Opinion

MLA expenses need reformed

FEW subjects are guaranteed to exercise a weary public as greatly as politicians' pay and expenses - and for good reason, particularly in Stormont's case.

MLAs already face an uphill struggle to persuade voters that Stormont provides good government, for example through being a careful steward of taxpayers' money or effectively scrutinising the executive and its ministers. And that is even before considering value for money.

Their task would be easier if they could point to achievements such as a range of legislation or conclusive investigations into matters of public interest such as the Red Sky scandal; the assembly's finance committee, meeting today to begin an emergency investigation into events surrounding the sale of Nama assets in Northern Ireland, may yet prove to be successful where others have failed.

The perception is that MLAs are very well remunerated - a basic £48,000 salary comfortably eclipses the north's average of £22,000 - for the service they provide, and that the scope of the expenses they can claim is far too generous.

Few employers allow staff to claim a mileage allowance for travel between their home and place of work, for example.

It is also hard to escape the idea that some MLAs - particularly in the DUP and Sinn Féin - have adopted a more sophisticated approach to maximising expenses claims than they have to delivering effective power-sharing.

The Independent Financial Review Panel has this week announced a number of proposals, including a shake-up of MLAs' expenses and a ban on flags, emblems and memorials at offices.

The proposals, open to public consultation until September, deserve careful consideration.

However, any measures which introduce greater transparency into a system too often tainted by novel rent arrangements and egregious expenses claims which serve to sap public confidence in politics are to be welcomed.

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