Running costs at Parliament Buildings
Information Standards Freedom of Information Response
Our Ref: FoI 26-19
1 November 2019
Freedom of Information Act 2000
I can confirm that the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission holds the information relevant to your request of 30 September 2019. In your request, you asked for the following information:
1. How much has it cost the tax payer to continue to pay MLAs since Stormont has been discontinued?
Please see the response at Appendix A.
2. How much has it cost the tax payer in paying MLAs a pension since Stormont has been discontinued?
Employer’s Pension contributions are included in Appendix A.
Pension payments to retired Members are paid under the provisions of the Assembly Members Pension Scheme.
3. How much has it cost the taxpayer in paying out expenses to MLAs since Stormont has been discontinued?
4. How much has it cost the tax player in running costs to keep Stormont running in its present form since it was discontinued?”
Clarification of the information you require at Question 4 was sought on 28October 2019 as follows:
“I will be unable to proceed with your request without clarification of the information you wish to receive. To help us to do so, I would like to know what you mean by running costs?”
Your response of 28 October 2019 confirmed that you require “only the costs for MLAs Advice Offices including staff costs.”
All expenses paid to Members can be found on the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission website. This information is published on a quarterly basis and is currently available up to 30 June 2019. The information for each Member include all running costs for constituency offices.
The Northern Ireland Assembly Commission holds information regarding expenses claimed during the remainder of the time requested from 1 July 2019 - 30 September 2019. This information will be published in December 2019.
As this information is intended for future publication, details of the expenses from 1 July 2019 - 30 September 2019 are considered exempt under Section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Please find further information on the application of this exemption in the attached notice at Appendix B.
For your information, you may wish to note that the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission Annual Report and Accounts for the year ended 31 March 2019 are published on the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission website.
If you feel that the information we have provided does not meet your request fully, please contact this office as soon as possible. You have the right to request a formal review by the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission and if you wish to do so, please write to me at the above address.
If after such an internal review you are still unhappy with the response, you have the right to appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF who will undertake an independent review.
If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me. Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.
Data Protection and Information Standards Officer
The costs associated with paying MLAs, including salaries and statutory costs such as employer’s national insurance, pension contributions and apprenticeship levy for January 2017 to September 2019 are detailed below:
MLA Salaries and Associated Costs
|January 2017 -March 2017
|April 2017 -March 2018
|April 2018 -March 2019
|April 2019 -September 2019
Employer’s NI Contributions
Employer’s Pension Contributions
It is considered that the information in relation to expenses paid to Members for the period 1 July 2019 – 30 September 2019 is exempt under section 22 of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Section 22 of the FOIA states that:
Information is exempt if –
(a) the information is held by the public authority with a view to its publication, by the authority or any other person, at some future date (whether determined or not)
(b) the information was already held with a view to such publication at the time when the request for information was made, and
(c) it is reasonable in all the circumstances that the information should be withheld from disclosure until the date referred to in paragraph (a)
For this exemption to be engaged, the information must be held with the intention of publication at the time the request was made. The exemption can only be relied upon if it is reasonable in all circumstances to do so and a public interest test must be conducted.
The Northern Ireland Assembly Commission is committed to publish salary and expense details for the period from 01 July 2019 – 30 September 2019 by 31 December 2019. This commitment is noted in the NI Assembly publication scheme, which states that Members’ salaries and expenses will be updated quarterly.
It is considered that an exemption within section 22 of the FOIA is appropriate as the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission has clear intention to publish the information requested. It is reasonable that the information should be withheld from disclosure at this time to allow for preparation, verification and audit of the information concerned pending its intended publication.
The application of an exemption under section 22 of the FOIA requires a public interest test to be conducted. That means that, for the exemption to be maintained, the public interest in disclosure of the requested information at this time must be outweighed by the public interest in maintaining the exemption. There is a clear public interest in transparency, which is served by disclosure under the FOIA. However, the information requested, from 01 July 2019 – 30 September 2019, will be available for release in December 2019, which is to allow for preparation of the information, time for individuals to consider the detail and audit of the information.
It is therefore concluded that there is a public interest in not releasing the information before this date as the verification process requires time to consider the expense details prior to publication and therefore ensure the information is accurate and complete.
In considering the early disclosure of the information, it is our view that it is both reasonable and important that the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission keeps to its planned process to ensure the information to be published is accurate and complete. Consequently, it is considered that the public interest in disclosing the information is outweighed by the public interest in maintaining the exemption under section 22 of the FOIA at this time.