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13 December 2010
ASSEMBLY REPORT RECOMMENDS MAJOR SHAKE-UP IN FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR MLAS
A Northern Ireland Assembly Commission report that recommends major changes in the financial support and pensions for MLAs was approved by the Assembly today. It will improve governance and accountability and assist in reducing costs.
The Report makes 17 recommendations on how MLAs’ pay, pensions and allowances should be determined in the future. It follows an earlier report by the Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB).
Speaking on behalf of the Assembly Commission, William Hay, Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly said: “The Assembly is always striving to ensure that we use taxpayers’ money efficiently and in a way that demonstrates value for money. Any system of financial support for MLAs must be efficient, effective and improve transparency; this is particularly important in the current economic climate. We believe that the recommendations contained in this report are fair and will increase people’s confidence in how the Assembly is run.”
One of the headline recommendations in the Report is to set up an Independent Financial Review Panel which will have responsibility for setting the pay, pensions and financial support for MLAs. The Report makes clear any recommendations made by this new Independent Panel will be accepted without amendment by the Assembly Commission. The Panel is expected to be operational in late 2011 and will be given legislative basis through the Assembly Members (Independent Financial Review and Standards) Bill, currently making its passage through the Assembly.
The Report recommends a number of other significant changes. On the issue of Dual Mandates (where an MLA is also a Member of Parliament) the Report recommends that MLAs should receive a maximum of 50% of their Assembly expenses in relation to running a constituency office if they are also receiving expenses as an MP.
The Report also recommends that all MLA constituency offices should have their rental value independently valued from May 2011 and that valuation will be the maximum amount payable. In addition, an MLA will not be able to claim expenses on a property if they are the owner or connected to the owner of the property.
Additionally, MLAs will be restricted on family members that they employ to carry out constituency duties: Therefore, from May 2011, an MLA will only be allowed to employ no more than one family member with a transitional provision for existing employees.
MLAs receiving mileage for business use would be restricted to 25p per mile after the first 10,000 miles, a reduction from a mileage of 40p at present. Any monies payable to MLAs when they leave the Assembly, through retirement or ill-health and the allowance that they receive to ‘wind up’ their constituency responsibilities will now be subject to a new calculation. The winding up expenditure, for example, will now be set at one-third of the office costs support. Provisions for Resettlement Allowance have been amended to reduce payments for MLAs with 5 or less years of service.
The Report also recommends the formal adoption of Ten Principles which have been developed in conjunction with Party Leaders. These Principles expand on the ‘seven principles in public life’, namely selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.
The Speaker concluded: “We believe that this Report, its recommendations and the Independent Panel which it will help to set up, will improve the way the Assembly and MLAs work and will provide a firm foundation for better government in Northern Ireland.”
A full copy of the Report is available on the Assembly website at http://nia1.me/1m
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