Belfast Telegraph

Suspended Stormont pays out £500k for catering and broadcasting since collapse

By Rebecca Black

More than half a million has been spent on catering and broadcasting at Stormont over the last ten months - despite the collapse of devolution.

Over £300,000 of public money was spent on a broadcasting contract since January despite the fact that neither the Assembly sittings nor committees have been taking place regularly.

And more than £200,000 has been spent in the same period to subsidise catering services at Parliament Buildings.

Power-sharing collapsed in January after the late deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness resigned from his post in protest over the handling of the RHI scheme.

A small number of sittings took place at the end of January and one on March 13, but it has been far from business as usual at Stormont.

Talks have so far failed to result in an agreement to restore power-sharing arrangements.

In the past week DUP leader Arlene Foster said "substantial issues remain to be resolved".

The spending figures emerged following a series of Assembly Questions asked by TUV leader Jim Allister.

The biggest sum is being spent on keeping the broadcasting contract, which the Assembly Commission renegotiated in July. When Stormont is active, sittings of the full Northern Ireland Assembly, known as plenaries, are broadcast live on the Assembly website. Committee meetings are also shown.

Mr Allister was told that broadcasting services and equipment are being kept in a state of readiness for the return of MLAs.

It was stated: "The Assembly Commission agreed a variation to the broadcasting contract at its meeting on 5 July, 2017. The variation of a reduction of 7.5% to the existing monthly contract fee was initially agreed for a period of three months until 10 October.

"The decision to agree to extend the variation for a further three-month period until 10 January 2018, should it be required, was agreed at the most recent Assembly Commission meeting which took place on 25 September 2017.

"The normal monthly costs of the current broadcasting contract are £34,850.84. Under the current variation the monthly cost is £32,237.03."

Meanwhile, the cost of the catering subsidy has varied from month to month.

The Assembly Commission said: "Where the cost of providing these services exceeds the monies taken in, the extra cost is incurred by the Assembly.

"This operating cost is sometimes referred to as a subsidy."

In January the subsidy was £34,789.41, which dropped to £30,463.58 in February, £22,044.92 in March and then increased to £31,745.86 in April before dropping to £22,538.16 in May and to £9,037.14 in June.

But the subsidy increased to £34,065.70 in July and £28,967.59 in August.

Mr Allister queried the spending, which he says will "rightly raise questions as to why public money continues to be squandered on this project".

"The public are simply expected to pay up and look cheery. It could only happen in Stormont," he said.

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