“Office Cost Allowance is being used to create a property asset for a political party”

In the Belfast Telegraph David Gordon returns to the topic of the NI Assembly Committee on Standards and Privileges’ consideration of a report on Ian Paisley Jnr’s relationship with Seymour Sweeney and the Paisleys rental claims for their Ballymena office. The Committee rejected a recommendation that Ian Paisley Jnr should declare his connections with developer Seymour Sweeney in the Assembly Register of Interests – although, in his report, the Interim Commissioner, Tom Frawley, noted that in making that recommendation he had “discussed the matter at considerable length with [his] legal adviser.” He also found that Ian Paisley Jnr had “not broken any rule within the current Handbook relating to the Office Cost Allowance in respect of the level of rent paid for the premises at 9/11 Church Street Ballymena although the total amount of rent claimed by Mr Paisley Jnr and Dr Paisley for the accommodation is significantly in excess of what might be regarded as a normal market rent.” And, as mentioned here previously, the Interim Commissioner noted

“Effectively the Office Cost Allowance is being used to create a property asset for a political party. Whether this would be perceived by the public as constituting an appropriate use of public funds is a matter which the Assembly, as a whole, may wish to consider.”

The Committee’s report is online here. [Added new link]

There is also a lot of detail in the report on the rental value of the property and “understandable” commercial returns for Sarcon 250. From the Committee’s report.

12.14 The current rules governing the use of the Office Cost Allowance for the provision of constituency offices places no limit on the level of rent which will be reimbursed within the overall maximum figure of £72,000 pa nor does it make any requirement for a professional valuation to be obtained by the Member. In the case of Mr O’Loan’s complaint a number of valuations in relation to the level of annual rent which might have applied can be identified.

These are as follows:

• £42,000 pa – referred to in the June 2007 professional valuation report on the property;
• £62,500 pa – as stated in the copy lease dated July 2007 held in the Assembly’s Finance Division records;
• £57,200 pa – being the annualised figure derived from the quarterly claim made by Sarcon 250 Ltd’s solicitors in August 2007, held in the Assembly’s Finance Division records;
• £ 52,750 pa – being the September 2008 professional valuation advice provided to Mr Paisley Jnr;
• £ £56,000 pa – being derived from the approximate amount which Mr Paisley Jnr told me was likely to be claimed in 2008/09;
• the upper end of the range £26,000 to £30,000 being the valuation of market rent advised by the Commissioner for Valuation.

I note that Mr Paisley Jnr explained during the course of my investigation that a further variable that could apply was that the amount to be claimed could reduce from the lease figure as a consequence of reductions in the bank interest rate that might apply to any particular period in time.

12.16 In light of the advice provided by the Commissioner for Valuation I would conclude that the amount of rent claimed for the premises at 9/11 Church Street Ballymena, exceeds what would be regarded as the normal market rent for such a property. However, I have also noted the Commissioner’s comment that the arrangements which obtain are understandable in commercial terms.

Except that, as Ian Paisley Jnr has said “it goes directly to the bank to furnish the mortgage”, and as he stated to the Interim Commissioner

Sarcon 250 is a company whose sole purpose is to provide in perpetuity an advice centre/community facility in Ballymena to advance the political cause as represented by its tenants – Dr Paisley and myself and for the general benefit and promotion of the DUP in North Antrim. 9-11 Church Street is owned by Sarcon 250. No financial benefit is derived to the company’s directors(s). No profit is made in relation to any aspect of the provision of the advice centre by the company director(s) as a result of his/her directorship. This is and always has been the basis of the role of the director of Sarcon 250. As you note there have been so far three directors, Mr Sweeney, Mr Currie and Mr Hanna. That is the legal basis of their role as director of Sarcon 250. [added emphasis]

And the Interim Commissioner’s conclusions

Conclusion – Summary of Findings

13.1 Mr Paisley Jnr should have recorded his relationship with Mr Sweeney as an interest under Category 11.( see paras 12.1- 6 )

13.2 Mr Paisley Jnr was not required to register his shareholding in the Ballyallaght Management Company. ( see paras 12.7 – 9 )

13.3 Mr Paisley Jnr was not required to register the fact that his father in law was the Director of Sarcon 250 Ltd but he should have registered as an interest under Category 11 the fact that his father in law was the sole shareholder in the company. (see paras 12.10 – 13)

13.4 Mr Paisley Jnr has not broken any rule within the current Handbook relating to the Office Cost Allowance in respect of the level of rent paid for the premises at 9/11 Church Street Ballymena although the total amount of rent claimed by Mr Paisley Jnr and Dr Paisley for the accommodation is significantly in excess of what might be regarded as a normal market rent. (see paras 12.14 – 16)

The Committe rejected the first recommendation, by 6 votes to 5, but accepted the rest.

