The head of Northern Ireland’s jobs agency is in line for a ‘performance’ pay bonus of more than £36,000.
The massive award to Alastair Hamilton, chief executive of Invest NI, was agreed by the former Enterprise and Industry Minister Arlene Foster on her last day in office.
But given the current economic climate — with Invest NI itself facing cutbacks — Mr Hamilton yesterday said he will not take the cash until a review of pay in the senior Civil Service is complete.
The decision is, however, in apparent defiance of overall Executive policy on public sector pay rises, particularly to senior civil servants, and is likely to spark a storm at the first meeting of ministers in the new Assembly.
Her decision also overruled advice from top officials who warned the pay boost would be seen as unfair by other senior staff who have been denied bonuses — and could set a precedent.
The £36,800 remuneration is also for one year only, and amounts to 83% of the maximum available, according to information seen by this newspaper.
It comes on top of an annual salary to Mr Hamilton of around £160,000.
Mr Hamilton and his team have had a number of headline-grabbing successes in recent months — with more than 1,800 new job openings since the start of this year — but cannot outstrip increasing dole queues.
Recruitment firm Forde May said last month: “Many of these (jobs) are a result of the excellent work of Invest NI over the last few years coming to fruition.”
Two years ago, however, Finance Minister Sammy Wilson said the top 220 civil servants would receive no bonuses, saving taxpayers here £1.1m that year alone.
An internal memo, also seen by the Belfast Telegraph, says the Executive’s current stance in relation to performance-related pay is that senior officials in the wider public sector should not be awarded performance bonuses.
But it is understood the rules allow for certain exceptional circumstances, which are believed to include instances where a clear contractual commitment can be established.
When Ms Foster initially gave the green light for the remuneration package, advertised in the autumn of 2008, she confirmed it was to include a performance-related element.
Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister, who earlier raised the issue of the potential pay increase for Mr Hamilton, said he was “appalled”.
“In these times of austerity and when the pay of low paid public servants is being frozen, I am astounded that the chief executive of Invest NI, who already earns a huge salary, has been gifted a £36,000 bonus,” he said.
Newly-elected to the Assembly, Mr Allister said he would now be tabling questions seeking further information, including Mr Hamilton’s pay as a former DUP special adviser.
The largest Civil Service union, the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance, said it was opposed to bonus payments.
“(Mr Hamilton) doesn’t say he will not accept this in the longer term,” said official Noel Griffin.
“We don’t believe there should be performance-related bonuses.
“We believe there should be a rate of pay for the job, which in this case is £160,000 currently, and all other money should be put towards pay rises for everyone.”