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Stormont staffing levels rise by nearly 50% in five years

Stormont Assembly chiefs have defended a surge in its workforce — and a £1,000 annual bonus paid to each employee.

The official staff total at Parliament Buildings climbed from 263 to 391 over five years, a rise of almost 50%.

DUP First Minister Peter Robinson is pressing for Assembly cost savings to match cuts being forced on the province's government departments.

He has tabled a resolution on the issue — as an MLA rather than a Minister — which will be discussed in the chamber next week.

Annual running costs for the Assembly come to some £50m, including staffing salaries, administration and pay and expenses for elected politicians.

The Parliament Buildings workforce tally includes clerical and administrative staff but does not cover individuals separately employed by parties and MLAs.

The Assembly has confirmed that its employees continue to receive a £1,000 allowance each year on top of their salaries.

Its figures on workforce numbers were disclosed in response to a Belfast Telegraph freedom of information request.

The average total for the 2005/06 financial year was 263.

A year later, with devolution on its way to being restored, the tally was 277.

By 2007/08, the workforce came to 352, followed by 377 for the following 12 months.

The total for 2009/10 was 391.

An Assembly spokeswoman said: “The Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended for the entire period covered by the 2006 figures.

“The increase in staff numbers reflects the fact that devolution has been restored and the subsequent increase in the volume and complexity of work required by the Assembly Commission to fulfil its duties to Members of the Legislative Assembly under section 40 (4) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.”

The spokeswoman also said: “The Northern Ireland Assembly Commission has agreed that a taxable allowance of £1,000 per annum should be payable to Assembly staff.”

The £1,000 bonus was first introduced by the cross-party Commission prior to the suspension of devolution in 2002.

It was defended in the past on the grounds of uncertainty over the future of the Stormont institutions — less convincing now with the Assembly on course to complete a full four-year term.

But sources at Parliament Buildings say employee remuneration levels there are significantly lower than in the Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly and staff transferred from the civil service have fewer opportunities for career advancement.

Belfast Telegraph