Belfast Telegraph

£3,600 a day to keep the lights and heat on at a Stormont that hasn't functioned for two years

By Lizzie Deane

More than £2m has been shelled out on utility bills for Stormont since the collapse of the Executive two years ago.

Around £3,600 is now spent every day on average on running costs such as rates, electricity and heating.

The figures come as Northern Ireland enters its third year without a government.

As running costs stack up, the debating chamber remains largely empty amid a backlog of pending legislation.

Civil servants who have taken control of day-to-day governance in the absence of a sitting Assembly have limited powers to take major decisions in important areas like health, education and crime.

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said she understood the public's anger with the continued Stormont stalemate, partly blaming the distractions of Brexit at Westminster for the impasse.

She said: "Alliance shares the frustration and anger of people at the opportunities for Northern Ireland being wasted during the impasse.

"Continuing with this malaise is just not sustainable.

"We put workable solutions on the table - our Next Steps Forward document - almost a year ago, outlining constructive suggestions to re-establish devolution and get MLAs back to doing their full job.

"Despite that and numerous efforts on our part to inject a sense of urgency into getting devolution reformed and restored, the Government appears so consumed by Brexit chaos there is neither the interest nor capacity to drive our process forward.

"The onus is now on the Secretary of State to either act on our proposals or come forward with better ones so we can get talks established and devolution delivering again for people."

A series of talks to restore the institutions have stalled amid disagreements between the DUP and Sinn Fein on issues such as the Irish language and dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.

Despite the lack of a functioning Executive, thousands of pounds are still being spent each day keeping the Stormont building running.

A total of £2,207,476 was spent on utility bills between April 2017 and November 30, 2018 - £1,155,994 in 2017/18 and £1,051,481 from April to November 30 last year.

That works out at £3,630 every day on average.

Based on that average, the total cost to date since the collapse could be as much as £2.6m. The figures were obtained after a Freedom of Information request.

Rates is the biggest spend - running at about £800,000 in 2017/18.

Electricity costs were around £170,000 that year, with around £80,000 spent that year on heating.

An Assembly spokesman said the utility costs were necessary even though Stormont itself is not sitting.

"MLAs are still carrying out constituency and related duties and hold meetings with officials and others in their offices and meeting rooms throughout the building," he said.

"In addition, Parliament Buildings is open to the public and welcomes visitors, including those participating in educational activities and other events, as well as those interested in the history of the building."

The DUP and Sinn Fein blame each other for the deadlock.

DUP MLA Gordon Lyons said: "I am frustrated that my colleagues and I are not back in the Assembly chamber.

"Over 730 days have passed since Sinn Fein checked out of government and during those days there have been no laws passed on healthcare and education reforms, infrastructure projects and policing matters.

"Sinn Fein has put their wish-list and preconditions ahead of issues which matter to everyone living in Northern Ireland.

"It's time they faced up to the consequences of their decision to leave Northern Ireland without a government."

Sinn Fein was contacted for comment but did not respond.

Belfast Telegraph

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