£100,000 Assembly light refreshments bill leads to call for tighter belts
Assembly Members are on their way to running up a £100,000 bill for refreshments served at committee meetings.
The total in the last four years has reached almost £96,000 - and likely to pass the £100,000 mark before the end of this financial year next March.
Peckish MLAs are supplied with trays of sandwiches, biscuits, fruit and tea or coffee at most committee sessions, along with mints, which are also available in the Chamber.
The Assembly says it means Members can stave off hunger pangs - and keep hard at work - without having to break for lunch or tea.
But despite spending cuts across all departments, expenditure on committee refreshments keeps increasing.
In the last full year MLAs munched and slurped through more than £28,000, compared to almost £23,000 in the previous 12 months.
The latest figures were provided to TUV leader Jim Allister, who has called for a cap on the snacks and nibbles.
"It costs a mint to keep MLAs sweet," he deadpanned.
Total expenditure by committees on refreshments since May 2011 is £95,727.63. Broken down by each year, that is:
- 2011/2012: £18,148.16
- 2012/2013: £18,266.84
- 2013/2014: £22,750.28
- 2014/2015: £28,270.01
From April this year to the end of August the figure is £8,292.34, giving the £95,700 total.
Earlier breakdowns revealed a big disparity between committees. The business committee, which sets Assembly agendas and meets at Tuesday lunchtimes, got through £13,500 on refreshments in the past five years. Next highest was the finance and personnel committee, which ate into more than £12,200 of refreshments, while spending by four other committees topped £10,000.
Mr Allister said: "While a few committees have curbed their expenditure over the past year, others show no signs of meeting the public expectation of belt-tightening. It is time this expenditure was capped."
In 2012 the North Antrim MLA found that the total for the committees had reached £181,388.30 since Stormont was restored back in 2007. "I discovered by way of an Assembly question that MLAs have munched through almost £1,000 of mints since 2009," he said.
"Now we discover that, since 2007/8, committees have consumed over £180,000 in tea and sandwiches.
"Some of the figures are staggering, with the business committee managing to get through almost £5,000 of food in 2009/10. The figure has fallen significantly since, but it was still well over £3,000 in 2010/11.
"MLAs can avail of a canteen, which is already subsidised by the taxpayer, and, in the vast majority of cases, it is possible for MLAs to both attend their committee and go for lunch either before or after it."
He added: "It is not unusual to see a large pile of sandwiches which are uneaten after committee meetings.
"The cavalier attitude to public revealed by these figures is typical of Stormont's waste."