14 October 2005

Defunct assembly runs up a £70m bill for taxpayers

Belfast Telegraph

By Noel McAdam
14 October 2005

The mothballed Stormont Assembly has cost taxpayers more than £70m since it last met three years ago, it can be revealed today.

New statistics show the total cost of the Assembly operation from its suspension on October 14, 2002, stands at £71m.

The exact total worked out to the last penny - £71,040,712.54 - runs up to September 30 last.

The largest slice of the three-year bill - £30.7m - is made up of the salaries and allowances paid to the 108 Assembly members.

But close behind is the cost of the Assembly secretariat - £25.8m - which continues despite suspension.

The remainder - £14.5m - comes under general capital costs, including property, accommodation and business services.

Year on year, the salary and allowances costs of the Assembly are continuing to increase, the figures obtained from the Northern Ireland Office, reveal.

In the first full financial year after the last Assembly was suspended, from April, 2003 to March, 2004, the total salaries/allowances cost was given as £10,102,376.

By the next financial year, from April to March this year, the total had increased to £10,415,731.

Yet the total running cost for the Assembly overall went down across the two financial years, from £21m in 2003-4 to £20.4m in 2004-5.

The cost revelations come amid fears the current Assembly, elected in May, 2003, may pass into history without having a single sitting.

Some Government officials privately fear it could take until the next Assembly election, May, 2007, before a devolution deal involving the DUP and Sinn Fein can be achieved.

Yet Secretary of State Peter Hain has given no hint he could put the Assembly into abeyance - and there is no clamour from civic society for it to go.

The new figures come just over a month after it emerged that during the year 2001-2, when the Assembly was fully functioning, the salaries and expenses paid to members came to £10.1m.

During the following financial year - in which the suspension of devolution took place - MLAs were paid a total of £10.2m. It also emerged travel expenses claimed by members added up to £524,176 and allowances paid to Assembly members for the running and staffing of their offices cost £4,636,069.

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