Sir George Young defends Tory vanity staff on public payroll

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A Cabinet minister today defended the practice of putting some Conservative Party officials and aides on the public payroll.

Commons leader Sir George Young said they were brought in to carry out "specific tasks" and it would be more expensive to hire them on a daily basis.

His comments came as he was quizzed over the hiring of so-called vanity staff by Prime Minister David Cameron and other ministers.

Mr Cameron has been criticised over the appointment of his personal photographer Andrew Parsons on a fixed-term contract at the Cabinet Office as thousands of civil servants face redundancy.

Other appointments reportedly include former Tory candidate Rishi Saha to run the Prime Minister's website, Isabel Spearman, a former fashion PR who will run Samantha Cameron's diary, and former head of brand communications for the Tories, Anna-Maren Ashford.

During questions on future business, shadow Commons leader Hilary Benn referred to the row over the appointments, pointing out that Mr Parsons had not attended the Prime Minister's visit to China, and had instead "been left behind with the Foreign Secretary".

He went on: "It is reported that among those who have now also been put on the civil service payroll are a former Conservative candidate, a former fashion PR, and the former head of brand communications, whatever that is, at the Tory Party."

He called for a statement if the reports were true.

Sir George said: "On the photographer. You may have seen what your honourable friend the Member for Great Grimsby (Austin Mitchell) said in his blog: 'It is not only petty to attack Dave for putting his personal photographer on the payroll - it's daft. We need not only a PM photographer but an opposition photographer, a Downing Street photographer and a parliamentary photographer.'

"The previous government spent over half a million pounds on communications and PR, we are cutting this by two-thirds.

"The people you refer to are brought in to do specific tasks where it would be more expensive to hire them on a freelance basis day by day."

Later, Sir George told former Labour former minister Kevin Brennan (Cardiff W): "There are some 90 people employed on short-term contracts in the Cabinet Office, over 50 of those were put in place by the previous government.

"What we are not doing, which is what the previous government did, which is putting civil servants under the line management of special advisers like Jonathan Powell or Alastair Campbell, something that is now outlawed."