each party’s constitution and policy process, this would best be done on a party by party basis. 

The rudiments of what it is appropriate for departmental press offices to deal with, what it makes sense for an MP’s office to deal with and what is the remit of the SPAD in media work should also be taught.

I think it would be of use for SPADs to be assigned a mentor for their first year and this should not be a civil servant, so they can ask questions and understand boundaries.  

I would be happy to provide my experience to any such endeavour and commend the committee for looking into this role. 

June 2012

Prepared 10th October 2012