Belfast Telegraph

Monday 14 July 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Time to rewrite expenses rulebook

Many MPs expressed shame-faced regret over the expenses scandal exposed last year. And there were righteous expressions of contrition from party leaders.

Abuse of expenses would never happen again, they said, and dubious practices such as double-jobbing - sitting in two or more chambers - and employing family members at public expense would be ended.

However, the claims of reform have not been matched with uniform action throughout the UK. While Northern Ireland parties have said they are beginning to end most dual representation, it appears that there will be no restrictions on employing family members - unlike in England and Wales.

New rules being introduced by the House of Commons will limit MPs to employing one family member while the Scottish Parliament is to ban any employment of family members by 2015. Yet, a new expenses rule book being drawn up for the Northern Ireland Assembly is not expected to make any reference to employing family members. Some 36 Assembly members, from virtually every party, have at least one family member on their payrolls, paid for out of tax-payer funded expenses. Moreover, half of the province's MPs also had family members working for them.

At a time when many people are losing their jobs and in a region which has very strict employment laws, the employment of relatives by public representatives grates with the public. At the very least the people footing the bill would reasonably expect local MLAs to show - as the Welsh Parliament proposes - that relatives employed are demonstrably the best candidates for the job.

With faith in politics and politicians at an all-time low, it is surely not too much to expect MLAs and MPs to do everything in their power to restore public confidence. Re-writing the Stormont expenses rule book to create greater transparency on the employment of family members - possibly including a total ban - would show that politicians are not taking the electorate for granted.

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