Tuesday 17 July 2018

Northern Ireland Secretary ‘minded’ to cut MLAs’ salaries by 27.5%

Karen Bradley also wanted to consider ‘different arrangements’ for governance.

By David Young, Press Association

The Northern Ireland Secretary has signalled an intent to cut the salary of members of the crisis-hit Stormont Assembly.

Karen Bradley said she was “minded” to slash MLA pay by 27.5%, but would seek the views of the local parties before making a final decision.

Making a statement to Westminster on the financial picture in Northern Ireland in the ongoing absence of devolution, Mrs Bradley also said she wanted to consider “different arrangements” for governance amid the deadlock.

The Conservative MP indicated she was willing to examine ways of giving MLAs some form of scrutiny role on Westminster decisions, even if they were not part of a fully functioning legislature.

Such a scenario could provide a half-way house style arrangement between devolution and direct rule.

Last year, Mrs Bradley’s predecessor James Brokenshire commissioned former Assembly chief executive Trevor Reaney to examine the controversial issue of paying MLAs who have now not sat at the Assembly for 14 months.

Before Christmas, Mr Reaney recommended the 27.5% cut, a move that would take the standard salary rate of £49,500 down to £35,888 in two stages.

Mrs Bradley told the Commons she would seek to introduce legislation at Westminster that would hand her the power to vary MLA pay.

“Further to that, I am minded to reduce pay in line with the Reaney Review recommendation, but I would welcome full and final representations from the Northern Ireland parties before I make a final decision,” she said.

Mrs Bradley said her powers as Secretary of State remained limited, as was the scope of Westminster to pass laws on devolved issues.

She said that meant fundamental decisions were not being taken in Northern Ireland.

Mrs Bradley said it would therefore be “irresponsible” for the Government not to consider alternative options while the impasse continued.

“Alongside this I also continue to keep under review my statutory obligation to call an Assembly election,” she said.

“I would welcome the views and proposals of the Northern Ireland parties and others on how such arrangements – providing for local decision-making and scrutiny, on a cross-community basis – might be achieved in the continued absence of an executive.

“And how any such arrangements might work alongside the other institutions of the (1998 Good Friday/Belfast) Agreement.

“Let me be clear that this in no way affects my commitment to the Belfast Agreement nor my commitment to continue to work to remove the barriers to the restoration of devolution.”

Mrs Bradley also announced that a cap to stem money paid out through the Renewable Heat Incentive – the botched green energy scheme that contributed to the collapse of devolution – would be extended for another year.

“I also intend to act to extend the cost-capping of the current Renewable Heat Incentive scheme in Northern Ireland, which the Assembly had put in place over a year ago,” she said.

“It would not be acceptable to put finances at risk by simply allowing that cap to lapse.”

Last week, the UK Government tabled a budget for Northern Ireland in the ongoing absence of devolved ministers.

The £12 billion budget included £410 million of the £1 billion investment package secured by the DUP as part of its confidence and supply agreement with the minority Conservative administration.

It was the second time the Government had imposed a budget for the region’s rudderless public services since the devolved institutions imploded in January 2017.

The second occasion was more politically significant, however.

When Mr Brokenshire passed a delayed budget last November, he was merely enacting draft spending plans already formulated by devolved ministers before the Stormont executive crashed.

Mrs Bradley made her own policy decisions on where to allocate the region’s block grant in the coming financial year.

While the Government continues to insist that it does not want to see a return to full Westminster direct rule, the passage of the budget in London was viewed by many as another step in that direction.

Press Association

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