Belfast Telegraph

Storm brewing as we pay £160k for Stormont nibbles

By Noel McAdam

Assembly Members have munched and drunk their way through £160,000 worth of refreshments at committee meetings in five years.

The total spread over the last five years comes as the quality of between-meals provision has improved at Stormont committee sessions.

Along with scones, MLAs are now also supplied with fresh fruit, as well as tea, coffee and bottled water. But unionist Jim Allister, who unwrapped the figures for spending on snacks, said it was another example of “needless waste” in Parliament Buildings.

And the Traditional Unionist Voice leader insisted it is now time that Assembly Members were paying for their own nibbles.

The statistics given in an Assembly written answer show the annual costs for the lite bites have gone from almost £29,000 in the year devolution was restored, to more than £37,000 in recent years.

A significant reduction for the last financial year, which finished just last month, is being put down to the fact that invoices are still being finalised.

But even using the provisional figure, the overall amount comes out at £163,151 — roughly £10,000 for each committee.

“Tea and coffee is not enough, it requires scones and fresh fruit as well,” Mr Allister added.

“These figures are but another insight into the needless waste at Stormont in these difficult economic times.

“£160,000 could be much better spent. If MLAs need tea and coffee then we are well able to afford to buy it, without the taxpayers supplying it for free.”

Meanwhile, it has emerged that around the same amount has also gone on overtime for ushers and security staff in the last year.

The overtime broke down as £60,000, arising from a number of posts being vacant and £100,000 for staff who had worked outside their normal shift patterns.

The costs form part of an on-going efficiency drive being steered by the Assembly Commission, which is responsible for the day to day running of the building, amid proposals to merge ushers with the general security staff. Commission member Peter Weir said security and usher services had carried a number of vacancies in the last financial year.

“The Assembly Commission has a reducing budget over the period of the Spending Review which restrains its ability to recruit for vacancies in the Assembly Secretariat,” he said.

Green Party MLA Steven Agnew, who was given the figures following an Assembly question, said: “What we have uncovered is the effect of the recruitment freeze which is ongoing across the Civil Service.

“The fact they are not recruiting means they are having to pay out more in overtime, and while the figures involved are not huge, it does show the folly of recruitment freezes when the amounts being paid could provide salaries for another eight or 10 people.”

The disclosures came after the Belfast Telegraph earlier this week revealed Stormont ministers and officials spent almost £250,000 in fact-finding trips to destinations including the United States, South Africa and India, over the last two years.

And a further £70,000 was spent on MLAs who sit on the various Stormont scrutiny committees for a range of conferences and events around the world.

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