Belfast Telegraph

Logo might soon be the only emblem on MLA's constituency office in Northern Ireland

By Nevin Farrell

A ban on flags, emblems and memorials at Assembly members' offices is being proposed by the same panel that sets their salaries.

The panel is also consulting on new restrictions on rent allowances and mileage claims for MLAs.

And they say MLAs should attend Stormont for almost 100 days each year - or else lose cash.

The Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP) says MLA constituency offices are funded for politicians to serve their constituents - not for party political reasons.

Their report proposes that the only logo which should appear at MLA offices is the Assembly flax flower and there should be no flags, party emblems or memorials at the offices.

The body is also proposing that MLA expenses should be docked if they do not electronically register their attendance at Stormont's Parliament Buildings for at least 99 days a year.

Other proposals include capping constituency office rent to £8,000 per year and removing home-to-office mileage for MLAs which the panel hopes could save £74,000 a year.

The panel is seeking responses before September 11. It wants to replace the current system with three new allowable expenses for constituency offices, travel and employment support expenses.

There are also plans to cap some claims.

Pat McCartan, chairman of the IFRP, said: "The panel is committed to ensuring that the rules and finances relating to members' salaries and allowances remain fair, workable and transparent as well as representing value for money."

He added: "There has been a high degree of interest in members' expenses and the people of Northern Ireland deserve to know that their money is being spent appropriately and in the best interests of creating a democratic society."

MLAs receive a basic salary of at least £48,000 but politicians with added responsibilities are paid higher sums - such as £86,000 for ministers and £60,000 for those holding committee chairmanships. The First and Deputy First Ministers are paid £120,000 a year.

MLAs are also entitled to claim a maximum of £67,161 for office cost expenditure, provided they are not an MP.

If approved, the new changes would mean a major overhaul of the administration and auditing processes.

Mr McCartan said: "We are proposing some important changes to improve probity and value for money, make it easier for members to get the support they need and tackle those areas where we know there is real public concern."

In January the IFRP reduced MLAs expenses by £1,000.

The move followed confirmation that police officers were examining allegations about the alleged misuse of expense claims highlighted in two television documentaries.

The BBC Spotlight programmes particularly focused on how representatives from the Assembly's two largest parties - the DUP and Sinn Fein - claimed money over the last decade.

Belfast Telegraph


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