MLAs propose 3% cut to little-known party funding from Assembly funds

Parliment Buildings Stormont
Parliment Buildings Stormont

A slight cut has been proposed to a little-known funding stream which sees substantial sums of public money go to MLAs’ parties — on top of their salaries and office expenses.

The Financial Assistance for Political Parties Scheme gives money to parties, dependent on their strength in the Assembly, to employ staff.

The various payments will be cut by three per cent under proposals to be voted on by MLAs when they return on Monday from the Assembly’s Easter recess.

The proposal is almost certain to be approved as it comes from the Assembly Commission, the cross-party body of MLAs which is responsible for running Parliament Buildings and overseeing the Assembly’s finances.

Under the proposals, parties will be able to claim the following for “costs incurred”:

l £25,600 if they have one MLA;

l £51,100 if they have two or more MLAs;

l £3,200 for each MLA who is not a minister;

l £16,000 for the administration of a whips’ office if they have between three 
and 10 MLAs;

l £24,000 for the administration of a whips’ office if they have between 11 and 20 MLAs;

l £32,000 for the administration of a whips’ office if they have more than 20 MLAs.

On top of those allowances, the scheme also allows parties with more than 10 MLAs to claim £530 per MLA who is not a minister for the running of the whips’ office.

The changes also remove a specific definition of which “Assembly duties” the money can be used for.

Until now, the definition has been very specific and includes activities such as “attending a sitting of the Assembly” or “providing an advice service to constituents”, all of which relate to MLAs roles as representative legislators, rather than their internal party business.

The changes come just over a week after MLAs saw their expenses cut by more than £3,000 after a review instigated following last year’s BBC Spotlight éxpose of dubious claims by some MLAs.

The Independent Financial Review Panel – which MLAs set up so that they no longer set their own salaries and allowances – tightened the rules on expenses.

MLAs’ office expense accounts – which can be used to pay for everything from renting constituency offices and hiring staff to buying the latest iPad or mobile phones – will to be cut from the current maximum of £69,238 to £67,161.

The additional £1,000 allowance for stationary will also be abolished.