And the Committee has written to the Assembly Commission

30. In particular the Interim Commissioner recommended that the level of rent claimed for any constituency accommodation should be underpinned either by an independent professional valuation of the premises or should be determined by the Commissioner for Valuation, as generally occurs with all other accommodation leased by public bodies.
31. The Interim Commissioner went on to consider the ambiguity concerning the rules prohibiting the use of the Office Cost Allowance to purchase property. The Interim Commissioner has pointed out that the rules do not prohibit a Member renting accommodation from a relative, who effectively uses the rental income provided through the Office Cost Allowance to purchase the property; nor do they prohibit the Office Cost Allowance being used to create a property asset for a political party.
32. A further point was that there needed to be clearer rules on the apportionment of costs; firstly, in circumstances where Members share constituency accommodation; and secondly, in circumstances where a Member is also an elected representative of another institution where office accommodation costs can also be claimed.
33. The Committee agrees that these issues warrant urgent review in the interests of public accountability and securing public confidence. It is not within the Committee’s remit to rewrite the rules on Office Cost Allowance. However, the Committee does have a role in identifying shortcomings in existing guidance, especially where those shortcomings mean that Members’ conduct could be called into question. The Committee therefore believes that it is essential for the integrity of the Assembly that the rules governing the use of Office Cost Allowance are reviewed urgently to take account of the issues raised by the Interim Commissioner. [added emphasis]

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  • Frustrated Democrat

    The Robinson’s and now the Paisley’s, to be soon followed by the Dodds; is there no end to the raid on the taxpayers pockets carried out by the DUP leadership?

    Using the Rules or common decency, public service or noses deep in trough, the voters/taxpayers can make up their own minds.

  • joeCanuck

    There can be a world of difference between not doing a wrong thing and doing the right thing.
    Nuff said. Let the voters decide.

  • jj

    it would be interesting to know how many parties have offices owned by the party which has rent paid through oca. The UUP have a good property portfolio as do Sinn Fein.

  • ??

    The Robinson’s and now the Paisley’s, to be soon followed by the Dodds; is there no end to the raid on the taxpayers pockets carried out by the DUP leadership?

    Are you suggesting these people have done something illegal? or are you saying all the funds have gone into their pockets?

  • thomas girvan

    Why do they assume that the property would have been an assett of the DUP.

    Sarcon 250’s sole director was Ian Junior’s father-in-law,and as I see it, he would be the effective owner.

    What happens when we have finished paying off the mortgage for Sarcon 250?

    Does the taxpayer continue to pay £52,000 pa in perpetuity?

    The whole thing stinks.

  • ??

    MLA claimed rent expenses for office built on his farm

    By David Gordon
    Wednesday, 13 February 2008

    Ulster Unionist Assemblyman has confirmed that he claimed rental expenses for a prefab constituency office owned by his wife and based on their farm.

  • ??

    How is it in the likes of North Down hwere the DUP and UUP have both 2 MLAs the DUP have 3 offices open and the UUP only 1?

  • ??

    NEWSLETTER:

    City MLA runs up travel expense bill of more than £8k
    Published Date: 01 October 2008
    A NORTH Belfast Assembly member claimed over £8,000 in travel allowances last year, it has been revealed.
    Ulster Unionist MLA Fred Cobain’s £8,257 bill was the highest among Belfast-based representatives.

