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Stormont watchdog clampdown on MLAs expenses and hiring staff

Stormont's Independent Financial Review Panel (L-R) Alan McQuillan, Patrick McCartan, (chairman) and Dr Henrietta Campbell

DOZENS of staff who work for MLAs could find themselves without jobs due to new assembly rules on employing relatives.

The clampdown on giving jobs to "connected persons" is among a raft of new measures being introduced by the Stormont expenses watchdog.

The Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP) has awarded MLAs a pay rise of £1,000 but has elsewhere moved to tighten the regulations around office rents and mileage claims.

The new rules on employing relatives are expected to hit the DUP particularly hard.

In 2013, The Irish News revealed that 22 MLAs from Stormont's largest party employed what the IFRP deems a "connected person".

While a several of those MLAs whose relatives work for them will not return to Stormont after May's assembly election – including former First Minister Peter Robinson, who employs his daughter – a significant number are expected to be re-elected.

Alliance, SDLP and Ulster Unionist members also employ relatives, as do TUV leader Jim Allister and indpendent unionist John McCallister.

However, under the new regulations all MLAs must adhere to the same criteria as other employers, including advertising vacant posts, interviewing applicants and appointing on merit.

Failure to follow the new rules, which also state that only one connected person can work for each MLA, would see assembly funding for the post withdrawn.

Elsewhere, the panel's latest determination puts a £8,500 cap on office rent claims, with lower amounts for offices shared with other politicians.

Only one constituency office will be funded by the assembly, with all payments conditional on full compliance with new signage rules.

MLAs who rent offices from their political parties or connected individuals and groups will no longer be eligible to reclaim expenses for rent and rates.

The panel has also overhauled travel allowances, which are now fixed for each constituency and each MLA, varying from £850-a-year to £7,500, depending on distance from Stormont.

A new salary structure for support staff has also been put in place, ensuring workers receive the living wage.

IFRP chairman Pat McCartan said the changes heralded a "new beginning".

"The panel has made radical changes to expenses that will provide professional, fair and equitable support for each MLA, and will enhance public confidence in our politicians," he said.

"The panel expects that these decisions will amount to savings of between £1.5 million and £2 million in the assembly’s budget over the next five years."

A spokesman for the assembly said all the changes will be implemented by May.

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