Leading article

Public needs to have confidence in MLA payments system

Salaries and expenses paid to politicians can be something of a fraught area, even more so when many workers have seen their own wage levels stall or even shrink.

It doesn't look good when elected representatives award themselves a pay rise or an increase in expenses, or use public money in ways the public never anticipated.

Which is why these contentious matters have been handed over to independent bodies to set pay awards and determine the amount of public money which can be used for renting offices and employing staff.

However, even these processes can prove controversial as we saw recently with a public row between the Assembly Commission and the Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP) over a Sinn Féin claim for £700,000 in expenses for research by a firm with close links to the party.

This dispute highlighted issues of transparency in relation to the current system which is something the public is entitled to demand along with proper accountability.

Now the IFRP has introduced major changes to the assembly's salaries and expenses system. MLAs get a £1,000 pay rise ,which is fairly modest, while some office holders get a pay cut, but it is the shake up in expenses that will be seen as significant.

New rules will see an £8,500 cap on office rent and a £50,000 limit on salaries for support staff with stricter rules on hiring family members.

There will also be tight restrictions on MLAs claiming public money for offices for their party or `connected' groups.

There are other measures which show that this independent panel is determined to tackle some of the concerns which have been raised in recent years.

The public also needs to know that the assembly's oversight structures are sufficiently robust and independent to ensure the new rules are stringently enforced.







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