Belfast Telegraph

Pay rise for MLAs blocked but Bradley unlikely to cut salaries

By Suzanne Breen

Secretary of State Karen Bradley has said she will ensure that a planned £500 pay increase for MLAs next month will not go ahead.

MPs yesterday passed a bill to allow Mrs Bradley to make changes to Stormont representatives' salaries and allowances.

But there is no sign that the Secretary of State is likely to move to cut MLAs' pay in the immediate future despite significant public pressure for her to act.

However, responding to a question from North Down MP Lady Sylvia Hermon in the House of Commons, Mrs Bradley pledged to ensure that MLAs will not get a £500 pay rise on April 1.

The Secretary of State said: "I will be bringing legislation to bring powers to this parliament to vary the rates of pay of MLAs.

"The reason I am doing so this week is to ensure we do so before the start of the new financial year so that no pay increases do go through because I well understand the strong feelings she has (Lady Hermon) - it is a strong feeling that has been expressed by many in Northern Ireland."

The NI Assembly Members (Pay) Bill will enable Mrs Bradley to make a determination on pay during the period without an executive, though does not itself make any changes to MLA pay or allowances.

Earlier this month, the Secretary of State said she was "minded" to reduce politicians' salaries by 27.5%, but she would seek the views of the local parties before making a final decision.

Mrs Bradley yesterday said she did not intend to take action on the salaries of their staff as she did not think they should "suffer" because an executive has not been formed.

"I do not intend to take any action with regard to staff salaries. I think it is quite right that they should be continuing to be paid because they work incredibly hard for the constituents of the MLAs," she told MPs.

Before Christmas, a former civil servant reviewed MLAs' pay and recommended the 27.5% cut, a move that would take the standard salary rate of £49,500 down to £35,888 in two stages.

Mrs Bradley said she continued to encourage representations from parties "before bringing forward a determination on wider changes to pay and allowances under this bill".

"I cannot act to put a determination in place until this Bill has been passed by both Houses and received Royal Assent," she added.

Labour Shadow Secretary of State Owen Smith said his party accepted the need for a cut in MLA salaries but cautioned that previous salary reductions during a similar period when the Assembly wasn't sitting had not necessarily led parties to do a deal.

The Bill cleared the Commons without amendment and will be scrutinised in the Lords at a later date.

When devolution was suspended in 2002, MLAs continued to receive 70% of their salaries and expenses for the next five years.

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