Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Pay hike won't wash with struggling electorate

We make no apology for returning to the vexed issue of MLAs' salary increase. Some have said they will not take it, others that they will put it towards the cost of running their offices as those expenses are being trimmed by £5,000 a year to fund the pay rise. But whatever answer they give, it is simply dodging the issue. We accept that the salary increases of between 11% and 16% were set by an independent panel. What we argue is that they are not justified on any grounds at this time.

The figures speak for themselves. While basic salary levels for MLAs here are below those in the other devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales, the simple fact is that we have too many MLAs. Wales, which has twice our population, has only 60 elected members compared to our 108. And our MLAs' office costs allowances are very generous given the relatively small number of constituents each member has.

So far no MLA has agreed with the £5,000 cut in office allowances. Yet many of their constituents are having to find savings of that magnitude in their household budgets as austerity continues to bite. Do MLAs ever consider how those constituents who have lost their jobs or who have suffered years of pay freezes or cuts are managing to get by? Do they ever consider showing the same thrift when it comes to running their offices?

Put at its most simple, MLAs could have saved the public purse a considerable amount of money by accepting this prudent pruning of their office running costs and turning down the proposed pay increase. To say that they will put their pay rise back into the office account doesn't really wash with the electorate who see it as a trite response to avoid criticism.

What these salary increases have highlighted is the need for a reform of the way elected politicians are paid. Yes, they deserve a decent salary, but remuneration should reflect the circumstances in the real world, which in many instances are the result of failed political policies. If politicians were paid by results they would be a lot poorer.

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