Executive meeting refreshments cost nearly £2,000 a year

First Minister Arlene Foster with a pot of tea at the Omagh count centre during last year's assembly elections
First Minister Arlene Foster with a pot of tea at the Omagh count centre during last year's assembly elections

THE Stormont executive is spending nearly £2,000 a year on refreshments for ministerial meetings.

More than £6,000 has been spent in the past four years providing ministers with tea, coffee, biscuits and water.

The refreshments cost £1,918.49 in 2013/14, another £1,863.84 in 2014/15 and £1,889.08 in 2015/16.

A further £444.37 was spent between April and late October 2016, according to figures obtained by The Irish News through a freedom of information request.

Meetings of the Northern Ireland Executive are jointly chaired by the first and deputy first ministers, and are usually held fortnightly.

The figures emerge after The Irish News last year revealed assembly spending on MLA refreshments is treble that of the House of Commons, treble the Scottish Parliament – and eight times more than the Welsh Assembly.

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

MLAs munched through more than £250,000 worth of refreshments at these meetings between 2007/08 and 2014/15 – an average of around £32,000 a year.

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

By contrast, the Commons in London spends an average of £10,400 annually and the figure for the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff is just £4,300.

The Scottish Parliament's committee refreshments bill was £10,023 for the 2015/16 financial year.

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

TUV leader and North Antrim MLA Jim Allister at the time said the contrast was striking.

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

In September 2015 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.

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

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 meetings "as the meetings can be lengthy and without breaks".