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Secretary of state needs to come up with a plan

Secretary of state Karen Bradley has rejected the claim that she is 'dithering' over cutting MLA salaries but she certainly cannot be accused of moving decisively on this matter.

It is clear there is a marked reluctance on the part of the British government to bring down the axe on wages, even in part.

Mrs Bradley is very much following the example set by her predecessor James Brokenshire, who last year commissioned former assembly chief executive Trevor Reaney to examine the issue of MLAs' pay.

Mr Reaney recommended a 27.5 per cent cut before Christmas, which would have seen the standard salary of £49,500 reduced to £35,888 in two stages.

There was little real opposition to this move among the parties who realised the public was running out of patience with representatives who were not performing their roles in full.

But even after receiving this advice, Mr Brokenshire was reluctant to put the recommendations into effect.

He had dangled the prospect of a wage cut in the hope of spurring the parties into making a deal.

And while the talks were going on in some shape or form, there was obviously a hope that Stormont could be restored and business resumed without financial sanctions.

Mrs Bradley seems set on following the example of her predecessor and doing nothing that smacks of acting in haste.

Mr Brokenshire provided time and space for the parties to reach a positive outcome and, in fairness, his optimism would have been rewarded had the DUP not wobbled at the eleventh hour over a draft agreement with Sinn Féin.

The difficulty for Mrs Bradley is that no one is holding out any real hope of a resumption of talks and a restoration of Stormont in the near future.

There is no reason for her to stall over MLAs' salaries but that is precisely what she is doing, saying she needs to consult with the parties.

She does appear to be considering alternative arrangements and in the Commons on Monday she talked about providing for local decision-making and scrutiny on a cross community basis in the absence of an assembly.

Any proposal along such lines would be seen as a halfway house between direct rule and devolution but we are some distance from a fully formed plan, which is a problem.

Effectively we are in political limbo while public services cry out for ministerial direction and accountability and the issue of Brexit looms large.

It was particularly disappointing that Mrs Bradley ruled out releasing funds for the victims of historical institutional abuse, saying it would be unconstitutional for her to intervene.

The current impasse is having serious and direct consequences for ordinary people. We cannot simply drift along without a plan.

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