For yesterday morning’s #SluggerReport I decided to return to a matter which seemed to have been sidelined by the flag/political signage controversy, the IFRP report on MLA expenses, which represents a bold attempt to tighten rules.
For example, it targets the controversial arrangements surrounding the DUP Ballymena office – long covered by Slugger and also featured in the recent Spotlight payroll expose.
In short, DUP MLAs and MP are claiming between them rental expenses well in excess of the market rate for this office. And this taxpayer outlay is happily boosting the party cause – it’s swiftly paying off the mortgage on shiny big premises owned by a specially created company controlled by a DUP councillor.
This neat arrangement has been well documented but has been met with inertia and occasional hand wringing where it matters.
Now the IFRP report says net rent claimed for premises shared between MLAs and other politicians “may exceed the established fair market rent and may facilitate the acquisition of an asset for a person or political party or other body”.
It proposes a pretty radical £4k annual cap on MLA rent expenses in such situations, as they “may not always ensure the proper use of public funds”.
For good measure, the IFRP continues: “Some Members also rent their constituency office from either a connected or associated person. This can give rise to significant public concern that public money is being diverted for political purposes or otherwise in the financial interests of Members and their associates.”
A £4k rent cap is also planned in these circumstances – covering party colleague landlords and presumably cultural bodies with party links (Ring any bells, SF?).
NB: Today’s #SluggerReport will be available on Slugger’s Audioboo channel later this pm.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty