MLAs in Northern Ireland Assembly to receive pay rise

Stormont MLAs are to receive a pay rise before May’s Assembly election.

Their current basic annual salary of £51,000 will increase by £500 from April 1.

Ministers and other office holders on higher wages will also receive a £500 uplift due to Assembly rules on inflation criteria.

It comes as plans to create an independent panel to set MLAs’ pay appear to have been shelved until after the election.

“Political sensitivities” were cited by one Stormont source as the reason why a proposed bill to agree the functions of the panel has not been progressed.

Rules had previously been set by the Independent Financial Review Panel, but it was never reappointed after its term ended in 2016.

MLAs took issue with some of the rules imposed by the panel including strict limits on salaries for their constituency office staff and other issues such as office signage.

After Stormont was restored in 2020, MLAs increased staff wages as they abandoned having office expenses rules set by an independent panel.

The powers were given to the Assembly Commission, a body which runs Stormont and is made up of representatives of the five main parties.

It said the financial review panel would be reformed with the “sole remit” of independently setting the pay and pension entitlements of MLAs.

The Assembly Members (Remuneration Board) Bill was introduced in December 2020 as part of this, but it has not been scheduled for further discussion since then.

With the Assembly due to be dissolved in under five weeks’ time, the bill is set to fall and will have to be reconsidered in the next mandate after the election.

In 2020, Stormont’s five main parties set up methods for MLAs to donate their inflationary pay rises to taxpayer funds or charity.

It followed public outcry when it emerged Assembly members were due to receive a £1,000 pay uplift just days after devolution returned from a three-year hiatus.

In a joint statement at the time, the parties said any salary increases “should not be retained by MLAs” until a review of the independent financial panel’s work had been completed “or until the end of the mandate”.

It was agreed MLAs could either return the pay increase to the public purse through a consolidated fund, or donate it to charity through a ‘Give As You Earn’ (GAYE) scheme.

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MLAs in the Assembly chamber at Parliament Buildings, Stormont

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But in January last year, figures obtained by Belfast Live showed fewer than half of the 90 MLAs were using the agreed processes for giving up their extra pay.

Parties insisted their MLAs were either returning their wage rises through the advised methods or as individual donations to charity after tax.

An Assembly spokeswoman said the inflation criteria agreed in 2016 by the independent panel had been satisfied for MLAs to receive a pay rise this year.

She said: “Under the Assembly Members (Salaries and Expenses) Determination (Northern Ireland) 2016 as amended by the Assembly Members (Salaries and Expenses) (Amendment) Determination (Northern Ireland) 2020, salaries of MLAs and office holders increase by £500 on 1 April each year if the consumer prices index (CPI) for the September of the previous year was 1% or greater.

“As CPI for September 2021 was 3.1%, the salary for all MLAs and office holders in the Assembly will increase by £500 with effect from 1 April 2022.”

MLAs in Northern Ireland earn less than their counterparts in the other devolved UK institutions in Scotland and Wales.

Members of the Scottish Parliament receive £66,662 while members of the Welsh Assembly earn £67,649.

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