NICOLA Sturgeon has hired a record number of special advisers, with the wage bill likely to be the highest in the history of the Scottish parliament.
The First Minister has appointed 15 special advisers – known as spads – so far, with two advisers now being paid the top wage bracket.
Prior to the Holyrood elections in May, there were 14 advisers with just one, former chief of staff Liz Lloyd, earning between £90,565 and £108,062.
However according to the latest information released by the Scottish Government, new chief of staff Colin McAllister has been added to the top bracket along with Ms Lloyd who returns as an adviser on strategic policy.
They are joined by 13 others, with just one in the lowest pay bracket of between £41,442 and £55,582.
Eight spads are earning between £55,583 and £68,307, while four are paid between £68,308 and £91,336.
Ms Sturgeon’s record number of 15 advisers already outstrips her four predecessors, with the wage bill reaching at least £981,000 a year.
However after the cooperation agreement with the Scottish Greens, which will see them given two spads of their own, the total number of spads will reach 17 at a cost of more than £1.063m a year in taxpayer cash.
The wage bill is likely to be even higher, however, with the calculation based on the lowest salary in the pay band. Those who have been in the job longer are likely to be earning more than the minimum.
Spads are classed as temporary civil servants, who advise ministers on policy. However Scottish Labour says there is no evidence they are value for money, and have questioned the growing wage bill.
It has more than trebled since Donald Dewar’s era, when just seven spads were hired at a cost of around £398,000 . Henry McLeish is reported to have had 11 spads, while Jack McConnell hired 12.
Alex Salmond raised the total again to 14, however Ms Sturgeon’s 15-strong team of temporary civil servants breaks a parliamentary record.
Daniel Johnson MSP, Scottish Labour’s finance spokesman, said: “The SNP’s political operation is spiralling – and it‘s taxpayers who are footing the bill.
“Now the SNP/Green coalition cooked up in smoke filled rooms is set to send the cost to the taxpayer even higher.
“We see the number of spads and Ministers piling up to the astonishing sum of more than £1 million, but there is no sign that we’re getting any value for money.
“Hiring more and more expensive advisers on the public purse is no substitute for political vision – something that the SNP sorely lack.”
The Liberal Democrats said the appointment of two Green spads was “further confirmation that they aren’t an opposition party any longer.”
A spokeswoman added: “That must be reflected in the operation of Parliament to protect the institution, the separation of powers and its critical job scrutinising the government.
“The Greens cannot have it both ways.”
The Scottish Conservatives said the SNP were “hell-bent” on wasting money.
The party’s chief whip Stephen Kerr MSP said, “The SNP-Green nationalist coalition government is going to spend more than £1 million on the salary of political advisors – a shocking new record high.
“The SNP are hell-bent on wasting as much of the hard-earned money of the Scottish people as they can whilst in government.
“At a time when many families are being forced to tighten their belts and make sacrifices, this government is being extravagant with the nation’s finances.
“They clearly have very different priorities to the Scottish people, spending money on political spin instead of protecting jobs and restoring our economy.”
The Scottish Government said: “Special Advisers provide important assistance to Ministers on the development of policy and its presentation. Their appointment is designed to reinforce the political impartiality of the permanent Civil Service by providing Ministers with a separate channel for political advice and assistance. Their pay arrangements are consistent with the Scottish Government’s public sector pay policy.”