£800k special adviser spend unjustifiable, says UUP's Allen as price tag climbs 30%
The annual cost of special advisers to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister's office has spiralled to more than £800,000, it has been revealed.
Total expenditure has soared by 30% - almost £200,000 - since the restoration of devolution in 2007.
There are eight special advisers, known as spads, to the Executive Office - as many as in the entire Welsh government.
They can be paid taxpayer-funded salaries of up to £91,809 - more than Stormont Ministers, who earn £86,000.
In the 12 months to April, spad salaries amounted to £658,077. A further £163,930 was spent on pension contributions - a total of £822,007.
By contrast in 2007/08 the overall bill was £632,475 - £533,945 on salaries and £98,530 on pension costs.
The figures were released after an Assembly question from UUP MLA Andy Allen.
Mr Allen said the costs were "outrageous" and indicated an out-of-control system.
"The growth in salaries and pensions costs has come during a time of contracting public expenditure, with key services coming under serious pressure, a stagnating economy, a record number of young people not being able to find work, a major streamlining in the number and size of Executive departments and the biggest shake-up to the welfare system in a generation," Mr Allen added.
"All the while, however, the DUP and Sinn Fein have continued to reward those privileged party apparatchiks around them with excessive and wholly unwarranted salary increases.
"Despite being entirely paid for from the public purse, these special advisers continue to remain wholly unaccountable to anyone but their party leader."
Last year, a bill that would have reduced the cap on special advisers' pay was defeated in the Assembly after the DUP and Sinn Fein voted against it.
The legislation, proposed by TUV leader Jim Allister, would have also cut the number of special advisers to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister's office from eight to four.
At the time, Mr Allister said: "The cabal which controls this house was determined to kill this bill."
Mr Allen, meanwhile, said the costs were no longer acceptable.
"These figures demonstrate that the cost of special advisers is simply not justifiable," he added.
"I would call on the First Ministers to initiate an immediate review of the numbers and costs of special advisers in their department - especially now that so many of its responsibilities have been transferred to other departments."
Four of the eight special advisers support First Minister Arlene Foster and DUP Junior Minister Alistair Ross.
They are Richard Bullick, Timothy Johnston, Philip Weir and Stephen Brimstone.
The other four assist Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Sinn Fein Junior Minister Megan Fearon.
They are Dara O'Hagan, Mark Mullan, Grainne Maskey and John Loughan.