Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Wrong pay rise at the wrong time

All MLAs at Stormont, with the exception of the SDLP members, have accepted a pay rise of at least 11%. It is hard to get away from the feeling that by doing so they have seriously misjudged the public mood. The evidence of hard times are all around us, high unemployment, few jobs for even young qualified people, savage cuts to benefits, a stagnant housing market and a decimated retail sector.

That is an unpromising backdrop to an inflation-busting pay rise for politicians who should be steering the province out of its economic crisis but show little imagination on how to tackle it.

Any poll will show that the electorate doesn't feel its political leaders are overworked. Some may think there is relatively little legislation that can be, or is, passed at Stormont. They will argue that MLAs enjoy long holidays and that the 108 members at Stormont mean we are grossly over-represented, even if it is to ensure proper political balance.

Politicians can argue, as Sinn Fein did yesterday, that the £5,000 increase for MLAs only makes up for the £5,000 axed from constituency office allowances. The clear inference is that if they didn't take the increase in salary and put it into their offices then their constituents would suffer a reduced service. However, there is no compulsion on members to make that sacrifice out of their own pocket. They can simply trouser the money.

Particularly in times of hardship, the public expects politicians to show leadership. Even more, people hope they will show empathy with those who have suffered pay freezes, pay cuts or even loss of employment.

David Cameron famously said that we are all in this together. Well the majority of Stormont politicians obviously don't wish to feel the same pain as many of their constituents. Now, more than ever, they will be under pressure to prove they are good value for the money the public pays them.

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