Belfast Telegraph

We’re paying MLAs more but it’s costing us all less

The 11% rise in MLAs’ salaries actually represents a £3m saving in the cost of running the Assembly, says Pat McCartan

My colleagues on the independent financial review panel for the Assembly, Dr Etta Campbell and Alan McQuillan, and I yesterday published our first report on the salaries, office holder allowances, office costs expenses and pensions of MLAs.

We are confident our report may be seen as tough by some, but also as fair, equitable, and affordable. Above all, we are satisfied it supports the members of the Assembly in their work until the next election.

The panel has delivered a real salary increase for MLAs funded through significant savings elsewhere resulting in a net saving to the public purse of £3.16m, or £29,000 per MLA, for the period up to April 2015. We believe that our report is good for Northern Ireland.

We looked at the current position on base salaries for MLAs in comparison with other legislatures. Our calculations were based on April 2011 figures and the movements in basic salary over the period from 2002.

These figures show that, in each of the other legislatures, base rates for MP, MSP and Assembly Member Wales rose by approximately 30%. MLAs had only a minor adjustment of 4.3% in 2007. Average earnings in Northern Ireland grew by 26.6% over the same period.

Our pay comparisons and job evaluations have led us to conclude the MLA base rate should be £48,000 and we have deferred the application date to April 1, 2013

Our main decisions, which will apply until the next Assembly election, are:

  • An increase of £4,898 (11%) in the salary of MLAs, with effect from April 1, 2013. (This single increase will apply until after the next election, not expected before 2015);
  • The post of Speaker will receive an increase in office holder allowance of £6,199 (16.4%), with effect from April 1, 2013;
  • The allowance for chairs of statutory committees and chair of the public accounts committee will be increased from £11,331 to £12,000 with effect from 1 April 2013;
  • Forty-seven MLAs receive office holders allowances in addition to their salary. Salaries and allowances for almost half of these posts will be cut by amounts ranging from £5,331 to £9,738;
  • MLAs who are also councillors will have 100% of their basic councillor allowance progressively deducted from their MLA salary by April 1, 2013;
  • MLAs’ contributions to their pension scheme will be increased by 1% to a maximum of 12.5% from July 1, 2012;
  • From April 1, 2012, office costs expenses will be reduced progressively by 3% per year from £75,857 to £69,238 by April 1, 2014;
  • Automatic cost-of-living increases for expenses have been stopped;
  • The amount of office consumables MLAs can get free of charge from the Assembly secretariat stores has been limited to £1,000 per year;
  • Eight MLAs who are also MPs will have their Assembly office costs expenses progressively reduced from £37,928 per year to £8,655 per year by April 1, 2014.

In addition, we have strengthened the controls on the payment of salaries and expenses. We expect these changes to achieve improved value for money, openness and accountability.

In future, MLAs’ salaries and expenses must be paid into accounts in their own names. Purchasing goods and services from ‘connected parties’, including family members, political donors and political parties, has been banned.

The employment of family members has been limited to not more than one by the end of the mandate. Our decisions have increased the basic salary for MLAs from 2013, but funded this through a range of reductions.

In spite of the pay rise, the package in its entirety will save £3.16m over the remaining three years of this Assembly mandate. This represents a cut in the cost of politics.

Pat McCartan is chair of the |independent financial review|panel for the Assembly

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