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Stormont fails to publish MLAs’ expenses bill for 2021, despite its own rules

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Stormont has failed to stick to its own rules on informing the public about the amount of expenses claimed by members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Under current standing orders at the Assembly, details of all expenses and salaries paid to politicians must be made publicly available each year on the Assembly’s website. However, the Sunday Independent has learned the rules were not adhered to over the past year.

An Assembly spokesperson said the amount of expenses and salaries paid to a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) are usually published four times a year.

However, the latest figures on the website only go up to December 2020, meaning no details of MLAs’ salaries or expenses claimed during 2021 have yet been made public.

After being contacted by the Sunday Independent, an Assembly spokesperson said this information was expected to be on its website in the “next few weeks”.

“MLA salary and expenses information is generally published quarterly, however publication of the information for the final quarter is delayed each year until after the annual audit is complete,” the spokesperson said.

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“This publication normally occurs in September or October. Like many other organisations across all parts of society, we have been concentrating our resources on the delivery of services in these challenging times and will publish as soon as possible.”

MLAs are currently paid a salary of £51,000 a year. This has risen from £49,000 in 2016. However, MLAs had their wages cut by up to 30pc during a period when the Assembly was suspended from January 2017 to January 2020.

The suspension was triggered by former Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness’s decision to resign over the Renewable Heat Incentive controversy.

Under the terms of the power-sharing agreement at Stormont, the Assembly could not continue without Sinn Féin’s involvement.

Despite several attempts, the Assembly was not restored until January 2020 when parties signed up to the New Decade, New Approach agreement which was brokered by the British and Irish governments.

During the three-year period of suspension, MLAs had their annual salaries cut to £35,888. On top of their basic salaries, some MLAs receive money for additional roles they take on within the Assembly.

Those politicians who sit on the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission — which ensures the Assembly is provided with the property, staff and services required to carry out its work — are paid £57,000 a year.

The members of the commission are Trevor Clarke (DUP), John O’Dowd (Sinn Féin), Dolores Kelly (SDLP), Robbie Butler (UUP) and John Blair (Alliance).

First Minister Paul Givan and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill both receive an annual salary of £123,000.

Other ministers within the Northern Ireland Executive are paid £89,000 a year, while junior ministers receive a salary of £57,000.

The Speaker of the Assembly, Sinn Féin MLA Alex Maskey, is paid £89,000 a year, while MLAs who take on the chairperson role within any of the Stormont committees receive a salary of £63,000 per annum.

On top of their salaries, MLAs can claim a range of expenses and allowances in support of their work.

They can claim up to £80,000 a year to cover staff salaries and an unlimited amount of money to help with other staff-related costs.

In addition, they can claim up to £8,500 each year for the cost of renting an office and a further £7,000 a year to cover costs incorporated in running their offices.

These costs can include heating, lighting, telephones, office cleaning, equipment and office furniture.

MLAs are also able to claim for travel expenses which they incur both as a result of their constituency work and in travelling to Stormont.

They must attend 72 days or more at Parliament Buildings to receive the full amount of the travel allowance available.

Also, as part of the allowances scheme, MLAs who resign at the dissolution of the Assembly or are not returned following an election are able to claim a resettlement allowance once their office has been wound up.

A Winding Up Expenditure is paid to a former politician to allow them to bring their Assembly business to a close. It is capped at £4,500 for the three-month period following an MLA’s departure from the Assembly.

The last year for which the full figures are available for salaries and expenses paid to Stormont MLAs was the 2019/2020 financial year.

During that year, MLAs were paid a total of £3,683,250.13 in wages and claimed a total of £5,735,833.52 in expenses and allowances.



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