David Cameron's chief spin doctor, Andy Coulson, is the highest-paid political adviser in the Government, earning more than Nick Clegg and only £2,500 less than the Prime Minister. The former News of the World editor, who was drafted in to run Mr Cameron's media strategy in 2007, receives £140,000 a year as director of communications at No 10, according to Cabinet Office figures unmasking the pay given to Whitehall's army of 61 special advisers.
While the figure is more than the £134,565 paid to the Deputy Prime Minister and all other Cabinet ministers, it represents a huge pay cut from the annual salary of £275,000 Mr Coulson earned as the director of communications for the Conservative Party. A government source said Mr Coulson had always been clear he would be happy to take a pay cut should the Tories win the election.
Two other members of Mr Cameron's political staff were found to have six-figure salaries. Ed Llewellyn, his chief of staff who also has strong Liberal Democrat contacts after working with Lord Ashdown, earns £125,000. Kate Fall, Mr Llewellyn's deputy, earns £100,000.
Downing Street is home to 18 political advisers, who are paid from the public purse. Unlike other civil servants, all special advisers are allowed to give political briefings on behalf of their ministers. Steve Hilton, Mr Cameron's strategy chief, earns £90,000, well below the six-figure income he had been paid by the Conservative Party. Senior Tory sources said neither Mr Coulson nor Mr Hilton earned any extra income from the party as their contracts had been terminated. Gabby Bertin, Mr Cameron's spokeswoman, earns £80,000. Lena Pietsch, who does the same job for Mr Clegg, earns the same amount.
The figures, released yesterday as part of the Government's drive to inject more transparency into Whitehall, showed the total bill for special advisers was £4.9m, almost £1.9m less than under Gordon Brown's premiership. The number of advisers has also been cut from the 78 that were working under Labour at the end of March, to the 68 posts made available by the Tories. Seven positions have yet to be filled.
After Mr Coulson's wage packet was revealed, Labour immediately called on the Prime Minister to tell the Commons why an adviser was being handed more than Cabinet ministers. Tom Watson, the former Cabinet Office minister, accused Mr Cameron of overseeing a "significant increase" in the number of spin doctors at No 10. "Is it possible to get a minister to come to the House and explain this seeming anomaly that a hired hand is paid more than an elected Deputy Prime Minister," he asked.
The appointment of some special advisers has already caused a headache for Mr Cameron. Iain Duncan Smith, the Welfare Secretary, has been criticised for recruiting Philippa Stroud, who failed to win a seat at the election. Ms Stroud, who is paid £69,250, had been involved in a row after claims – which she denies – that she helped set up churches which attempted to "cure" homosexuality.
A clampdown in the rules for special advisers accompanied the details of their pay. They will now have future employment applications reviewed by a lobbying watchdog for two years after leaving the Government. The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments will vet their new posts and could put conditions on any moves. Advisers will also have to publish details of any gifts and hospitality they have been given every three months.
Several Labour advisers who had worked in Mr Brown's government won seats at the last election, including Michael Dugher, John Woodcock and Emma Reynolds. Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, said the changes would "let light into the innermost corridors of power".
Special advisers: Who they are – and what they are paid
Andy Coulson, £140,000
Former red top editor, now Cameron's top spin doctor. Had been paid £275,000 by the Tories before heading to No 10.
Ed Llewellyn, £125,000
Cameron's chief of staff, with a good reputation across political parties. Worked for Lord Ashdown in Bosnia.
Steve Hilton, £90,000
Strategy chief keen on using the latest marketing trends. Seen as hugely influential, but on £50,000 less than Coulson.
Richard Reeves, £85,000
Former head of Demos think tank, drafted in from the private sector to advise Nick Clegg.
Philippa Stroud, £69,200
The controversial former parliamentary candidate has now been appointed as an adviser to the Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies