UK

Special advisers got £2.9m in severance payments amid political upheaval

Last year’s political upheaval saw ministers paid more than £400,000 in severance packages (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Last year’s political upheaval saw ministers paid more than £400,000 in severance packages (Stefan Rousseau/PA) Last year’s political upheaval saw ministers paid more than £400,000 in severance packages (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Severance payments to ministers’ special advisers reached nearly £3 million over the last year amid political upheaval in Westminster, with ministers also paid more than £400,000 after job exits.

The last year saw a raft of resignations and sackings, with the turmoil creating a significant bill for the Government in severance payments to special advisers, or spads in Whitehall lingo.

An annual report on special advisers, published on Thursday ahead of summer recess, detailed £2.9 million in severance as part of a total pay bill of £15.9 million between April 2022 and March 2023.

A special adviser’s appointment automatically ends alongside a minister when they resign or are sacked.

Chris Pincher
Chris Pincher Chris Pincher received a severance payment of almost £8,000 (Aaron Chown/PA)

Figures released by Government departments also showed a total of £455,392 was paid out to former ministers, some of whom rejoined government just months later.

Former prime ministers Boris Johnson and Liz Truss both received £18,660 after resigning, while Kwasi Kwarteng was given £16,876 when he quit as chancellor after less than six weeks in the job.

Among the other ministers to receive severance payments was Chris Pincher, who resigned as deputy chief whip over allegations he groped two men in the Carlton Club, precipitating the crisis that saw Mr Johnson leave office.

Mr Pincher received a £7,920 severance payment after stepping down at the end of June 2022.

The Commons Standards Committee recommended earlier in July that Mr Pincher be suspended from the House for eight weeks, after upholding the allegations and finding he had damaged the reputation of the Commons.

Thursday is the last day for Mr Pincher, who remains MP for Tamworth, to lodge an appeal against the committee’s findings, but the summer recess means even if he does not appeal, MPs will not be able to approve his suspension until September.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have criticised the decision of numerous former ministers to accept the severance payments.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “After the mess the Tories have left our country in, they should be hanging their heads in embarrassment, not walking away with an enormous payoff.

“At a time when people up and down the country are struggling to pay their mortgages and put food on the table, it shows a staggering lack of shame for them to accept this money, but is exactly what we’ve come to expect from a bunch of Tories who only care about themselves.”

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper called for the payouts to be given back.

She said: “This is a slap in the face for all those who have seen their mortgages soar because of Truss and Kwarteng’s disastrous mini-budget.

Grant Shapps
Grant Shapps Grant Shapps is reported to have given some of the money to charity (James Manning/PA)

“It is frankly insulting that whilst people struggle with the cost-of-living crisis, those responsible for their financial hardship are being showered with tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ cash.

“If any of these disgraced former Conservative ministers had a shred of integrity left they would hand these payouts back.”

Ministers are entitled to receive severance payments worth a quarter of their ministerial salary on leaving office, provided they are aged under 65 and are not reappointed within three weeks.

But some ministers who received severance payments last year returned to government within months.

They include Grant Shapps, who received £16,876 when Ms Truss replaced him as transport secretary at the beginning of September 2022, but returned as home secretary a month later.

He is reported to have given half of his payment to charity.

Michael Gove also received £16,876 when he was sacked by Mr Johnson as levelling-up secretary, a role he has returned to under Rishi Sunak.

Both his successors – caretaker Greg Clark and Truss appointee Sir Simon Clarke – also received £16,876 on leaving the department.

Ministers can choose not to take a severance payment, while some returned their payments when they were reappointed.

Mr Sunak, for example, repaid the £16,876 he received when he quit as chancellor.

The payments have been disclosed by the publication of Government departments’ annual reports, most of which have been released on Thursday.

The Treasury’s report shows that, alongside the payments made to ministers, the controversial sacking of top civil servant Sir Tom Scholar cost the taxpayer £457,000 in severance and other payments.

Sir Tom was dismissed as the Treasury’s permanent secretary in September 2022, just as Mr Kwarteng took over as chancellor.

The move was criticised at the time, given Sir Tom’s long experience at the department, and economists and former civil servants have subsequently said his dismissal contributed to the market’s negative reaction to Mr Kwarteng’s mini-budget.

The Treasury’s annual accounts, published on Thursday, show that Sir Tom received a £335,000 severance payment on his dismissal as permanent secretary, along with £122,000 in annual leave adjustments, payments in lieu of notice and other payments.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Obviously, there are laws that need to be followed at all times when coming up with agreements on severance pay.”