  • ??

    heres quotes from one M Shilliday regarding expenses for MPs/MLAs, this appeared on Everthing Ulster:
    http://www.everythingulster.com/blog/index.php/2007/05/15/the_cost_of_stormont

    Comment from: Michael Shilliday [Visitor]
    MLA’s only got 2/3 of a salary while the assembly was suspended. Democracy costs money. Of course we could go back 50 years and pay them nothing and expect only those with money to stand for election if thats what you would prefer?
    15 May 2007 @ 17:46
    ——————————————

    Another:

    Comment from: Michael Shilliday [Visitor]
    1) They were working, the legislative function is not the only part of the work of a legislator.

    2) The expenses of an MP are about similar, probably more. Do you want your representatives to have an office? Do you expect them not to have a secretary or should all their letters be done by hand in person?

    4 MLA’s per constituency and reduction in the number of departments is not something that is not being discusses, it is.

    It also needs to be understood than an MLA doesn’t get 70 grand handed to them, it is all accounted for and invoices paid by the civil service.
    15 May 2007 @ 19:01

    ————————————————–

    again:
    Comment from: Michael Shilliday [Visitor]
    Ok, first the European Parliament isn’t actually a legislature in the true sense of the word, but MEP’s do fulfuill a similar constituency function. Except that there are only three of them for the whole of NI. UK MP’s sit for much longer (and actually get paid less) than in most other democracies and with NI’s geograhy means that MP’s (should) have less time for constituency work.

    MLA’s who are in the same party usually do share constituency offices (save for Michelle McIlveen and Simon Hamilton), but it isn’t possible to legilslate separatly for, to take West Belfast for example, 5 Shinners vs 1 SDLP.

    I can assure you that there is enough work to justify more than one member of staff for each MLA, there is research, speech writing, media, constituency work (which is huge in itself).

    Nepotism can be a problem, that isn’t something I’m going to deny.
    16 May 2007 @ 18:11

  • Frustrated Democrat

    ??

    All the whataboutery in the world won’t change the facts and figures.

    You seeem to be a very lonely DUP supporter in here and I haven’t accused anyone of doing anything illegal – ‘Using the Rules or common decency, public service or noses deep in trough’ are very fair questions for people to ponder.

  • ??

    FD, i didnt say you did.

    But tell me all these funds the DUP are claiming what are they for EXACTLy or hasnt Tory HQ told you?

  • thomas girvan

    Of course Ian Junior is paid £11,000 p.a. as assistant to his father at Westminster.
    How many times did Senior speak there last year? I think it was six.
    If I needed an assistant I think I’d get someone with a bit more wit than Ian Junior.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    ??

    approx figures you can amend as necessary

    Robinsons 6 family salaries plus MLA and Councillor income plus two second homes allowances.

    Dodds currently 3 salary incomes plus second home allowance, soon to be more.

    Paisleys 3 salary incomes plus property purchase.

    Their total income and expenses are heading for £2 million. They are truly – a party of the people(‘s money) take your pick.

    Is that enough taxpayers money to be going on with?

  • ??

    Their total income and expenses…

    and expenses. you mean the expenses of running offices and travel etc. Are you saying that MPs/MLAs shouldnt have these allowances?

    Funny how the UUP didnt mind when they had MPs/MLAs , remember those days?

    Shame that your only MP is about to jump ship, guess you`ll be raking up her expenses anytime soon

  • ??

    FD,#

    why arent you mentioning any expenses by UUP MLAs? How much does Reg claim in salary and expenses as MLA/Councillor/Minister for instance or didnt Tory HQ not supply you with the info?

  • Frustrated Democrat

    ??

    Back to whataboutery again?

    Are you really saying you are comfortable with all those figures?

    Will all the figures really impress your hard up, or even not so hard up, or unemployed voters?

  • ??

    FD,

    Why wouldnt I be? Are you saying that the people working for the MPs arent doing their job? or are you saying they are not serving their constiuents.

    IF you really were worried about expenses you wuold, as I have, highlighted those of the UUP as well as DUP , rather you are just a Tory Troll

  • ??

    FD

    as youre so concerned about the public purse, I`ll repeat my question

    How much does Reg claim in salary and expenses as MLA/Councillor/Minister for instance or didnt Tory HQ not supply you with the info?

  • joeCanuck

    Put the handbags down guys. It’s getting monotonous. If you want to repeat the question(s) over and over, apply for a job as a TV interviewer.
    The public will make up their own minds.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    ??

