Added 14 August 2006
Over the past couple of years a number of ads have appeared on our Jobs page advertising Political Assistant posts – based in Local Authority Departments.This prompted a former political assistant to contact W4MP with some useful background information on these jobs. Several MPs’ Staff have moved on to political assistant jobs so we hope any of you contemplating such a move will find this guide useful.
A Guide to Political Assistants’ Pay and the Implications for Political Staff
The True Value of Political Work
Political Assistants were introduced in 1989 as part of the Local Government and Housing Act. The maximum salary threshold at the time was SCP44 approximately £13,500. This was the same salary threshold for determining politically restricted posts.
However, over the last decade Political Assistants salaries have been frozen at about £25,044. Imagine the uproar if MPs salaries had been frozen for such a long period. In fact, I am not aware of any other British worker who has had their salary frozen for such a long period.
The Current Position based on Statutory Instrument No 1509
Statutory Instrument No 1509 Local Government, England. Coming into force 4th July 2006.
The amount specified for the purposes of section 9(3) of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 (assistants for political groups) is £34,986.
Section 9 of the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 provides that each relevant authority can appoint up to three persons to provide assistance to members of political groups in the authority. Their pay is subject to a ceiling set by the Secretary of State.
Each of the three largest political groups on a relevant authority (subject to the third largest having at least 10% of the members of the authority) is entitled to have one political assistant. The general role of political assistants is to undertake research and provide administrative support for political groups. Political assistants are local government employees and, with two exceptions, the regime restricting the political activities of local government employees applies to them. The two exceptions enable them to speak to the public with the intention of affecting support for a political party and to publish or cause to be published written work or other material intended to affect public support for a political party.
The Order provides for an increase in the pay limit that local authorities may pay to political assistants. Like the 1995 Order, the limit is aligned with the salary rate at which political restrictions start to apply to officers generally in local authorities (spinal column point 44 of the salary scales for local government officers incorporated in the National Joint Council’s Scheme). The limit has fallen significantly behind spinal column point 44 threshold and it is therefore considered appropriate to give local authorities the power to increase pay to this threshold if they judge that this is necessary.
The Implications for Political Staff
Already some local authorities are responding positively and raising the salaries of political assistants. There is currently, mutual beneficial cross movement of political staff between Westminster and local authorities, improving the political knowledge and skills of both national and local government. Improvements in the pay of local government political staff should make it easier to obtain improvements in the pay of Westminster’s political staff, if Westminster is to compete for the best political staff. A general rise in political staff’s pay will enable the political sector to compete more effectively with other sectors such as the media, advertising, consultants, law and finance for the best graduates.
Why should our democracy be valued any less?
Ian Scott was previously a local government Political Assistant and is now a local government Scrutiny Officer. In his role as a UNISON representative he represents political assistants and is keen to achieve pay justice for them.
Over the last 5 years Ian has been campaigning for the lifting of political restrictions for council staff below chief officers as he believes the current restrictions are unnecessarily infringing officers’ human rights to freedom of expression. The Government is currently reviewing political restrictions with the objective of achieving a more reasonable and sensible solution which balances the need for protecting human rights whilst ensuring objective advice from local government officers.
For more information: Ref: Hansard 10 March 2004.