Northern Ireland

Robinson call over assembly food subsidy

Peter Robinson
Image caption The DUP leader Peter Robinson again offered to take a reduction in his party's ministerial salaries

DUP leader Peter Robinson has called for an end to subsidised food in the assembly restaurants.

His comments came as MLAs passed a motion calling for the Stormont Assembly to cut its running costs following the Treasury's Spending Review.

The motion, proposed by Mr Robinson, stated the cuts should be in line with the reductions facing Executive departments.

He offered to take a voluntary reduction in his party's ministerial salaries.

The DUP leader said the assembly should be seen to take a leadership role on the issue.

He repeated the willingness of DUP ministers to take a voluntary reduction in their salaries, and said food at Stormont should not be subsidised at a time when people are having difficulty paying their food bills.

However, SDLP assembly member Alban Maginness accused the DUP of hypocrisy on the issue.

Cost reduction

Mr Maginness said the motion proposing cost reduction was in contrast to the DUP's position on cutting the number of MPs and constituencies.

Mr Maginness said it was "a bit rich" for Mr Robinson to talk about the subsidy to food at Stormont when he previously claimed his £400 a month food allowance at Westminster.

Although Mr Robinson was speaking in his capacity as an individual MLA, some other members argued he was creating a dangerous constitutional precedent, given his role as first minister, in pressurising the assembly which is meant to bring the Executive to account.

But this was rejected by Finance Minister Sammy Wilson who accused MLAs of dancing on the head of a constitutional pin, in a performance which - in his words - "was not as elegant as Strictly Come Dancing's Ann Widdecombe".

Meanwhile, the SDLP's Pat Ramsey, speaking on behalf of the commission which manages the Stormont assembly, said its budget for the current financial year is £50.4m.

Mr Ramsey said the commission is reviewing all its current costs and has asked its directorates to identify reductions of either 2.5% or 5% over each of the next four years.

On capital spending, Mr Ramsey said the commission had decided to drop plans for an extension to Stormont which had been estimated at £35m.

However, he said essential maintenance work on Parliament Buildings would have to continue, including roof repairs which have been costed at £3m.