    I am not interested in your whataboutery, the fact you can’t see what is wrong with the Swish families’ actions about sums up the DUP and how they see the electorate.

    The DUP reached their peak in 2007 it’s all downhill now as the realities of power set in and they are found wanting, as Hannan said – you know it, I know it and you know I know it – there is nowhere to hide.

    If you want to pretend otherways that is fine, you will eventually suffer the same fate as your good friends in Labour are currently doing.

  • ??

    The DUP reached their peak in 2007 it’s all downhill now as the realities of power set in and they are found wanting, as Hannan said – you know it, I know it and you know I know it – there is nowhere to hide.

    …..

    Oh dear, you really have been reading too many Tory HQ press releases, Jim Nic will be overtaken by Alban at the Euro election and then what for reg?

  • Frustrated Democrat

    ??

    Even you know etc. etc. that the DUP will not get close to 175,000 votes this time round. How many votes 140,000, 130,000, 120,000, any more goes in the Dutch auction?

    Go on give us a forecast.

  • Pete Baker

    “??” & FD

    Try to focus on the actual topic.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    Pete

    I did and whataboutery set in.

  • alan56

    Wondering what was the breakdown of votes in the committee?

  • Pete Baker

    alan

    Follow the links.

  • Archie Purple

    ?? a committed DUPe obviously would prefer a Nationalist like Alban McGuinness to win a Euro seat in preference to Jim Nicholson. The only criteria that should be relevant in choosing which candidates to vote for on June 4th is their past record in Europe or in the case of Officer Dodd’s missus, her inability to do anything. Jim Nicholson and indeed Jim Allister have been good MEPs. Nicholson is considered highly in Europe and chairs a number of committees and has many achievements [in fairness with Paisley and Hume] where all three worked well together, e.g. in helping secure the Peace monies.
    The wise Unionist folk will vote Nicholson 1, Allister 2 and Dodds 3.

  • Pete Baker

    Archie

    See comment 23 @ 10:40 PM

  • ?

    FD

    you didnt focus on OCA but on DUP expenses – if you were concerned with OCA why did you mention the DUP salaries – did Tory HQ not break them figures down for you?

  • ??

    Nicholson is considered highly in Europe and chairs a number of committees and has many achievements ………….

    tell me archie how much tax payers money has been spent sending Jim Nic around the globe. I hear he spends a lot of time in Australia on behalf on the EU, convenient he has a sister there.

  • ??

    REG EMPEY OCA 2007/2008 £66,831.42
    P Robinson OCA 2007/2008 £35,084.46

    Wow who woulda thought!

  • ??

    REG EMPEY ASSEMBLY SALARY – £76,401.09
    P Robinson Assembly Salary – £48,093.44
    I Robinson Assembly Salary – £24,296.94

    Reg costs the taxpayer more than TWO DUP MLAs lol

  • Frustrated Democrat

    ??

    Absolute rubbish, add on their MP income to see how much they cost.

    Their salaries are reduced because of their other incomes.

    Very poor

  • Dave

    “No financial benefit is derived to the company’s directors(s). No profit is made in relation to any aspect of the provision of the advice centre by the company director(s) as a result of his/her directorship.” – Interim Commissioner

    That’s a rather dubious statement to make when the preponderance of evidence strongly indicates that the Paisley family is the beneficial owner of the building, using front men as directors that have very close links to them for the express purpose of concealing that beneficial ownership. At any rate, the question of who owns the building is central to determining whether or not the Paisleys gained personally from the grossly inflated rent that was paid by the taxpayer for the use of it, and so this should not be swept under the political carpet with an impotent conclusion along the lines of “They may be guilty of not getting the best value for the taxpayer but they did nothing wrong within the rules, so ’tis the system that’s really at fault – and sure, aren’t they all at it (if they were at it) so what can you do?”

  • Peter Brown

    Don’t concentrate on the directors, concentrate on the shareholders….that’s where the money really goes.

    Directors are employess possibly with salaries, shareholders are the owners!

  • ??

    ??

    Absolute rubbish, add on their MP income to see how much they cost.

    Why? as MLAs reg cost twice as much as 2 DUP members.

