Belfast Telegraph

Poll: Is a £14,000 pay cut for Northern Ireland MLAs enough or too much?

By Jonathan Bell

Northern Ireland's MLAs should have their pay cut by almost £14,000 because of the ongoing political deadlock a review has recommended.

It also says that Assembly Speaker Robin Newton, who continues to collect his £87,500 salary, should have his cut by up to £31,000. And MLAs should put their staff on notice that they may have to be laid off in July.

The report also recommends pay rises are stopped. As revealed by the Belfast Telegraph in April, MLAs were to receive another £500 rise in the coming months. It also recommends any temporary reduction in salaries, however, should not disadvantage MLAs' pensions.

Not since a 45 minute Assembly sitting following the March election, have MLAs met. Since then Northern Ireland Secretary of State James Brokenshire has been under increasing pressure to act on salaries given the political deadlock.

Responding he commissioned former Assembly chief executive Trevor Reaney to examine the issue. In his wide-ranging report he considered the work of the elected representatives between their time in the chamber and on constituency work. He also considered how pay was cut during the 2002 to 2007 suspension of the devolved administrations as well as the level of "value for money" the public gets from its elected representatives.

He recommended MLAs continued to be paid a portion of their salary until at least the end of the year, when another review of the situation should be undertaken. And for the Secretary of State to consider the possibility of operating some form of transitional interim Assembly should the suspension be prolonged with members paid 90% of their salary.

"It is inevitable that public frustration with a non-functioning Assembly will continue to increase," he said.

"The impact of any salary reduction on MLAs' personal circumstances is also acknowledged. Therefore, it is judged that a 'stepped' approach to salary reduction is warranted."

In his extensive report he has made 18 recommendations. They include:

  • MLA pay cut from £49,500 to £42,075 now and be followed by a decrease to £35,888 three months later.
  • Speakers pay cut from £87,500 to £62,035 now and then to £55,848 in three months time.
  • Stopping MLA pay increases until power sharing restored.
  • No further staff recruitment for MLAs.
  • Staffing allowance cut from £50,000 to £37,500 and implemented not later than July.
  • A further review before end of 2018 if political situation remains unchanged.

The report also highlights the "anomaly" of members of the Assembly Commission continuing to receive a £55,000 pay despite losing their seat. The Belfast Telegraph revealed earlier this year the SDLP's Alex Attwood continued to receive his salary after losing his seat. The report states he had returned the MLA portion of the payment and goes on to recommend paying those members not elected only £4,800.

Stormont has been left in limbo since January after relations between the DUP and Sinn Fein broke down leading to the late Martin McGuinness resigning. The Renewable Heating Incentive and former first minister Arlene Foster's refusal to stand down to allow for an investigation brought matters to a head.

However, Sinn Fein, as well as calling for the DUP leader to excuse herself from the Executive to allow for the ongoing inquiry into the botched green energy scheme has also called for past agreements to be fulfilled, such as an Irish language act and funding for legacy issues. In the interim a snap election saw unionism lose its overall majority for the first time and months of talks yield no breakthrough.

James Brokenshire said he would carefully consider the review.

“I would like to thank Trevor Reaney for his thoughtful advice on the approach to the salaries and allowances of MLAs in the continued absence of an Executive or sitting Assembly," he said.

“This is a matter of significant public concern and it is right to take a considered approach. This is why I asked Mr Reaney to provide me with this advice, which I will consider carefully before responding. "

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