Moutray assembly’s biggest spender

STEPHEN Moutray claimed the most expenses of all the Stormont MLAs for April to September last year.

The DUP Assembly member’s expenses bill came in at £51.875 putting him top of the league of Stormont spenders.

In local terms the SDLP’s Dolores Kelly was the next highest with a bill of £35,353.

She was followed by Sam Gardiner of the UUP with £27,975, Education Minister John O’Dowd of Sinn Fein with £27,367 and new UUP MLA Jo-Anne Dobson with £27,193.

The UUP’s George Savage, who made way for party colleague Jo-Anne Dobson, had a bill of £25,467.

In terms of travel expenses Dolores Kelly had the biggest bill - £1,263.

Stephen Moutray put in a claim for £608 while Sam Gardiner racked up £459 and his UUP colleague Jo-Anne Dobson had a travel bill of £456.

Neither John O’Dowd or George Savage claimed for travel expenses from April to September 2011.

Mr Moutray did not comment himself, but a DUP spokesman said: “Sydney Anderson, Stephen Moutray and David Simpson are key members of the DUP team that is delivering a constituency service across Upper Bann which way outstrips any other political party.

“As far as this year’s total investment in the constituency goes, Stephen has moved to a larger office at a lower monthly rental commitment in order to accommodate the increased demand placed upon our Lurgan office by constituents seeking help and advice.”

The DUP spokesman added: “After all of the years of political neglect that Upper Bann suffered we are very clear in our determination to invest every available allowance in the interests of our constituents. It is that determination that has delivered three full-time constituency offices and a network of part-time surgeries across Upper Bann.

“We are actively considering other possibilities to further expand our provision.”

The SDLP’s Dolores Kelly said: “I’m very proud of the service I provide.

The majority of the expenses bill is made up of office cost allowance for which we’re given a budget of £70,000 per year.

“Last year I opened up a second office in Banbridge so I could reach out to the entire Upper Bann area.

“I employ four people on a permanent and part time basis. I believe the service I offer as an MLA is very good value for money.”

Ulster Unionist Jo-Anne Dobson said she was happy that this information is in the public domain but didn’t wish to comment any further.

Fellow UUP MLA Sam Gardiner said: “Office Cost Allowances are provided to MLAs to provide a constituency service and in doing that they should have a mind to getting the best value for money because, at the end of the day, it is public money.

“So MLAs should respect that and try to live within their means. My constituents know that I have run a constituency service which is highly professional for years and does a good job for my constituents and that I have always brought this in year on year well within budget.”

Commenting on the recent publication of MLA’s expenses Sinn Féin Assembly Member John O’Dowd’s PA, Councillor Johnny McGibbon said: “Given the current recession and the importance of maintaining thriftiness when dealing with public funds Sinn Féin took a conscious decision to keep the operating costs of our constituency office as low as was possible while still delivering an efficient and effective service to the public.

“Given that our MLA has held a ministerial position since the last Assembly election and that this has increased the correspondence and telephone enquiries that we deal with on a daily basis we have managed to keep our expenditure at a reasonable level.”

Councillor McGibbon said: “Sinn Féin has worked with the Assembly and have co-operated in measures to reduce costs and get the most out of available resources. We will continue to work to keep expenses down by continuing to spend wisely while maintaining a service for the public and representing our electorate.”