Stormont spends three times as much on MLA refreshments as Commons

More than £250,000 has been spent on refreshments at assembly committee meetings since 2007
Brendan Hughes

MLAs have munched through more than a quarter of a million pounds worth of refreshments at committee meetings in the years since the St Andrews Agreement.

Spending has also increased for the third year in a row – despite a pledge to cut back.

Over the years assembly committee meetings have been supplied with trays full of tasty treats, from tea and coffee to sandwiches and varieties of biscuits.

But new figures obtained by The Irish News reveal how Stormont spending outstrips its legislative counterparts in Cardiff and London.

More than £256,500 was spent by the Northern Ireland Assembly on committee meeting refreshments between 2007/08 and 2014/15 – an average of around £32,000 a year.

By comparison the House of Commons spent just under £51,000 in the five years between 2011/12 and 2015/16, an average of almost £10,400 annually.

Unlike Stormont, the only refreshment served at formal committee meetings is bottled water.

Meanwhile, the Welsh Assembly has spent around £30,400 in the seven years between 2009-2010 and 2015-2016, averaging about £4,300 a year.

TUV leader Jim Allister hit out at Stormont's spend.

"When put in the context of the expenditure on committee refreshments in Wales and Westminster this is particularly striking," he said.

"When Westminster – with over 600 MPs – can get by with spending just £51,000, people will rightly question how Stormont's MLAs can make their way through that amount of money when it comes to refreshments.

"These figures underscore Stormont's ability to squander taxpayers' money is unsurpassed."

The figures were obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

The Scottish Parliament did not respond to an FOI request and last night was unable to provide equivalent statistics.

Last September eyebrows were raised when – while Stormont appeared on the brink of collapse – an assembly committee debated whether they should receive free hot beverages.

The social development committee held the discussion as talks continued amid political fall-out over the murder of ex-IRA man Kevin McGuigan.

Alliance's Stewart Dickson at the time said: "It might be helpful to have a cup of tea or coffee to commence the meeting."

Committee members voted in favour of free beverages, except for Mr Allister.

More than £48,200 was listed for Stormont committee refreshments spending in 2014/15, the latest year for which figures are available.

The assembly declined to disclose under FOI the figures for 2014/15, but instead referred to statistics listed in committee end of year reports.

The figure lumps refreshments with some other costs such as room hire and witness expenses.

However, they appear to show an increase on around £26,000 spent in 2013/14, £22,700 in 2012/13, and about £18,000 in 2011/12.

It comes despite committees saying they would try to reduce spending on refreshments following an assembly budget review in 2010.

The assembly has previously defended refreshment spending, saying it "actively seeks to reduce costs, including that of committee refreshments, where possible".

It has said that refreshments are provided for members at committee meetings "as the meetings can be lengthy and without breaks".

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