Secretary of State rules out immediate salary cut to MLAs
THERE will be no reduction in MLA salaries this year - despite a report recommending a £7,425 cut in pay with immediate effect.
Speaking at Westminster yesterday James Brokenshire said the government would instead be "approaching in earnest" a fresh talks process in the new year in an attempt to see the Stormont executive restored.
Saying there were, "an increasing number of decisions that need to be taken" the secretary of state added: "I want to see minsters and an executive up and running as soon as possible."
Mr Brokenshire said he would consider the recommendations contained in a report by former chief executive of the assembly Trevor Reaney.
The secretary of state, who commissioned the report, said: "I would like to thank Trevor Reaney for his thoughtful advice on the approach to the salaries and allowances of MLAs in the continued absence of an Executive or sitting Assembly.
"This is a matter of significant public concern and it is right to take a considered approach."
However, ruling out an immediate cut to salaries he said: "I asked Mr Reaney to provide me with this advice, which I will consider carefully before responding."
Mr Reaney has proposed cutting the MLA annual salary from £49,500 to £35,888 - with an immediate cut of £7,425 - followed by a further reduction of £6,187 in three months time.
Assembly speaker Robin Newton would face the biggest annual salary cut from £87,500 to £55,848 if Mr Reaney's proposals are adopted. Despite there being no sitting assembly since January the speaker continues to be entitled to his inflated salary.
If there is no return to devolved government by the end of March, MLAs' staff allowance could be cut from £50,000 to £37,500 . Some MLAs have warned that this may result in job cuts.
If the assembly is still not up and running by the summer, salaries should be cut further to £35,888, the report has recommended.
The secretary of state ordered a review of MLAs' salaries in November after he was forced to strike a budget and the latest round of talks failed to produce a settlement.
A UUP spokesperson said that while the report "accurately reflects the situation and shift in workload of MLAs", the party was concerned "about the proposal to cut office expenses available to pay staff".
The SDLP's Nichola Mallon also said she agreed that MLAs should not get paid while out of post but that her office staff did not deserve to be penalised for the political failure.
"We broadly welcome the recommendations from Trevor Reaney’s report regarding MLA salaries and allowances", she said.
"Since the summer, we've been advocating that pay should be reduced. No one should be paid a full salary if they are not doing a full job.
"That remains our position".
Alliance MLA David Ford said the report "makes it clear that if you want MLAs to be around to engage in negotiations, to ensure the restoration of the Assembly, then you have to have some level of salary".
A spokesperson for Sinn Féin said the party was "fully committed to the immediate re-establishment of the power-sharing political institutions on the basis of rights, equality and respect".
"Sinn Féin will continue to work to achieve agreement on these issues so that the Assembly and the Executive can be re-established on a sustainable basis that engenders confidence and support within our community."
They added that if the Assembly is not re-established in the short term, "we are firmly of the view that the current arrangements, needed to be reviewed".
A DUP spokesperson said: "If there's no prospect of devolution returning then it's inevitable that this will need to be considered - it will be a matter for the secretary of state."