MLAs pocket £275k for travel to Stor­mont de­spite its sus­pen­sion

Belfast Telegraph - - NEWS | POLITICS - BY VIC­TO­RIA LEONARD

MORE than £275,000 has been paid to MLAs for travel from their con­stituen­cies to Stor­mont from April 2017 un­til June 2018 de­spite the fact that the Assem­bly hasn’t sat since Jan­uary 2017.

The fig­ures, which were pub­lished on the Assem­bly web­site, re­veal that Mem­bers were paid a to­tal of £277,466.27 in a pe­riod in which Stor­mont was in sta­sis.

MLAs still use the build­ing for a va­ri­ety of pur­poses in­clud­ing meet­ings, talks to try and re­store de­vo­lu­tion and con­stituency is­sues.

Sinn Fein vice pres­i­dent Michelle O’Neill was paid £5,374.95, while SDLP leader Colum East­wood was paid £7,375.01.

DUP leader Ar­lene Fos­ter and her Al­liance coun­ter­part Naomi Long are among the MLAs who are listed as hav­ing re­ceived no pay­ment for travel to Par­lia­ment Build­ings.

Assem­bly Mem­bers are en­ti­tled to an an­nual al­lowance for travel from their con­stituency to Stor­mont, which is de­ter­mined by the con­stituency they rep­re­sent. This ranges from £600 in Belfast to £6,200 in Fer­managh and South Ty­rone.

In 2016 the In­de­pen­dent Fi­nan­cial Re­view Panel ruled that MLAs are en­ti­tled to the full al­lowance if they at­tend the Assem­bly for 72 or more work­ing days a year.

For each work­ing day less than this that the Mem­ber at­tends, the al­lowance is re­duced by one per cent.

How­ever, the num­ber of days needed is due to rise to 100 amid con­cerns that the ex­ist­ing rules are not ap­pro­pri­ate dur­ing the po­lit­i­cal stale­mate.

An MLA is not en­ti­tled to an al­lowance if they use an of­fi­cial car for trav­el­ling to the Assem­bly, and if a mem­ber uses an of­fi­cial car for part of the year, the al­lowance is re­duced ac­cord­ingly. The fig­ures also re­veal that MLAs were paid a to­tal of £79,742.08 in travel ex­penses within their con­stituen­cies be­tween April 2017 and June 2018.

Al­lowances range from £250 in Belfast to £1,250 in Fer­managh and South Ty­rone. De­tails of con­stituency of­fice ex­penses have been made pub­lic too.

MLAs re­ceived a to­tal of £1,563,602.74 be­tween April 2017 and June 2018.

In ad­di­tion, some MLAs were paid re­set­tle­ment or ill health al­lowances to­talling £326,668.33.

SDLP MLA John Dal­lat, for­mer deputy chair of the Pub­lic Ac­counts Com­mit­tee, said that it was dif­fi­cult to jus­tify any ex­penses when Stor­mont was not up and run­ning.

He told the Belfast Tele­graph: “The longer the Assem­bly is not func­tion­ing the more ridicu­lous it be­comes and the more an­gry the pub­lic feel, and they have ev­ery jus­ti­fi­ca­tion.

“In my con­stituency I am work­ing flat out and I am do­ing a lot of trav­el­ling for which I haven’t claimed any money.

“These fig­ures make a good ar­gu­ment for get­ting the Assem­bly back up and func­tion­ing as soon as pos­si­ble. The Assem­bly is not the best value for money at the mo­ment.”

Last month Sec­re­tary of State Karen Bradley an­nounced that MLAs’ salaries are fac­ing a re­duc­tion of more than £13,000.

Salaries will be cut by more than £7,000 from Novem­ber and a fur­ther re­duc­tion of more than £6,000 will come into force from Fe­bru­ary if par­ties can­not agree to Stor­mont’s restora­tion.

The ini­tial re­duc­tion will see MLAs’ salaries fall from £49,500 to £35,888, fol­lowed by a fur­ther re­duc­tion of £6,187.

It has now been 21 months since Stor­mont col­lapsed af­ter the late Martin McGuin­ness re­signed as Deputy First Min­is­ter in protest against the DUP’s han­dling of the Re­new­able Heat In­cen­tive scheme.

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