Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

Cross-border officials and their 'lavish' pension pots: Storm over employer contributions that are twice Civil Service rate

Storm over employer contributions that are twice Civil Service rate

TUV's Jim Allister
TUV's Jim Allister

The Enterprise Minister has been urged to address the "squander" of money at North-South bodies after details emerged of lavish spending on pensions at a cross-border trade quango.

Staff at InterTradeIreland are on a pension scheme which has a generous employer contribution of 36%.

It is twice the 18% which is contributed to most civil servants' pensions.

TUV leader Jim Allister, who obtained the details via an Assembly question, said it raised wider questions about the worth of North-South bodies.

"The squander of the sacred cows of North-Southery must be tackled," Mr Allister said.

There are six North-South implementation bodies which operate on an all-Ireland basis, plus Tourism Ireland, which is also classified as a North-South body.

The bodies are funded by Belfast and Dublin and are staffed by a combination of civil servants, either transferred or seconded from their parent departments, and staff directly recruited.

Mr Allister has long been critical of North-South bodies, questioning their value and lack of political accountability.

He has been probing pension arrangements for staff at two of the bodies which fall under the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment's (Deti) control.

These are InterTradeIreland, which promotes trade and business on an all-island and cross-border basis, and Tourism Ireland which, although not one of the six implementation bodies, falls under areas of north-south co-operation.

Minister Arlene Foster confirmed that employer contribution at InterTradeIreland is 36%, while at Tourism Ireland it ranges between 17.9% and 33.4%.

Mr Allister noted that it took 17 months for his Assembly question to be answered. Under Assembly guidelines, it should take just 10 days for a response.

In a previous question, he discovered the employer contribution at a third North-South body, the Special European Union Programmes Body, was an equally generous 31.2%.

However, SEUPB pointed out that its pension arrangements have been updated since Mr Allister's question.

“The pension arrangements for all Northern Ireland staff working within the SEUPB mirrors that of the existing NI Civil Service scheme," it said.

Mr Allister said the contributions, which he branded "lavish", were out of kilter with Civil Service pension schemes.

"Employee contributions within these bodies is minimal, based on a mere 1.5% of salary, again wholly out of kilter with regular Civil Service provision," he added.

"Why are these North-South bodies feted with such lavish pension schemes?

"Where is the promised political accountability and why has their waste not been reined in?"

Mr Allister said it raised serious questions about spending at North-South bodies.

"When added to the fact that several of these North-South bodies have appalling budgetary regulatory records, with notoriously late financial reporting, then the picture which emerges is one of financial anarchy," he added.

"The squander of the sacred cows of North-Southery must be tackled.

"Stormont, to date, has failed to do so adequately. Instead of sitting on an answer for 17 months the Deti minister should long since have been addressing this issue."

The Department of Enterprise did not respond to requests for comment.

Factfile

All-Ireland enterprise quango InterTradeIreland was given responsibility by both governments to boost economic co-operation. Its chief executive is Newry-based Thomas Hunter McGowan. Senior management includes director of programmes and business services Margaret Hearty; corporate services director Laurence Lord, and strategy and policy director Aidan Gough

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