Question for Urgent Oral Answer - BBC 'Spotlight': Assembly Expenses

Jim Allister asked the Assembly Commission what steps it proposes in light of the BBC Spotlight revelations about the abuse by some MLAs of Assembly expenses.

Responding on behalf of the Assembly Commission, Judith Cochrane stated:
The Assembly Commission takes its responsibilities for the proper management of public funds seriously. Since the restoration of the Assembly in 2007, the Commission has introduced a wide range of measures to improve the framework of financial support for Members and to be transparent about the use of public funds. Those measures include the full publication of Members' expenses for office cost expenditure (OCE) claims going back to 2003-04, which is essentially for the past 10 years; placing restrictions on the employment of family members; introducing a requirement for evaluation to be carried out by independent valuers of all constituency offices, unlike other parliamentary institutions where a valuation is only required in certain circumstances; bringing forward legislation to establish the independent financial review panel to determine the level of expenditure that can be claimed to reimburse Members for costs incurred in carrying out their Assembly duties; and an annual audit, undertaken to the highest professional auditing standards, in line with the public-sector internal audit standards, to cover the expenditure claims made by a random selection of 25% of all Members, in addition to the audit of the Commission's expenditure by the Comptroller and Auditor General every year.
A number of the issues raised in the programme have already been addressed through the measures that I have outlined, and, in addition, the Assembly's accounting officer had referred two matters to the PSNI in advance of the broadcast of the programmes. Furthermore, the Commission has already met to consider some of the issues that were raised and has tasked officials with bringing a paper of options to consider models for administering expenses. The Commission is due to meet again at the conclusion of this item of plenary business.
The Assembly Commission's commitment to good governance and the prudent use of public money is steadfast, and appropriate action will be taken to address any substantive issues. The Commission will seek to continually strengthen and improve its systems and processes.
You can read the full transcript on our website.

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