“Substantial amounts of money on consultants..”

BBC NI’s Martina Purdy has been examining the detailed list of MLAs’ Office Costs Alllowances for last year. And she’s noted that a significant number of Sinn Féin MLAs have claimed over £20,000 for, presumably, external “advice and consultancy fees”. The highest use of consultants appears to be by SF MLA Cathal Boylan.. with a bill for £35,245.. It’s all apparently within the scope of the office costs allowance.. but Martina Purdy does pose some interesting questions to be answered.

From the description of the office costs allowance.

Office Costs Allowance

The maximum Office Cost Allowance (OCA) available for 2007-2008 was £68,167. OCA is paid to meet the expenses incurred by a Member in connection with carrying out his or her Assembly duties. OCA is not an automatic entitlement that is paid to a Member by virtue of membership of the Assembly. It can only be paid to a Member who has actually incurred allowable expenditure.

As its name suggests, it is generally used to allow a Member to provide a service to constituents through a constituency office. Items that can be claimed from OCA include office rent and rates, offices utilities (including heating and lighting and telephones), office equipment, office furniture and office consumables. OCA can also be used to allow a Member to engage the services of administrative support staff and to buy in research or secretarial services. OCA cannot be claimed without valid proof of the actual expenses that have been incurred. [added emphasis]