Major plans proposed to shake up the way MLAs claim expenses

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The panel that sets the Northern Ireland Assembly’s pay and allowances has put forward proposals to radically change how MLAs claim expenses.

The Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP) wants to replace the current system with three new allowable expenses for constituency offices, travel and employment support expenses.

The panel is consulting on new restrictions on assembly members’ rent allowances and mileage claims.

There are also plans to cap some claims.

It proposes that politicians should register their attendance at Stormont.

The plans also propose a ban on flags, party emblems and memorials at MLAs’ offices.

THE IFRP says that offices are funded for assembly members to serve their constituents rather than for party political purposes.

Pat McCartan, chairman of the IFRP, said: “The panel is committed to ensuring that the rules and finances relating to members’ salaries and allowances remain fair, workable and transparent as well as representing value for money.

“There has been a high degree of interest in members’ expenses and the people of Northern Ireland deserve to know that their money is being spent appropriately and in the best interests of creating a democratic society.”

MLAs receive a basic salary of at least £48,000 but politicians with added responsibilities are paid higher sums such as £86,000 for ministers and £60,000 for those holding committee chairmanships. The First and Deputy First Ministers are paid £120,000 a year.

MLAs are also entitled to claim a maximum of £67,161 for office cost expenditure, provided they are not an MP.

If approved, the new changes would mean a major overhaul of the administration and auditing processes.

Mr McCartan said: “We are proposing some important changes to improve probity and value for money, make it easier for members to get the support they need and tackle those areas where we know there is real public concern.”

In January the IFRP reduced MLAs expenses by £1,000.

Other proposals include a cap on constituency office rent of £8,000 per year, and a ban on home-to-office mileage claims for MLAs, which it is believed could save £74,000 per year.

In future, the only logo that should appear is the assembly flax flower, the panel’s report recommends.

The panel has also proposed that assembly members’ expenses should be docked if they do not electronically register their attendance at Parliament Buildings for at least 99 days a year.

Members of the public are invited to have their say on the changes through a consultation which will remain open until September.

The panel said it expected to publish full proposals by December.