Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

A pay rise of 11%, and most Stormont MLAs will take it

Only SDLP and a lone unionist say they'll turn it down

Assembly Members intending to take up a whopping 11% pay rise have been justifying their decision to take the cash.

The Belfast Telegraph has carried out a snap survey of our MLAs and found that the majority are intending to accept a pay rise which has been set by an independent panel and will come into force next month.

According to the random selection of Members we asked, most MLAs said they had misgivings about the rise, but would take it.

Some, however, are taking a stand and refusing it.

Michael Copeland, the UUP MLA for East Belfast, has told us he will turn down the pay rise he, and everyone else on the Stormont benches, is entitled to claim from April 1.

The SDLP will be turning down the increase as a matter of party policy. "We stand with the workers," a spokeswoman said.

Sinn Fein MLAs say they will each see only about £21,000 of whatever salary is awarded them. The rest of their £48,000 wage is paid directly into a party fund and, Sinn Fein says, any increase will be "donated directly back into the constituency service".

The salary increase changes depending on any extra responsibility any Member may have. For example, a minister will receive a different salary hike from the chairman of a Stormont committee

The basic MLA salary will rise from £43,101 to £48,000.

The largest increase of all – over 16.4% to £92,000 – goes to William Hay, the Speaker, who also has the use of an official residence near Stormont.

Mr Hay did not return calls and texts inquiring about his attitude to the rise. However, his DUP party said that its Members were taking the salary hike. It said many would use it to subsidise constituency services.

Explaining his decision to refuse the rise, Mr Copeland pointed to the difficult financial times being experienced by many families across Northern Ireland.

"Frankly, I do not think that, given the impending effect of welfare reform on ordinary people, I can personally accept an increase," he said.

His party colleague Michael McGimpsey, in South Belfast, said he was also considering turning down the increase and felt "uncomfortable" with the idea.

Mr Copeland's gesture is significant because he has not been pressured to make it by his party. The UUP leaves the decision up to individual MLAs and says, like the DUP and Alliance, that many are taking the increase to make up for an equivalent cut in their office costaAllowances.

Patsy McGlone, who represents the SDLP in Mid Ulster and who lost the recent by-election to Sinn Fein's Francie Molloy, said he would have been "ashamed" to take an increase given the performance of the Assembly and the Executive.

Anna Lo of Alliance also feels uneasy about the increase. "It makes us look greedy," she admitted.

However, she said she was committed to pay scales for her two constituency workers and would have to use the increase to meet these commitments.

Story so far

* Last March Stormont politicians were awarded an inflation busting rise in pay by a three-strong independent panel headed by Pat McCartan, a former trade unionist.

* The biggest increase will go to the Speaker, whose wages will soar from £80,902 to £92,000. The panel argued that the office of Speaker "carries the full dignity of the Assembly and a heavy burden well beyond that of chairing sessions of the Assembly".

* All the rises will be pensionable.

* The rise was mainly paid for by cutting office costs allowances (OCA) for constituency services by £5,000 to £69,238. The review panel estimates that there will be a net saving to the taxpayer of £3.16m in the lifetime of this Assembly.

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