NI ASSEMBLY: MLA’S EATING WELL WHILST YOU SUFFER

As part of our #OperationExpose, we have undertaken a major piece of work to uncover the perks, practices and goings-on in Parliament Buildings that might raise more than a few eyebrows.

In December 2015, we submitted a Freedom of Information request regarding the Members Bar in Stormont.  We asked for:

“The cost of subsidising beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic in the Members Bar

The cost of specific staffing for the Members Bar

A copy of the price list for the Members Bar.”

The response uncovered something very worrying for the taxpayer indeed.  In responding to the first part of our request, we spotted a very strange paragraph:

“Due to the nature of Assembly business and the requirement that services often be provided during unsocial sitting hours and for events, where the costs of providing such services exceeds the monies taken in, the extra cost is assumed by the Assembly. This is often referred to as operating cost”

If you are reading this and having trouble understanding its logic, effectively what the Assembly is saying is that as part of its Support Services contract, that manages catering, the Members Bar, restaurants etc within Stormont, that if any of these services make a loss, i.e. if it costs £5,000 a day to staff and prepare the food for the restaurant in Parliament Buildings, and the takings total £2,000, the Assembly – YOU the taxpayer, must provide the subsequent £3,000.

Being the ever-vigilant blog we are, we asked for an explanation of the cost of losses to the taxpayer – how much you have subsidised services in Stormont.  In response to our query on 1 February, the Assembly refused to release the information, saying:

“I wish to advise you that it is not possible to provide the breakdown of costs by type as this would result in divulging commercially sensitive information relating to the current Support Services contract that is operated by Compass.”

In other words, we can’t tell you because it may affect the future tendering process for the services – which may seem fair enough if you weren’t providing the backup monies for propping up these services!

What we have uncovered is the cost of catering provided in the Assembly during this mandate (2011-) and the figures will shock you.

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It is key here to remember that during the 2014-15 period specifically, when there was a cost rise from the previous year, MLA’s were gearing up to agree devastating cuts to public services.

The total cost to you, the taxpayer during this Assembly mandate for catering and the staff that services the Assembly is an eye-watering £1,216,231.05.  This is comparable to the cost for the Scottish Parliament in the same timeframe – which has 120 MSP’s.

To summarise:

  • The Assembly operates a Members bar, restaurant etc in Parliament Buildings, almost exclusively for the use of MLA’s
  • If these services make a loss, you pick up the tab.
  • MLA’s enjoy services that have cost over £1.2m in this mandate whilst cutting public services.

Another BtP exclusive.

 

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