Northern Ireland Executive press officers cost public £1m since May
The Northern Ireland Executive has spent more than £1million in employing press officers in the past five months, it has been revealed.
The figure was revealed by the Stephen Nolan Radio Ulster show on Wednesday morning.
It comes following the controversial appointment of David Gordon. The former Nolan Show editor and Belfast Telegraph political editor was appointed press secretary to the Executive Office on a £75,000 a year salary.
His appointment drew criticism after it emerged the post had not been advertised, and that the First and Deputy First Ministers used powers under what is known as the Royal Prerogative. He was to take up his position this month.
Stephen Nolan revealed that the Northern Ireland bill was over double what the Scotland administration paid. It has 25 press officers, compared to Stormont's 55.
It was also almost double the number in Wales.
Stephen Nolan outlined how many were in each department and the cost:
- The Department of Communities has 11 press officers costing £216,000 since May.
- The Economy Department has seven officers costing £124,000.
- Health has six officers costing £122,000.
- The Executive Office also has six officers costing £120,000.
- Infrastructure has five press officers costing £110,000.
- Justice and finance both pay out £97,000 each while Education is the lowest with a cost of £76,000.
TUV MLA Jim Allister said the figures may sit "uncomfortably with many people who struggle to make ends meet".
He also suggested the figures may not be the whole story as when he asked how many staff were in the Executive Information Service it was revealed to be 161 staff.
"So they have a very substantial back-up as well," he said.
"This speaks to me a culture of squander within the government and also insecurity in government that they need so many people to say what a good job they are doing.
"We are also the region in the UK with the most special advisors also costing vast sums of money.
"You have to ask why the likes of the Department of Communities has 11 press officers when the likes of its arms lengths bodies - like the Housing Executive - has its own press officers."
Mr Allister did concede there was a need for press officers, as he himself has one who is also a researcher and does "all that needs to be done".
"But I don't see the need for government to squander money to this scale."
He also pointed out that there was no one on from the Executive to explain why they needed so many press officers.
Mr Allister said: "Why is Mr Gordon not on to explain this spin regime? They have not enough spin doctors to answer this question.
"Where is Mr Gordon? And if he is not available, why is one of his 55 lieutenants not on to explain the need for so many press officers?
"Where are they, what are they doing?
"There is a certain arrogance that they feel they don't need to provide an answer."
A spokesperson for the Executive Office said: "Press officers provide media advice and support to ministers so that the work, objectives and achievements of the Executive are communicated to the public through both traditional and new media.
"Communication with the public is an important function of Government. There are currently 55 press officers working in nine departmental press offices."