Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 4 October 2015

Hain hiked MLAs’ office payouts by 45% despite advice

By David Gordon

Published 22/12/2009

Secretary of State Peter Hain overruled Civil Service advice and increased MLA office expenses by 45% after the 2007 power-sharing deal, it has been revealed.

And his plan was tabled and implemented within a few days in a bid to divert criticism from Northern Ireland's incoming devolved administration.

He hiked the annual office expenses total for MLAs from £48,000 to £70,000, just as devolution returned in May 2007.

Papers released under Freedom of Information show that the official advice to Mr Hain was for a new £60,000 total — on the basis that this would bring Stormont into line with Westminster increases. But the then Secretary of State pushed ahead with a plan for a new £70,000 total.

The 45% increase related to the Office Cost Allowance (OCA) — which funds the running and staffing of MLA constituency offices and makes up the vast bulk of the Assembly expenses bill.

It had been stuck at £48,000 since 2002.

Proposals from Mr Hain for a major increase were outlined in a high-level Government email, circulated among Stormont officials on May 2, 2007, just six days before devolution returned.

It said the Secretary of State envisaged the MLA total rising from £48,000 to £58,000, with an additional “incidental expenses fund” being created to provide each member with up to £15,000 more per year.

The May 2 email also stated: “In order that this doesn't become a negative issue for the new Assembly and Executive, he'd like to be able to do it all before devolution next week.”

A Ministerial briefing paper subsequently drawn up by officials noted that “incidental expenses” were already incorporated in the existing Assembly system.

It advised: “Paying MLAs a new incidental expenses fund would in effect be duplicating that which already exists.

“Currently the Westminster allowances amount to up to £107.6k per annum, comprising £87.2k staff allowance and £20.4k incidental expenses fund.

“When the Assembly set its own OCA rate at £48k in June 2002, it did so in full knowledge of the relativity with Westminster allowances which at that time were £90.5k.

“On the basis that the Westminster allowances have increased by 19% between 2002 and 2007 and that this relativity should be maintained, a similar increase applied to OCA would therefore produce a revised allowance of £59.3k.

“Consequently, we would recommend that the OCA be increased to up to £60k per annum.”

But that recommendation was not accepted by Mr Hain.

An email from a civil servant on May 3 said the Secretary of State was “minded” to increase the OCA “to about £70,000 rather than £60,000”.

The official's email stated: “A bit more difficult to justify I guess given that it would be a bigger percentage increase than Westminster but as they are not directly pegged I don't think this is too much of a problem.”

A new Ministerial briefing paper was then drafted, stating: “Taking into account also your wish to increase the OCA in absolute terms, this would point to an increase in the OCA to up to £70k per annum.”

A legal determination was signed by the Secretary of State on May 4, increasing the MLA office expenses from £48,000 to £70,000.

From the web

Sponsored Videos

Your Comments

Comments posted this week will only be visible until Saturday Oct 3 and will not be available to view after that date. This is due to essential upgrade work on our content management system and we apologise for any inconvenience.

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting?

Read More

From Belfast Telegraph