Will the curb on MLA expenses spell the end of constituency offices?

So MLAs get an 11% rise in salary, not from themselves, but from an Independent Financial Review Panel. Thus the DUP and Sinn Fein are arguing that it is wrong, (though don’t hold your breath for any of them to hand it back) because for once it was not them who were responsible for the decision.

As Liam Clarke notes, this is way better than anyone out in the real world is likely to get for sometime to come. But he also has the telling detail:

The rise has caused consternation at a time when MLAs are freezing public sector pay and the median wage here is given in the report as £18,720. However, the review team say that the increase is self-financing and will show a profit of £3.16m, or £29,000 per MLA, between now and 2015. This is achieved largely through cuts in offices allowances which will fall from £75,857 a year to £69,238 by 2012, saving £1.8m.

What Pat McCartan and his panel have done is to bite a bullet that the House of Commons has been afraid to do for nearly thirty years and switched the money from stupidly high rates of subsidy via the expenses regime to the MLA’s salary. If this had been the case, there would have been scandal over toilet seats and duck houses.

And there will be no meaningful snouts in the trough league tables for the malign tabloid journo to hit the politician over the head with every year. Nor, let’s hope, embarrassing headlines regarding the over-exploitation of free facilities.

The BelTel editorial does make a useful related value for money point one respect:

Northern Ireland is grossly over-represented at Stormont – we have one MLA for every 16,000 constituents, compared to one to 50,000 in Scotland and one to 40,000 in Wales. Cut the number of MLAs from 108 to 80 and the economics of increased salaries begins to make sense.

Quite so.

One thing to watch will be any future effects on the extraordinary levels of party infrastructure across Northern Ireland. It’s currently deductable directly from expenses. Now it will have to come from individual salary packets (with the exception of Sinn Fein, who where feasible centralise all MLA resources for the party).

So how long before some of those lovely town centre MLA offices begin to disappear, if it has to come directly out of the MLA’s take home pay? The custom in the rest of the democratic world is to host clinics in libraries and other such public of semi public buildings.

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  • sdelaneys

    Listening to discussion on the radio yesterday with MLAs telling how important their offices are for community work, and they are, I could not help wondering what percentage of the office costs the various parties pay for the amount of time the offices are used for purely party work and wider political work outside constituency work. It would be interesting to do a survey and see what the breakdown of usage is.

  • Banjaxed

    “…MLAs telling how important their offices are for community work…”

    I live in South Belfast and the number of times I’ve seen Alastair MacDonnell’s office open over the course of any week would seem to dispel the above myth.

  • wild turkey

    “I could not help wondering what percentage of the office costs the various parties pay for the amount of time the offices are used for purely party work and wider political work outside constituency work. It would be interesting to do a survey and see what the breakdown of usage is.”

    sdelaneys. nothing personal here, in fact i wish my mistrust/cynicism is totally misplaced but…. if the survey you suggest was actually carried out, do you think it wield honest and reliable responses?

  • PACE Parent

    In the Northern Ireland Assembly Members’
    Salaries, Allowances, Expenses and Pensions
    Report of the Independent Financial Review Panel
    March 2012 see paragraph 10 on page 8.
    “The Panel is a completely independent body. Under the Act, the Panel controls Members’ pay, allowances and pensions by issuing “Determinations” setting out its
    decisions. Once these Determinations have been issued, the Assembly is unable to amend them. The Determinations are implemented by the Assembly Commission and the Assembly Secretariat. The Panel may make a Determination in relation to Members’ salaries, allowances, expenses and pensions once for each mandate. It is only in exceptional circumstances that the Panel can make more than one Determination in
    relation to a mandate.”
    No member is obliged to accept the increased payment and could reject same. If a second determination was made prior to Assembly elections in 2015 then voters could decide if the 108 MLAs were worth it. Simples….

  • sdelaneys

    Wild Turkey, “…if the survey you suggest was actually carried out, do you think it wield honest and reliable responses?”

    such a survey would have to carried out by a genuinely independent body, a scarce enough commodity I must admit.

  • To the question, no. To general point, about time.

  • iluvni

    Did anyone ever find out what the ‘average industrial wage’ was?

  • cynic2

    So if the Shiners pay all their staff the same does that mean that some typists in Connolly House are paid way over the odds for their jobs – at public expense of course?

  • cynic2

    “Did anyone ever find out what the ‘average industrial wage’ was?”

    Apparently enough to buy holiday homes in Donegal and a second home in County Louth …… so it cannot be that bad

  • Skint Taxpayer

    I would be all for an increase on two provisos
    1.Reduction in no of MLAs to equivalent per capita ratios to Scotland/Wales
    2. If some real work was done…instead of Ministers blazing out calls for investigations into hospital trolley waits etc they should look at the Govt strategic role in planning resources. What have we got? Too many teachers looking jobs and not enough hospital staffing. Now it doesn’t come about suddenly that we have less children and more elderly…demographic trends are known for years and yet our Strategic budgetting failings continue to be at the core. What are MLAs doing?…sort this out and they may find a few backers.

  • alex gray

    It is the people who work for the MLA’s who do most of the work and are usually underpaid. The low pay of many of the people who work for MLA’s is one of the great scandals of Stormont which is never written about. When you compare it to the gold plated conditions of the Assembly Staff – the cuvil servants who work for the Assembly – it is shocking. There are no proper pay scales though this is now being considered at Westminster, I believe. The cut in office cost allowances is hard to understand when so much of the MLA’s office cost allowance is used up in rent, eates, heat, light and so on, rather than staff. The panel of three have done a dreadful job and look like threecomplacent fat cats taking money from the underpaid. The pay panel should ahve had a representative of people who work for MLA’s on it to rerpresent their interests.

  • FuturePhysicist

    So long as transport costs are not paid directly to the MLA’s. It’s unfair that a Foyle representative or a Fermanagh South Tyrone representative has to pay a lot more than an East Belfast one.

  • FuturePhysicist

    @ Skint Taxpayer

    I agree we have to plan resources, I don’t know what plans you would have for the unemployed teachers, though. Given the demographics, I would be looking at education for later years. Frankly though we’re seeing rising morale problems bringing down grades in education these years as a result of larger class rooms and ignoring pupils, if more teachers could be employed, they should.

    The fact is that there are inefficiencies in the human resource market here as well as low mobility so much so that hospital staff and health graduates from across all sectors are ending up on dole queues. The problem with Health is the same as education, there’s no money, but it differs from education in that resources face a higher cost of inflation. Ringfencing health would require harvesting education anyway, but denying education causes health problems through preventative actions, which raises health costs.

    The brutual truth is if it came down to the crass economic argument educating the future, a future that will be forced to pay for itself two times over than the previous generation will take priority over that previous generation getting more provisions than the next generation will be only capable of dreaming of. Pupils are a better investment than Patients.

    One factor that could bring down health inflation was innovative use of University research, unfortunately this is being harvested because few voters really care about the influence academia has. It’s something that serves state and corporation alike, but the majority of the costs has been passed onto customer student. If Students want to buy more Education in Education, that’s a market force there. Health and Science degrees cost through the teeth and neither gaurantees a job… manufacturing and industry are on the blink, retail and services are on the blink, agriculture and the rest of the primary sector is on the blink, finance would be on the blink if not for state insurance bailouts.

    There are roadies for Alexandria Burke who earn more than the average geophysicist searching for oil, because the investors are whim driven not intelligence driven.

  • cynic2

    Now Sammy doesn’t want Regional Pay to be set.

    A classic example of a socialist council leader who prefers the tax payers to pay over the odds for a public sector that’s bloated and inefficient – so long as someone else is paying of course

    Still that wont bother Sammy. Isn’t he an MP, MLA and Stormont Minister . You would think that at this time of austerity he might give up even one of his 3 jobs to allow someone else a start in life

    Even better he seems to be running a campaign on his website to take the UK out of the EU. perhaps all his responsibilities have driven all that economic knowledge out of his head.

  • I find the argument that we need fewer representatives to save money a curious one. It does tend to ignore the actual reality of NI, which is that it was the lack of representation that fed a lot of the problems here in the first place. And given that the whole system is built on the basis of maximising the representativeness of the voting and governmental system, it seems perverse to argue for a cut in the number of representatives, especially when that will serve simply to bolster the big two, which is why they are all for it. I’m reminded of the United Irishman front page during the civil rights campaign of the taoiseach meeting the NI prime minister with the speech bubble saying I’m not here to complain about your electoral system, I’m here to find out how you got rid of PR, a long-term FF dream to ensure its virtual permanence in government.

    As for this nonsense about removing parity of pay. I’m also reminded of how Westminster forced parity of benefits on a reluctant Stormont when the welfare state was created. How things change.

  • faustus

    The assembly members deserve to be paid well above average salaries. You get what you pay for.

  • Banjaxed 5.22pm. Maybe McDonnell’s office is closed because the voters are afraid of him so hardly any risk turning up.

  • cynic2

    ” the whole system is built on the basis of maximising the representativeness of the voting and governmental system,”

    …which is why its failing when so many people just don’t vote any more

  • cynic2


    Its the same with my local DUP MLA. I don’t know what the hell goes on behind those shutters but I cant recall ever seeing them up.

    Perhaps he’s away legislatin on the Hill – which then poses the question of why I am paying thousands for an empty shop unit. Still it keeps another shop from falling to a charity – sort of