MLA allowances to be paid 'before other needs'

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An extra £4m in MLA allowances is to be paid to assembly members before money is given over to ease pressures in areas like health and the economy, a Stormont Committee has heard.

This includes allowances for running constituency offices.

The increased staff and office costs a total of £4.2m and were passed by the Assembly Commission, which is made up of MLAs.

However, an assembly official confirmed that the extra money would be paid from monitoring rounds, which allocate money to government departments, but that MLAs would get their money first.

North Antrim assembly member Jim Allister told Stormont's Audit Committee that it amounted to "self-help MLAs" who were "without budgetary constraints".

He said it was "a very cushy position" that the Assembly Commission could ask for any additional costs and that these would be met by the Department of Finance through a "unique arrangement".

"What the commission asks for, the commission must get, because they have got this agreement with the department that any additional costs will be met in full," said the TUV leader.


"So when it came to this determination, MLAs who made this determination knew they could pitch this as high as they liked, because they knew the department was guaranteed to give it to them."

An assembly official said this had also been the case when decisions had been taken by the previous panel which had set MLA allowances.

Mr Allister added: "You need £4.25 million between now and the end of March.

"You are going to get that in the monitoring round, and it will be ringfenced and guaranteed, before the Department for the Economy can say 'we need £4 million for something', or before the Department of Health can say 'we need £4 million or a lot more for something'.

"The Assembly Commission has ringfenced the first call on £4.25 million for itself."

Other committee members said they welcomed the uplift in allowances, which would see a level playing field in salaries for their office staff.