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Party leaders defend political advisors

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TAXPAYERS could be forking out as much as £100,000 a year to pay for "political assistants" for the three main parties on Surrey County Council.

The role of the professional political advisor ranges from advising councillors on political issues to dealing with the media, preparing speeches and briefing notes and carrying out policy research.

But the jobs, which are provided by Surrey County Council and therefore funded by the taxpayer, are considered controversial by some because they must also be sympathetic to the political views of the party workers represent.

Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have a full-time adviser while the Housing Association and Independent group has a role that amounts to 0.56 of a full-time role.

Although the county council refused to disclose individual pay, the national cap on the salary for these roles is £34,986 a year, which means taxpayers could be paying anything from £89,564 to £104,958 a year.

Leaders of two of the main parties on Surrey County Council defended their use of political assistants, saying they offered a valuable tool to help councillors do their jobs.

Hazel Watson, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: "Political assistants provide useful support to councillors, such as admin and research, which frees up time for councillors to face local residents and I think they provide good value for money.

"I think it's perfectly fair for them to be funded by the taxpayer.

"There are political assistants across the country and Surrey County Council isn't unusual. For the opposition, it's invaluable with trying to find out information."

Councillor Nick Harrison, leader of the Housing Association and Independent Residents' Association Group, added: "We don't have a national organisation which could provide the sort of skills that other parties provide so political assistants do provide us with useful research skills, press releases and research for select committees and questions to cabinet members. Our political assistant is also only part-time."

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said it was for individual councils to decide whether or not to fund political assistant roles and there was no requirement to have them.

"Councils should be able to justify all their staffing decisions in light of the need to make sensible saving," the spokesman added on the question of whether or not the council should continue to fund the roles.

Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, questioned why taxpayers should continue to foot the bill for the political appointments at a time when councils are facing increasing pressure to reduce spending.

Councillor David Hodge, leader of Surrey County Council and the controlling Conservative Group, hadn't provided a comment before the Mirror went to press.

Party leaders defend  political advisors


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