Belfast Telegraph

Translink bosses on six-figure wages get £9,000 car allowances

By Adrian Rutherford

Senior officials at Translink are entitled to car allowances worth £9,000 on top of their six-figure salaries, it has emerged.

The grant is offered to the company’s eight-strong management team — even though six of them earn more than £100,000.

Three of the eight were provided with company cars instead of the allowance. The officials, and their families, also travel free on buses and trains.

Details of the generous benefits emerged on the same day that Translink’s chief executive refused to rule out a fresh hike in fares when she appeared before Stormont’s Regional Development committee.

Catherine Mason and Philip O’Neill, the company’s chief operating officer, were quizzed by MLAs about new pay and conditions for train drivers.

Earlier this summer it emerged drivers would get a 24% pay hike despite facing huge cuts in funding. The committee chair, Jimmy Spratt, referred to details he had received about benefits awarded to Translink’s executive group.

It includes Ms Mason, who is Northern Ireland’s highest paid public sector official with a salary package totalling £198,000.

Replying to questions from the DUP MLA, Ms Mason confirmed that six of eight executive members earn over £100,000 a year.

These include Mr O’Neill, whose salary package is around £140,000, the committee was told.

Ms Mason confirmed three of the eight have company cars while the others are entitled to a car allowance worth £9,000 a year.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Spratt branded the allowances as “outdated and unacceptable”.

“These benefits have been put into their contracts in another age and someone has approved them, but I don’t think they are benefits which this committee would have been agreeable to,” he said.

“I can understand someone getting a mileage allowance if they use their own car, but this £9,000 car allowance is paid whether you travel one mile or 20,000 miles.

“I don’t think it adds up that people on these salaries have a £9,000 car allowance.”

Ms Mason confirmed she previously received a bonus equivalent to 15% of salary — although this has not been paid since 2008/09. Later she was asked could she rule out increased fares and reduced services. She said it was too early to say.

Mr Spratt said that if its deficit has to be cut, bosses’ pay and allowances should be looked at instead of passing the burden on to passengers through higher fares.

“It wasn’t ruled out and I think it’s very much on the cards, considering what she said today,” he added.

“They talk about deficit, not in trimming the top end of the organisation but rather in leading to an increase in fares and a reduction in services.

“In the present economic climate, given that we had a 3% increase a short while ago, it would be totally out of the question for the public to be asked to contribute any more.”

A Translink spokesperson said: “Provision of a car or an equivalent allowance is included in executive remuneration packages.

“The group remuneration policy objective is to provide remuneration which is designed to attract, retain and motivate executives of the right calibre.”

Chief ‘was at the Olympics rather than Stormont talks’

By Adrian Rutherford

The boss of Translink skipped a Stormont committee meeting on a wage hike for train drivers to attend the London Olympics, a Stormont committee has been told.

Catherine Mason was heavily criticised after failing to appear before MLAs in August to explain the 24% rise.

At the time Translink said she was honouring a family commitment — but refused to say what it was.

Now it has been claimed that Ms Mason missed a meeting of the Regional Development committee — where she was due to be grilled on the wage rise — to attend the Olympics.

Its chairman Jimmy Spratt (below) — who rearranged cancer treatment to be at the original meeting — referred to her London visit when she finally appeared before MLAs yesterday.

“I’m glad to see you with us today,” he told Ms Mason. “I am disappointed you didn’t attend the previous meeting.

“I hope you had an enjoyable time at the Olympic Games in London.”

Ms Mason made no reply to Mr Spratt’s remarks.

The DUP MLA said the committee would have rescheduled the meeting if Ms Mason had asked.

At the time of the controversy, Mr Spratt said he postponed treatment for bowel cancer to attend the meeting.

“I was supposed to have chemotherapy at 9am today so I don't think it’s a hardship for someone on £200,000 to come along to the committee and explain what’s going on,” he said.

Translink declined to comment when contacted yesterday, and referred back to an earlier statement which claimed Ms Mason “had a long-standing family commitment” that day.

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