    Being MPs and MLAs actually SAVES taxpayers money..as you said, Their salaries are reduced because of their other incomes.

  • ??

    Tell me FD, if Peter , Iris and the other DUP members were not MPs how much more taxpayers money wuold it cost to have them as MLAs?

    Have Tory HQ provided you with those figures?

  • joeCanuck

    FFS. Stop it. NOW

  • Rory Carr

    Having spent a lifetime in accountancy I know all there is to know about fiddling expenses…and then some.

    Although it might jar a wee bit with my communist, republican convictions, Leninist discipline demands a heavy dose of realism and there is after all a major recession on so I was wondering, since I am so well qualified, might the DUP have me as a candidate?

    P.S. If required to be a Prod, no worries. I can do Prod politico – baggy tweed suit, Viyella shirt, Inst. OB stripey tie, cracked but shiny brown brogues, bushy eyebrows, packet of 3 for the weekend tucked inside gospel tract in wallet. Check.

  • Frustrated Democrat

    Rory

    Can you be a narrow minded Ulster Nationalist?

    Have you 4 children?

    Have you an acquiescent da in law?

    Do you like a swish lifestyle?

    Do you like property wheeler dealing?

    Have you a wife who would like to make some real money?

    4 or 5 affirmative answers then never mind being a prod you are in; but forget the inst tie dead give away as an imposter.

  • Rory Carr

    Check out my reply to your questionairre below FD. If I ditch the Inst tie do you think I am in with a chance? I am really hot on expenses claim pitfalls plus I am pretty ugly which must count for something (in Fermanagh anyway).

    Can you be a narrow minded Ulster Nationalist?

    I have some acting experience so I can pretend.

    Have you 4 children?

    Ongoing legal issues prevent me from answering.

    Have you an acquiescent da in law?

    Indeed. Most acquiescent, The old Plymouth Brethren hypocrite has been “gone to the Lord” for nigh on twenty years. Hallelujah!

    Do you like a swish lifestyle?

    I don’t do ‘swish’. (You naughty boy!).

    Do you like property wheeler dealing?

    Well as kids we used to swap comic books and keeny marbles and that kind of thing. Does that count?

    Have you a wife who would like to make some real money?

    Of course. Why do you think I would never let Herself take out any life insurance on me lovely self (especially policies with that ‘Double Idemnity’ clause)?

  • ??

    FD, please tell us how much money is being saved by having DUP members who are MPs as well as MLAs.

    How much more would taxpayers have to pay out if this was not the case? Please contact TOry HQ for the answers if need be

  • Rory Carr

    Your above questions, ??, are dishonest in the extreme insofar as they are intended to deflect attentions from the real concern.

    This concern is not about the cost to the taxpayer of the greedy manipulation of claims by individual representatives, which when spread out and compared with other much greater corrupt or meaningless exchequer expenditure is piffling.

    The concern is that those who put themselves forward for the people’s trust, speaking always of duty and sacrifice and the need for restraint and the common good, and all of it very admirable, then prove again and yet again to be first self-serving, manipulative and masters (and mistresses too) of those twin tools of rogues and charlatans everywhere – prevarication and procrastination. As far as the absolute truth is concerned they continually prove to be “a day too late and dollar too short”.

    Those who make a defence for them for party political reasons do themselves a great disservice. It is really not good for the soul to offer a defence for that which is plainly rotten and every time we do that a little bit of us dies.

  • ??

    The concern is that those who put themselves forward for the people’s trust, speaking always of duty and sacrifice and the need for restraint and the common good, and all of it very admirable,,,,,,,,,,,

    the electorate put them there why not let the electorate decide at the ballot box?

  • Frustrated Democrat

    ??

    Indeed we shall……..on the 4th June and then probably next May or earlier.

  • John K Lund / Lllamedos / Suchard

    What I want to know is who was wining and dining The Poisoned Dwarf and his nepotistic junior predecesscor in the White Elephant Heirarchy at the Maze Races today. Rumour has it that there is a big development in Ballymena coming off soon? Anyone else know anything. Hope its declared in the Members interests register. Entertainment at Down Royal by so and so value £xxx.I know preachermen always follow the book.