Within a constituency, are each MLA’s mileage claims of a similar size? No …

Annex B of the Independent Financial Review Panel’s most recent consultation document [the content of which I blogged about earlier] contains a table showing each MLA’s mileage expense claims for 2013/14 and 2014/15, along with the distance of their constituency office from Parliament Buildings.

MLA mileage expensesI’ve charted the 2014/15 mileage claims of the MLAs to help visualise the patterns and outliers. Note:

  • MLAs receive a standard rate of Motor Mileage Allowance for business travel by car. The rates that may be claimed are 45p per mile for the first 10,000 miles and 25p per mile thereafter.
  • In general, travel from home to a constituency office is taxable as HMRC view payment for this commute as a benefit in kind [Ed – aren’t most employees expected to pay for their commute out of their salary?]; journeys to Parliament Buildings as well as travel for constituency work and other non-party political events is non-taxable. The figures shown are before tax.
  • Ministers have been omitted since they have cars and drivers and as a consequence, their mileage claims are not directly comparable with the rest of their constituency colleagues.
  • Some MLAs did not serve for the full period so they have been left out of the analysis.
  • The MLAs are grouped alphabetically within their constituencies and followed by an constituency average figure for the MLAs included in the analysis.
  • The constituencies are ordered by ascending average distance of MLA constituency offices from Parliament Buildings, using the figures provided by IFRP’s Annex B.

Logically, you’d expect mileage expenses to be smallest for MLAs serving urban constituencies on the doorstep of Parliament Buildings. And you’d expect mileage claims to be largest for MLAs serving large rural constituencies that are far away from the gates of Stormont estate.

In general this is the case. However, there are clear exceptions within individual constituencies. Some MLAs – particularly those representing East Belfast or North Down – do not claim mileage. (Nor do they claim back significant public transport expenses.) Daithí McKay does not claim any mileage despite his North Antrim colleagues typically claiming £4000-£5000.

NI Green Party leader and North Down representative Steven Agnew is another MLA who does not claim any mileage expenses. He explained to me:

I don’t claim for mileage for home to work travel as it’s not something most of my constituents could claim for their jobs. While I know there’s an argument for some that the nature of the job means they have to travel long distances as they can’t relocate from their constituency I don’t believe that’s a good argument for someone from Bangor.

He added: “On occasions where a staff members drives to meetings I would sign off on their mileage claims”.

Three MLAs listed are also MPs (Gregory Campbell, Alasdair McDonnell and Sammy Wilson) and this may affect the size and nature of their expense claims.

Some discrepancies between mileage claims by MLAs within the same constituency can be explained by Members who choose to live a long distance from the electorate they serve and make multiple trips between their home, constituency and Stormont. This is one scenario the financial panel are seeking to address through their mileage expenses reform proposals that would eliminate claims for travel from home to constituency offices and offer a flat rate of mileage expenses based on attendance at the Assembly and factoring in the size of their constituency and its distance from Stormont.

Mileage claims are self-authorised by MLAs and cannot be easily verified. Annex B shows some large shifts in the balance of non-taxable and taxable mileage claims between 2013/14 and 2014/15 by particular MLAs while the overall total has remained steady which would point to poor – or inconsistent – recording of journeys.

A annual £10,000 mileage claim equates to 32,000 miles travelled on Assembly business (10,000 miles at 45p and the remaining 22,000 miles at 25p).

Others anomalies are harder to explain.

Perhaps some work harder and travel further within their constituency? Perhaps say yes to far-flung engagements and engage outside their constituencies more readily than others?

What is certain is that the IFRP’s flat rate proposal per constituency will have a big impact on the level of mileage expenses some MLAs receive in constituencies such as North Antrim, Strangford … and even East Belfast.

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  • peepoday

    Why do they get travelling expenses? Every day working people commute to their place of work,and have to pay for their own petrol/diesel.This is just another example of how these MLAs are milking the system to their own advantage.

  • Which is why the Independent Financial Review Panel proposal would have the result of “ceasing payment of home to office mileage from the start of the next mandate is estimated to save around £74,000 per annum.”

  • Korhomme

    “[Ed – aren’t most employees expected to pay for their commute out of their salary?]”

    HMRC taxation rules for employees and the self-employed differ. I can’t speak for all public services; for employees in the NHS, travel home > work > home is not paid as expenses. However, if the journey is home > work at place A > work at place B > home, then expenses will be paid. Part of this is taxable.

  • barnshee

    Why are local authority councillors claiming 60p a mile?

  • In Belfast

    The civil servants who serve under then, while making use of a generous regime themselves, wouldn’t get the regular commute as an expense.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Put it this way, why should East Belfast politicians living in the richest or possibly second richest part of Northern Ireland be paid the highest after transport costs simply because they live in a rich and convenient area?

    Only the larger more “corporate” parties particularly the DUP and SF would be able to stand in rural or Western wards, an independent like the late David McClarty in what he would term East Londonderry who would have to get the train or bus at nearly £20 return if he were to use public transport would be severely disadvantaged in comparison to the ex-Sinn Féin mayor Máirtín Ó’Muilnieor who was co-opted into a seat who could get there (and sometimes does get there) by cycling.

    I’ve worked an entry graduate position and I was entitled to claim for transport, so this nonsense about politicians having to commute to their place of work, especially since their job involves both the constituency and Stormont. You could walk to Stormont quite easily from Judith Cocheraine’s office, I doubt that is the case for say Russ Hussey or Joe Bryne in West Tyrone, (never mind Ciatriona Ruane who probably still lives in Louth). To say travel expenses paid doesn’t happen in the private sector or the public sector outside politicians is absurd.

  • barnshee

    If you claimed for transport to your place of work – then thats a taxable benefit– tho why you should be paid for the journey to work when the hoi polloi are not escapes me

  • Kevin Breslin

    Should MLAs in East Belfast and MPs in London and TDs in Dublin get paid more than colleagues for the same job simply out of the regional convenience of where they represent?

    A Foyle MLA works in Foyle and East Belfast, an East Belfast MLA works in East Belfast and pretty much nowhere else. The idea that all the MLAs should simply live in East Belfast ignores the fact that 102 of them have to work in other constituencies.

    Capital-centricism is bad enough, the next thing under scrutiny will be the time spent travelling, with MLAs West of the Bann being shamed for being on the road more than Belfast MLAs.

    You either pay MLAs for travelling or you reward them for not travelling, the latter rewards every non-Belfast MLA for not showing up.

  • In theory an MLA will be at their constituency office more often than Parliament Buildings, and their “commute” to work is deemed to be from home to the constituency office. Seems reasonable that travel to/from Parliament Buildings is a legitimate expense – and a very variable one given the long distances involved for some MLAs.