Friday, 27 November 2009

Money, money, money

AS ABBA sang, ‘money must be funny in a rich man’s world’. With merchant bankers and financial gurus still coining it in while the workers stumble through the worst recession since the 1930s, one must wonder what the average MLA thinks of the whole sorry mess.

As they gaze from their windows in Parliament Buildings, contemplating the lives of those that elected them, there can only be one thought in their minds: we just don’t have enough money.

Come Monday, members will vote on the Assembly Commission report on all sorts of MLA money issues.

One recommendation is that MLA’s salary should rise to £48,000 and beyond – a pay hike of at the very least £5k, almost an extra £100 a week before tax. With an eye to their colleagues in other devolved administrations, the cross-party report authors obviously thought that Welsh AMs are no better than themselves, yet they get £10k a year more than their counterparts at Stormont.

Perhaps sensing the public reaction, at least two parties have moved to distance themselves from this recommendation. Sinn Féin says it clouds much of the good parts of the report, while the UUP want salaries set by an independent body.

In the rush to distance themselves, both parties have ignored the irony of their statements. For, if there had not been questions about the way MLAs conduct their financial affairs (i.e. handle taxpayers money) then there would have been no need for this report. And, consistently, independent review bodies have recommended hefty pay rises for elected representatives – neatly avoiding responsibility for those self-same elected representatives when they pocket the extra cash.

When this report comes before the Assembly chamber, one hopes that MLAs have the decency, common sense and all-round nod towards the forthcoming general election to amend the pay rise section.

And if not…well there’ll be plenty of scope for satire in the future.

Keep it in the family

IT must be nice to cuddle up in front of a nice warm fire on these cold nights with a loved one, secure in the knowledge that they’ve got you covered. Yep, all those lonely nights waiting for debates to wrap up, waiting for constituency meetings to end. All’s worth it when you know your spouse is paying you as his secretary.

And, for those who choose not to employ a spouse, sure you can always throw a few quid the way of a son or a brother to fulfil the secretarial duties.

Pressurised by public opinion, laughed at by the media, MLAs have been forced to open up their financial dealings.

One third of MLAs employ relations. But hey, they almost certainly do a good job – as none seem to have been sacked at any point. Their annual performance appraisals must have all been wonderful.

Actually therein lies the real flaw. If a spouse, brother, son or other relation fails to meet annual objectives or is guilty of gross misconduct, the disciplinary meeting could, at the very least, be awkward.

How would an MLA go about sacking a relative? Would they? The industrial tribunal would be hilarious!

New approaches to devolving policing powers proposed.

As the First Minister and deputy First Minister once again fail to get the devolution of policing and justice sorted out, it’s time for a new approach.

No longer the shuttle to London; no longer meetings in darkened rooms; and no longer the endless appearances on the Nolan Show…

Instead there are two options that need to be considered…

Firstly, ban the two of them from the media until it is sorted out. Then we’ll see who gets the cold sweats as the Westminster election grows closer. And for every week that they fail to agree, another candidate from their party will be banned from newspapers, radio and TV.

The second option is simple and clear. Get over it and get it done. No more stalling, waffling, grandstanding or appeals to some mythical ordinary man. Either you can do this or not. Otherwise collectively your constituents will grow weary and not turn out in the coming election. And that would be a horrible consequence for democracy.

Review – not likely

NORTHERN Ireland’s elected elite seem incapable of getting anything right. No seriously, you may not believe it, but they can’t agree on a thing.

For example, the Review of Public Administration (with the notable exception of some progress in the health service) the vast majority of the Review of Public Administration has hit the buffers, run aground, and generally failed to deliver one iota of savings.

Edwin Poots can’t get his story straight on local government review (how many councils and when the election can take place…try and get one right) and Catriona Ruane can’t get the education and library boards amalgamated under the proposed Education and Skills Authority.

Of course, each minister is not to blame. It’s just the other side causing the problem. The pages that include the words ‘consensus’ and ‘compromise’ appear to have been ripped from MLAs’ dictionaries.

The objective of the exercise should not be party politics when one assumes a ministerial position or other responsible post such as committee chair.

In a mandatory coalition the objective should be to agree good government, carried out through good governance and administered by impartial civil servants, helping direct public services by interpreting ministerial policies once the appropriate legislative and administrative processes are in place.

Instead we have inertia, ineptitude and plain stupidity.

It would be wrong to imply that any minister or MLA is stupid; it’s just that they insist on behaving so stupidly. One can only hope that they are not an example for the rest of our population.

Too many chiefs…

INTERVIEWED this morning on the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster, Belfast HSC Trust Medical Director Dr Tony Stevens defended his boss’s absence at yesterday’s meeting of the Assembly Health Committee. MLAs were angered that Trust CEO William McKee hadn’t come before them to answer questions on shockingly poor hygiene standards in Belfast’s hospitals. Dr Stevens (who did give evidence to the committee) argued that in the Belfast Trust they were a ‘community of leaders’ (i.e. all responsible for its operation). Too many chiefs and not enough indians methinks.


At the Assembly Health Committee yesterday, Sinn Féin’s Claire McGill was interrogating RQIA officials (those tasked with setting standards in our health service) on breadbins or rather whose responsibility it was to purchase breadbins. The officials gently reminded her that they were there to answer questions on their report into hygiene and infection control in hospitals – not hospital procurement procedures. However, Claire persisted and ensured that the issue of breadbins in hospitals was sorted. After all, there’s more to healthcare than clean wards and operating theatres. Keep asking the hard questions Claire.