MLAs paid £275k to travel to Stormont

MLAs paid £275k to travel to Stormont

More than £275,000 has been paid to MLAs in allowances for travelling to Stormont between the last election in March 2017 and June 2018.

Northern Ireland has been without a functioning devolved government since January 2017.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is based at Stormont estate in east Belfast.

MLAs are entitled to an allowance solely for travel to Stormont, ranging from £600 within Belfast to £6,200 in Fermanagh and South Tyrone.

Elected representatives have continued to use the building for a wide range of functions including meetings, talks aimed at restoring devolution and constituency business.

Quarterly reports on MLAs expenses are published on the Northern Ireland Assembly website.

During the 2017/18 financial year, half of the 90 MLAs claimed the full amount of travel expenses they were entitled to.

Salaries

The current level of expenses was set by the Independent Financial Review Panel in 2016, which states that the full allowance is based on a minimum of 72 days attendance at Stormont each year and must be accompanied by a signed declaration.

It is based on “existing mileage allowances for an estimated 72 return journeys per annum from constituency offices to Parliament Buildings, with an amount added for travel within each constituency based on the geographical size of each constituency”.

A report commissioned by the former Secretary of State James Brokenshire last year recommended that the minimum attendance required at Stormont for MLAs be increased to 100 days.

In July, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee at Westminster heard that MLAs salaries had cost £9m since the suspension of the institutions.

Salaries are due to be cut from next month, with a further reduction in the new year.

The pay cut will see salaries reduced from £49,500 to £36,000 by January.

Analysis: By Jayne McCormack, BBC News NI’s political reporter

At first glance, this seems like a lot of money just for travel costs – but it’s important to say Stormont’s 90 politicians are completely entitled to it.

That might seem odd given there’s no day-to-day assembly business, however they still work from their offices on the hill for a variety of matters.

In line with their pay packets being cut in November, the Northern Ireland Office has confirmed their travel allowances are also being reduced – but the cut will differ from MLA to MLA.

Right now, they have to go to Stormont for 72 days every financial year to be entitled to the full allowance. It’s already automatically reduced by 1% for every day less than 72.

Under the new rules, the 72 days will rise to 100; a figure that will be harder to reach given the relative lack of political action taking place these days.

Expenses cover a wide range of costs including staff, office expenditure and winding-up payments and resettlement grants for former MLAs.

In addition to the allowance for journeys to the assembly, MLAs can also claim a separate payment for travel within their constituency.

According to the latest figures published on the assembly website, in total just over £7.7 million was paid in expenses – excluding salaries – to sitting and former MLAs between April 2017 and June 2018.

Although all claimed a constituency allowance, which varies from £250 to £1,250 depending on location, five MLAs did not submit any claims for travel to the assembly in the 2017/18 financial year.

They include the DUP leader and Fermanagh and South Tyrone MLA Arlene Foster, and four Belfast MLAs – Gerry Carroll, Claire Hanna, Naomi Long and Nichola Mallon.

In the latest reporting period from April 2018 to June 2018, 11 MLAs did not claim any re-imbursement for travelling to Parliament Buildings.

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