Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

Taxpayers’ champion queries DUP office rent costs

A UK-wide pressure group has questioned the public funding arrangements for a showpiece DUP advice centre.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance was commenting on the Ballymena advice centre jointly run by ex-party leader Ian Paisley and his MLA son Ian Paisley Jnr.

They have been claiming a joint total of £57,200-a-year in rental |expenses from the Assembly for the office.

A recent official report described this figure as “significantly” above the market rent level. The report, by Stormont Standards Commissioner Tom Frawley, stated that the payments were creating a “property asset” for the DUP — by paying off the mortgage on the building. It also concluded that no rules had been broken.

Expenses rules for MLAs do not limit rental claims or impose market-rate requirements.

Matthew Elliott, chief executive at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, commented: “The excuse that expenses claims are ‘within the rules’ simply doesn’t wash with taxpayers any more.

“This case, on top of the Westminster controversies of recent months, highlights the need for urgent reform of the whole expenses system before confidence in the Assembly is further damaged.”

The two-storey Ballymena office is owned by a DUP-linked company called Sarcon 250.

It was set up in 2007 to buy the building and rent it to the Paisleys. The purchase price for the property was £500,000.

MLAs David McNarry (UUP) and John Dallat (SDLP) have recently tabled written Assembly questions on the rental expenses.

Northern Ireland’s Commissioner of Valuation advised Mr Frawley that the market rental rate for such premises would be around £30,000 a year.

But he also stated that the arrangements in the Ballymena case were “understandable” in commercial terms. This was on the grounds of the landlord needing a return on investment in refitting the building for office use.

Mr Dallat has also tabled an Assembly question seeking details of the figures this advice was based on.

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