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Stormont Executive Office's £50k bill on trips and hospitality

By Noel McAdam

Published 06/08/2016

Martin McGuinnes and Arlene Foster
Martin McGuinnes and Arlene Foster

The First and Deputy First Minister's office is running up an almost £50,000 bill on trips and hospitality every month, it has been revealed.

Officials working for Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness spend an average £33,000 each month on travel.

And the bill for hospitality at what is now called the Executive Office adds a monthly total of a further £12,000.

The information was provided in Assembly answers to MLA Jim Allister, who insisted: "Junkets at public expense are not acceptable."

And the TUV leader said it should be possible for senior staff such as special advisors to "assist" without having to leave Northern Ireland.

Mr Allister, who has long crusaded on the costs attached to the Stormont administration, said the totals did not include all the other devolved departments.

"An overall level of over £540,000 per annum for one department does seem extravagant," the north Antrim MLA said.

The DUP leader and senior Sinn Fein figure revealed their office had a total spend on travel and hospitality for 2015/16 of £396,406. Even when the travelling expenses for the Executive's foreign offices in Brussels, Washington and China are excluded, the total still tops £300,000.

On hospitality, the total between June last year and this May - the month of the Assembly election - was £144,066, from a high of more than £29,000 in March to less than £5,000 last August.

The total works out at around £12,000 a month.

Stormont's top two also disclosed, however, that details of the "persons or bodies to whom hospitality has been provided are not held centrally on the Department's financial accounting system".

Mr Allister said: "Put together almost £50,000 per month of taxpayers' money is going on travel and hospitality for OFMDFM.

"Of course some level of expenditure is necessary, especially in running the foreign offices, but an overall level of over £540,000 per annum for one department does seem extravagant.

"Maybe the travelling entourage of special advisers and civil servants is too great when the First Ministers travel abroad. Junkets at public expense are not acceptable.

"In this modern age of instant communication, would much be lost if the special advisers assisted from Belfast?"

The TUV leader added: "These figures only relate to the Executive Office of the First Ministers. They do not include the other departments with high spending on travel. I believe the Executive Office needs to cull unnecessary expenditure."

There was no immediate comment from the Executive Office last night.

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