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Bonuses of £54,000 paid to MLAs’ staff

By David Gordon

Over £50,000 was paid out by MLAs last year in bonuses to their own staff members, newly released figures have shown.

The overall publicly-funded total of £54,537 for 2008 involved special payments made by 30 Assembly politicians, it was disclosed.

The average bonus, on top of salary, worked out at close to £642 per person.

Stormont's political parties also awarded some bonuses to their staff during the year.

They worked out at £895.94 per employee, with an overall total of £7167.50

The figures were released by the Assembly in response to a freedom of information request by the Belfast Telegraph.

But the names of the MLAs who made the bonus payments have not been made public. The Assembly took the view that this would identify individual staff members and constituted personal data, which can be exempted from disclosure under the terms of Freedom of Information.

The Audit Office raised a potential concern last year in relation to staff bonus payments by MLAs. The Assembly has stated that its procedures on bonuses have since been “amended”. Last year's Audit Office comments were made in internal correspondence in relation to the devolved Stormont body's accounts for the financial year 2007/08.

It said “little guidance” was provided to MLAs in the Assembly Members Handbook on “when it is appropriate to make a bonus payment”.

An Assembly spokesman said: “Following the Audit Office report the Assembly amended the administrative procedures in respect of MLA bonus payments to staff. Guidance to Members, through the Member's Handbook, is continually reviewed and updated. The Assembly is mindful of the need to ensure funds are spent appropriately.”

Assembly members pay staff from their £72,000-a-year office costs allowance. This allowance is also used to rent and equip constituency offices.

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