Cutting the number of MLAs is a first step in reform of Stormont

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Next week I will take my seat as MLA for East Antrim following Sammy Wilson’s resignation.

I will be one of 108 MLAs to represent 1.8 million citizens of Northern Ireland.

In my view that is many more MLAs than we need.

We only have to have a look how other devolved legislatures operate effectively.

Scotland’s Parliament has 129 members representing 5.3m people and the Welsh Assembly has 60 members representing 3.1m people. That is far lower per person than in Northern Ireland.

Of course, the only reason that we have so many MLAs is because those drafting the Belfast Agreement placed a greater priority on rewarding smaller parties for their support than on effective and efficient government in Northern Ireland.

The DUP has consistently called for a reduction in MLAs.

As a result last year Parliament passed a bill giving the Assembly the power to cut the number of MLAs from six to five per constituency. Whilst I would rather see it cut to four, this is welcome progress.

Other parties have indicated that they will support a cut, but will not commit to it before 2021.

Why support a cut then but not now? This is a missed opportunity. Let’s not leave it until 2021.

Making this decision now is the right thing to do.

Firstly, it will help to cut the cost of government.

Secondly, it shows that MLAs are not exempt from the cuts that are affecting everyone in Northern Ireland.

And thirdly, it would be a move in the right direction towards the reform that is so badly needed at Stormont.

Further reform is necessary for Stormont to be more effective and efficient. Next year will mark 18 years since the Assembly was established, but it has not yet come of age.

The system that is in place has contributed to the problems we are currently facing around welfare reform. That why change is necessary.

It is unlikely we will take great strides towards this reform, but rather it will be done by lots of smaller steps.

Cutting the number of Assembly members is a good first step to take. My challenge to the other parties as I prepare to take up my seat is be brave and get it done. Why wait?