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25 June 2009

Review of MLA expenses: Party Leaders endorse guiding principles

At a meeting chaired by the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, William Hay MLA, the leaders of all of the political parties represented in the Northern Ireland Assembly agreed this evening to a set of ten “guiding principles” which should underpin a recently announced review of the expenses available to Assembly Members.

The ten principles (see below) will require the Assembly’s expenses system to continue to be based on the recovery of actual expenditure, not on an entitlement to allowances. They also include a commitment to openness and transparency and ensuring that any expenditure incurred by MLAs provides value for money. MLAs will also be expected to act within both the spirit and the letter of any rules set down.

The Speaker, William Hay, said: “We are reviewing the expenses arrangements for our Assembly Members. Although we have a completely different system than Westminster, I am aware that the recent negative publicity about how MPs claim expenses has dented public trust and confidence. I am pleased that the leaders of all the parties have enthusiastically agreed to recommend that these principles be used as the basis for our expenses system. I hope that the public will be encouraged that our local politicians are determined to ensure that the Assembly has an open, transparent and robust expenses system in which the public can have confidence.”

The principles are:

1. MLAs have a duty to observe the seven Nolan principles of public life in all aspects of incurring expenditure and claiming expenses.

2. MLAs have a right to be properly supported in carrying out their Assembly duties.

3. Any expenses claimed must be in respect of expenditure that has been wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred in respect of a Member’s Assembly duties.

4. The system for claiming expenses incurred by MLAs in performing their Assembly duties should be based on the recovery of actual expenditure, not on an entitlement to allowances.

5. Openness and transparency about expenditure incurred by Members will predominate, subject only to data protection, security considerations and inordinate or disproportionate costs.

6. Resources provided to enable MLAs to undertake their Assembly duties must not, directly or indirectly, benefit party political funding or be used for party political activities.

7. Arrangements should be avoided which may give rise to an accusation that an MLA – or someone close to an MLA – is obtaining an element of profit from public funds; or that public money is being diverted for the benefit of a political organisation.

8. MLAs will seek to ensure that any expenditure incurred provides value for money for the tax-payer.

9. MLAs will take personal responsibility for ensuring that any claims made in their name for expenses incurred in respect of their Assembly duties are correct and proper.

10. For all expenses claims, MLAs must act within the spirit of the rules as well as within the letter of the rules. The Assembly Commission will publish the rules and detailed guidance on the system for claiming expenses, and Assembly officials will provide any further guidance that may be required by Members.

Today’s agreement on principles follows a recent decision by the Assembly Commission to further improve transparency by publishing additional information on Members’ expenses. In September 2009, full details of every transaction made by an MLA (effective from April 2009) will be published on the Assembly’s website.

For media enquires, please contact:

Susie Brown, Head of Communications - 9052 1161 or 07776 198226





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