Belfast Telegraph

McDonnell’s U-turn on pay as SDLP MLAs decline £5k hike

By Liam Clarke

SDLP MLAs will turn down the inflation-busting 11% increase awarded them by an independent pay commission, party leader Alasdair McDonnell has revealed.

The move puts pressure on others to follow suit. All parties have criticised the commission, headed by Labour Relations expert Pat McCartan, for reducing their office allowances. This part of the recommendation is non-negotiable, but MLAs can refuse their pay increases.

Mr McCartan said that “if any MLA didn’t want it, all they have to do is pick up the phone to the clerk of the Assembly and send him a message saying what salary they do want to accept. If they do that, the money goes back into the public purse”.

The SDLP, which has 14 MLAs, one of them a minister, has decided to do so. In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Dr McDonnell (right) said: “Our MLAs have agreed to decline the pay rise. Some of them are suffering severely because the commission has in effect robbed Peter to pay Paul by moving the money out of office cost allowances.”

He added: “Our priority is to ensure that we deliver a service to our constituents and the difficulty is that the commission has reduced our ability to do so by trimming allowances.”

Allowances are used to pay rents for constituency offices and to employ staff to work in them.

They will fall from £75,857 a year to £69,238 per MLA.

Even if the pay is handed back the allowances will not be restored. Dr McDonnell stated: “It is tight out there and people are suffering, people are in pain.

“A number of our MLAs say they are going to have to make staff go part-time, despite welfare cuts. We will do our best to get round that.”

The party will look at options like using libraries and community premises to see if it is possible to make the savings on rent.

“If the libraries or anyone else offers us space I will be very happy to accept it, but, as things stand, I find it difficult to get accommodation,” he said.

In his review, Mr McCartan found that office allowances were high compared to other devolved administrations, but MLAs’ wages were low. He estimated that by cutting allowances and raising wages he could make an overall saving of £3.16m, or £29,000 per MLA, by 2015.

For MLAs who accept the increase, pay will go up to £48,000, an increase of £5,000.

Ministers and office holders were also awarded increases.

The largest goes to Willie Hay, the Speaker, who will get a 16% rise, giving him a £44,000 allowance on top of his MLA’s pay.

The ministerial allowance is less at £38,000.

Mr McCartan’s report argued that the Speaker was entitled to more because he “carries the full dignity of the Assembly”.

Story so far

In January Alasdair McDonnell, the SDLP leader, faced criticism after saying that MLAs deserved a “small increment” on their £45,101 a year salary and an increase in pension provision. Earlier this month an independent review body awarded MLAs an 11% pay increase, or around £5,000, their first in five years, but paid for it with cuts in their office allowances, which pay for constituency services. Their office allowances will be reduced from £75,000 to £69,000. The commission’s recommendations have the force of law.

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