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Assembly hits back at criticism over savings

By Noel McAdam

The Assembly has rejected criticism it failed to come up with savings to the public purse - despite the spending axe hitting all other Government departments.

MLAs hit out after an attack from Finance Minister Simon Hamilton who has now imposed a 5% reduction to its budget. They insisted the Commission responsible for running Parliament Buildings offered to make savings and requested a meeting with Mr Hamilton.

But the multi-party body admitted it had not given Mr Hamilton any precise figure - just a guarantee to reduce its annual budget.

And it pointed out the Assembly has already saved around £13m including the office cost allowances of the 108 members.

MLAs are also facing a further 3% cut to their office cost allowances - albeit to finance a salary increase, which only the SDLP members and Ulster Unionist Michael Copeland turned down - in the next financial year. On Monday, as he presented next year's Budget, Mr Hamilton said he and other ministers had been "dismayed" that the Assembly came up with no suggestions for reducing its annual £40m budget.

"I do not believe these institutions are run so efficiently that they cannot play some part in keeping budgets to a minimal level," Mr Hamilton said.

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