A Cabinet Minister may appoint up to two special advisers to his or her departmental staff. Special advisers are temporary civil servants, employed for the duration of an administration to provide a political dimension to the non-partisan work of the general civil service. They are appointed to undertake tasks that would inappropriate for career civil servants and to operate where government policy and party politics overlap. Their salaries are paid by the Crown.
Special advisers may review policy papers prepared by departmental staff as well as prepare their own policy documents and plan future strategies. They may liaise with the party machine and brief MPs on departmental policies as well as add political content to speeches and other documents drafted by impartial civil servants. As employees of the Crown, they may not speak at party conferences.
The number of special advisers appointed by Ministers will often draw criticism from political opponents, who claim that the Government of the day is seeking to politicise the work of the Civil Service. As political appointees at the heart of government, special advisers are subjected to a high degree of scrutiny, although they cannot be required to appear before select committees to give evidence.
A Cabinet Minister who wishes to appoint further advisers must request the permission of the Prime Minister to appoint special expert advisers.