MLAs not giving the taxpayer value for money
With the quite justifiable public anger over MLAs' expenses it would be all too easy to overlook another aspect of how our politicians are reimbursed - namely value for money.
For instance, in my own constituency of Lagan Valley the dominant party has one MP and four MLAs, with a large office in Lisburn and a smaller office in Dromore, and doubtless they're very proud of their facilities, but who picks up the bill? The taxpayer. And quite a bill it is!
According to the Assembly website in the period 2013-14, the four MLAs claimed in excess of £276,000 in office expenses - all perfectly within the rules. Please note I haven't included travel expenses. According to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority website, my MP during this period claimed in excess of £22,000 in office costs and £130,000 in staffing costs. In fact, with accommodation and miscellaneous costs included the bill to us the taxpayer was just over £190,000 - again all perfectly proper and within the rules.
Now no one ever said democracy was cheap, but the fact remains that under the present arrangements one party, in one constituency, is costing the taxpayer over £466,000 in expenses; with salaries included the bill is well in excess of £700,000. The present system at Stormont needs to be replaced, for instance with a sliding scale. Parties with one MLA would still get the full allowance, 100%; parties with a second MLA, 100% plus an additional 75%; the third and fourth would get 50% and 25% respectively.
And the taxpayer? Well, they might get something approaching value for money!