THE Scottish Government is creating a new communications department to help ministers get their message across in the run-up to the referendum.

The directorate of communications and ministerial supportwill include 230 press officers and civil servants running ministers' private offices.

News of the move sparked fresh claims that ministers were politicising the civil service but the Government insisted it was to save money.

Under the plan, press officers and close ministerial aides will all report to a high-powered new communications chief, expected to be recruited in the next few months. The £87,500 post has just been advertised in the public relations and marketing trade press.

Moves to reorganise the Government's press office operation emerged a day after the ministers hired three new political advisers, taking the total 13, the highest since devolution.

The wage bill for spin doctors and advisers, who are funded by the taxpayer but not bound by civil service rules on impartiality, will be £933,000 this year.

The creation of the communications directorate effectively upgrades the existing press office, at present a stand-alone unit within the civil service.

The press office will merge with the ministerial support unit, previously part of the cabinet and strategy directorate, meaning ministers' closest aides will work much more closely with press officers.

The existing press office has been headed by Andrew Baird who is leaving to join a PR firm.

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie said: "This is yet another deeply concerning development in the SNP's politicisation of our independent civil service.

"The press team have gained power and control after morphing into a fully fledged directorate with all the authority that brings.

"It's clear evidence that the message makers and spinners are king in Alex Salmond's government now even taking over absolute control of ministerial diaries."

Labour MSP Paul Martin said: "People will be very surprised to hear the Government is appointing a powerful new communications chief days after ministers hired three new spin doctors.

"It seems the Government's message is more important to them than fixing some of the real problems facing Scotland."

The Scottish Government said the creation of the new department was part of a process to streamline the civil service.

A spokesman said the new directorate would "reduce senior civil service costs, while continuing to deliver excellent support to ministers".