Stormont hospitality bill leaves bitter taste
Published 15/08/2014 | 10:23
While the Stormont administration comes in for frequent criticism, there is no denying that the various departments and their arms-length bodies do a valuable job.
There is a natural cynicism towards government and certainly our unique forced coalition sometimes fails to deliver because of tensions between the parties.
Yet it would be wrong to allow that cynicism to throw a permanent cloud over the administration.
However, sometimes MLAs are authors of their own misfortune.
The rising hospitality bill at Stormont is a case in point. It currently runs at £50,000 a week, and has increased by 22% in the last two years.
In the grand scale of government expenditure those sums are just a drop in the ocean, but they set the wrong tone.
At a time when many families are struggling to make ends meet, MLAs must consider how the man or woman in the street views the way they conduct their affairs and the lifestyle of a politician.
There is a fairly wide consensus that we have too many MLAs. Most people feel that the 11% pay rise awarded to MLAs was too generous, even if the politicians had no role in setting it, and the 16.4% rise for the Speaker was astounding.
Add in subsidised canteens and expenses and many would regard the life of a MLA as being rather more gilded than that of most of their constituents.
But perhaps the most annoying aspect of the rising hospitality bill at Stormont is the reluctance of departments and arms-length bodies to give a detailed breakdown of how the money was spent.
No one expects government to wear a hair shirt, but it should take account of the economic context in which it operates. And yet again the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister has failed to provide information about its hospitality bill.
If this happened at Westminster there would be an outcry but here there will probably just be a collective shrugging of shoulders.
Yet we should not allow this office to thumb its nose at the public.