Why cutting MLAs pay may not be a route to salvation

From the BBC;

The secretary of state has said she “is minded” to reduce MLA pay, in the wake of the collapse of the Stormont talks.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Karen Bradley said the “time is right” to address “concern about MLA pay in the absence of a functioning assembly”.

Last December, former assembly Chief Executive Trevor Reaney recommended a cut of 27.5%.

Mrs Bradley said she wants to hear from Northern Ireland’s political parties before making a final decision.

This issue was debated on the Nolan Show this morning

Some thoughts

I am going to do something unpopular here and defend MLAs (all 90 of them).

Savings-If a cut like this was implemented it would save around £1.2 million per year.  That’s £1.2 million out of a budget of £11 billion. This will go no way towards assisting in any meaningful way problems within the NHS, education or any other social service facing a budgetary squeeze.

Pressure-This won’t actually bring the parties closer together. The main crisis we face is not about money, I know politicians across the spectrum and actually very few of them are motivated by money. Yes, a cut in salary will hurt the back pocket but all a cut will do is make those who cannot afford the job leave and those who can stick it out, will do so. It’s easy to underestimate how attached to parties many of our politicians are.

Also this cut will likely hurt the smaller parties most rather than the big two. DUP and Sinn Fein have council and Westminster strength to fall back on, the others do not.

They do still work- Nichola is right when she defends this, I have visited constituency offices and I have seen the work they’re still doing. From benefits to anti social behaviour, they’re still working. Now, they are not in the Chamber, but believe it or not, the bulk of their work was never done in the Assembly, The real problem with no Assembly is the lack of power to lobby a minister for changes and raise issues. But, if you think MLAs are sitting at home all day, you need to think again.

You voted for this- “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter” said Winston Churchill. A year ago, we went to the polls and voted for this outcome. If polls are to be believed, that sentiment has not changed. You get the government you vote for and in this case, voters have opted in the main for no government.

Finally, beware silver bullets. I know it’s easy to think that cutting pay is an easy route to salvation. But, it really isn’t, all it will do is make a few people feel a little bit better and that’s it. Maybe that is a good enough reason to do it, but don’t bet that it will have any other impact.



David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs