Slugger O'Toole

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MLAs have lower salaries, but less onerous duties than anyone else in the UK…

Mon 19 November 2012, 11:14am

So the boundaries changes are stuck. Nothing to do with us, or our MLAs. Nick Clegg turned ona sixpence and decided not to play ball, after losing the AV referendum. The proposed changes would almost certainly end the UUP as a Belfast party, and severely challenge the remaining SDLP representatives.

But Liam Clarke’s been crunching numbers. And whilst Stormont’s MLAs get less than anyone else in the UK, he shows some good reason for it:

In Westminster an MP is paid £65,738 and here an MLA gets £43,101, just 65.6% of a Westminster salary. But when you look at how much they are paid per constituency the picture changes – an MP gets 65p for each person represented but an MLA gets £2.64, more than four times as much.

Compared to an MLA’s £2.64, an MSP in Scotland is paid £57,521, far more than an MLA, but the MSP gets only £1.44 per constituent. In Wales an Assembly Member gets £53,852, which works out at £1.08 per head in the constituency.

It couldn’t be clearer that, compared to other jurisdictions, we don’t pay our MLAs particularly well. We may not attract the most able people, but, on the other hand, we are grossly overstaffed.

Quite. Productivity levels are hard to measure, particularly within the legislative body.

Counting legislative units hardly gives a robust measure, though the number of European fines awarded on foot of ministerial inaction might give a clearer impression of how ineffective the assembly is at bringing the Executive to account.

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Comments (13)

  1. Drumlins Rock (profile) says:

    Scottish Councillors get up to £17,000 while NI ones are on less than £10,000. Wales the basic is £13,000. England has that many different types of council comparisons are difficult. Considering half our MPs don’t even lift most or all of that salary you could add that figure in too.

    I don’t think anyone is arguing that 108 is too many, personally because of my rural location I still prefer a 80-90 figure, however as you started with it was Nick who scuppered the first necessary step on that road, nothing to do with the NI parties.

    Our “special circumstances” do still warant some extra representation for a while yet, we don’t have normal politics. And when you consider much of the country does not have active MPs some of those duties also fall back on the MLA’s.

    Finally Mick, any chance of getting the comparable figures for Munster shall we say? I have a sneaking suspicion that even with one less layer of administration the costs could be similar!

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  2. Mick Fealty (profile) says:

    Which layer would you knock out?

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  3. Drumlins Rock (profile) says:

    Irish TD, basic salary £74,000, £2.90 per constituent.

    Throw in another 20p for MEPs per constituent ( NI cost 10p )

    Almost forgot Senators get £52,000, 72p per citizen.

    Councillors get £13,000 basic.

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  4. Drumlins Rock (profile) says:

    Europe :) .

    Mick we have no more layers than anywhere else, and I actully dont think we need major structural changes at all, some council mergers to 15, and constuencies to the number proposed, a few extra powers to councils, not alot. 96 MLAs will do ok for now of boundaries passed.

    Biggest and most important area you didn’t even mention is reducing the number of departments and ministers, with their bloated salaries and SPADS galore, that the where the real gross wastage is taking place.

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  5. iluvni (profile) says:

    Given the absolute shite that’s going on in the Assembly Chamber right now, the wages are £43101 too high.

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  6. “I don’t think anyone is arguing that 108 is too many”

    We’ll soon change that. 108 is far too many. Many of them are a waste of space and surplus to requirements. The Assembly should be cut by a third, at least. Then the ones left can have their pay rise.

    £43,101 is also more than an average salary. You could argue that being an MLA is more than just an “above-average job.”

    I would not accept that and neither does the law of supply and demand. There are many equally competent people in Northern Ireland who would like a crack at it.

    Our “special circumstances” do still warant some extra representation for a while yet for a while yet, we don’t have normal politics

    Oh please. It is the other way around. So long as so many politicians fail to reach outside their own community, they do not deserve to be paid a salary that implies they represent an entire constituency.

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  7. Drumlins Rock (profile) says:

    Seymour, I meant everyone thinks 108 is too many, bad use of English, sorry there.

    As for representation it is more the other way round, many constituents do not want to be represented by old enemies.

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  8. The cost of an MLA per head is only meaningful if you think an MLA’s workload should be proportional to the number of their constituents – but it is clearly not. Most of a legislator’s work is (or should be) writing and scrutinising legislation, which depends mainly on how much legislation needs to be passed, which in turn is a function of what powers the parliament/assembly has. From that point of view, MLAs and MSPs should be identical in both numbers and pay, regardless of the relative size of their jurisdictions, and so 108 MLAs is not excessive (assuming of course that MLAs are hard at work legislating, which is not obvious from their record so far). If NI has “too many” MLAs per head it must therefore be because the population of NI is “too small”. But that’s a different argument.

    On the other hand, the same comparison would indicate that twelve government departments is unnecessary – Scotland has 8 cabinet members, for example. While it is popular to bash politicians, their salaries collectively don’t amount to a hill of beans. Abolishing a couple of departments, though…

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  9. NOT NOW JOHN (profile) says:

    I’m not sure what Liam Clarke’s point is. If the quality of MLA’s is poor as he seems to suggest, would cutting the number of MLA’s really improve it? If they are all fools, are 108 fools worse than 90? If only half of them are wise, are 45 wise men and women better than 54? Would increasing their basic salary make MLA’s better legislators? Does he think that the NI Assembly has a monopoly on monotonous speeches or than only the NI Assembly members have taxpayer funded backroom teams?

    For me the question is not one of how much or how little MLA’s get paid. More than a third of MLA’s get paid more than the basic MLA salary anyway. Neither is it a question of how many MLA’s there are. Is the House of Commons any less effective because it has more than 108 members or the Welsh Assembly any more effective because it has less?

    For me the issues are things such as mediocrity, ignorance, incompetence, arrogance, apathy, ego and self-interest. These can occur anywhere. They can exist in the Executive, in Assembly Committees, among Special Advisors and across the Civil Service just as they can exist in journalism, banking, education and football management. The key is to have effective structures in place to weed out the mediocre, to expose self-interest and hold apathy to account. It requires an effective opposition. It requires transparency and accountability. It requires independent, intelligent and investigatory journalism that doesn’t simply publish what the government wants. It requires Assembly Committees which aren’t entirely made up of parties which are also in government. It requires an independent and competent Civil Service. It requires an informed electorate and effective means of informing. It requires much less focus on spin and politics and much more focus on good government.

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  10. The key is to have effective structures in place…

    We have those structures in place; they’re called elections. Unfortunately they may not be effective. We have the Courts as a back up to deal with undeclared self-interest or corruption.

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  11. BluesJazz (profile) black spot says:

    NOTNOWJOHN

    Agree entirely.

    But MLA’s are elected on groupthink and herd mentality. The majority of voters in NI are from the C and D social classes who want their DLA forms passed along with tribal allegiance. The majority of the population do not vote. And it’s increasingly the 50+ age group who do. Not exactly MBA holders. So we get the guardians of mediocrity and superstition/religion.

    But (thankfully) Stormont doesn’t have any real power.

    So we have stasis, with Westminster doing what matters.

    I’m not sure that many people care. They will if/when the London money supply tap is turned down-as it will be- but anyone under 30 with an IQ over 90 will have left and we’ll have the same dozy electorate. And the same dozy parties.

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  12. aquifer (profile) says:

    This too many MLAs mallarkey is a hoax propagated to reduce competition. There is plenty of work for 108 competent members, and if they were competent we would have had more legislation by now.

    The current combination of a shrinking civil service and managerially challenged MLAs could be disastrous for this place if the recession does not already empty it of everyone capable.

    We need smarter MLAs not over inflated councillors.

    Pay the parties and let them pay the talent.

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  13. Most of a legislator’s work is (or should be) writing and scrutinising legislation, which depends mainly on how much legislation needs to be passed, which in turn is a function of what powers the parliament/assembly has

    As a matter of fact, that does not happen in practice Most of a typical MLA’s time is not taken up scrutinizing draft legislation or even proposing it. A lot of the work involves contact with constituents (which highlights the argument about MLA numbers needing to be cut). I also recall earlier posts on Slugger pointing out that the amount of legislation passing through Stormont is very small compared to other assemblies.

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