Spin Doctors Must Be Controlled, Blair Told; WATCHDOG URGES TOUGH CONDUCT CODE FOR ADVISERS
Byline: GRAEME WILSON
TONY Blair must impose strict guidelines on media briefings by New Labour's spin doctors and ensure they do not undermine the civil service's political impartiality, Whitehall's sleaze watchdog will argue today.
Lord Neill will urge the Downing Street to draw up a tough code of conduct for special advisers the ministerial aides who have more than doubled in number since Labour came to power in 1997.
In a hard-hitting report, he will stress that the current model contract for politically-appointed advisers makes no mention of media briefing one of their most important and controversial roles.
Following Opposition complaints that major Government initiatives are routinely leaked to the media before being announced in Parliament, Lord Neill will argue for 'greater clarity' on relations between the advisers and the press.
Lord Neill, who is chairman of the committee on standards in public life, will also respond to fears that the rising number of such advisers is leading to a creeping politicisation of the civil service. He will call for the new conduct code to recognise the impartiality of Whitehall mandarins and their staff and recommend much clearer guidance on relations between such advisers and the career civil servants they work alongside.
The increased numbers and influence of these political appointees underlines the need for a code of conduct, the report will add.
There are as many as 76 special advisers now -there were 38 under John Major and their salary bill stands at more than [pounds sterling]4million a year. Government figures show that a further [pounds sterling]500,000 was spent on foreign trips by special advisers in Labour's first two years in power.
There has been an even bigger rise in advisers in Downing Street from eight under Mr Major to 22. 'Ministers, MPs and civil servants all have a code of conduct. Special advisers seem to have slipped through the net and we think it's time to clarify their role,' said one source last night. …