The SDLP deservedly got some good publicity last week. The Party has decided NOT to accept the £5,000 salary increase awarded to members of the Assembly. I should add that Michael Copeland the UUP MLA for East Belfast has followed suit. Fair play to them all. Their reasoning is that in times of austerity, when their constituents are being asked to take a “hit”, it would be wrong and offensive to take a salary increase.
With fourteen MLAs this represents £70,000 per annum which stays in Government coffers.
Sinn Fein with twenty nine MLAs thats £145,000 extra for the Party. Note…this will NOT be going to the individual…or so SF claim.
People are skeptical of Sinn Feins claim that those paid from the public purse “pool” the cash and only the average industrial wage is taken. The surplus is distributed among the wider staff.
Curbing my skepticism…there is really no way of knowing if it is true, I think it makes sense for Sinn Fein to do exactly that. It is after all a very disciplined organisation …one might say on …ahem revolutionary military lines…so the notion that a SF Press Officer takes home the same pay as Martin McGuinness makes perfect sense. The notion that jobs are interchangeable…that people can be co-opted into the Assembly or transferred from Special Advisor (nominally on £90,000 per annum to average industrial wage of £23,000) without losing out in terms of credibilty and finance has advantages.
So Sinn Fein will probably use the £145,000 windfall to hire another six or seven full time workers…which builds the party organisation even further.
Just how many people are on the Sinn Fein payroll is a big question.
With about eight Special Advisors on an official salary of £90,000 and an unofficial one of £23,000…thats a lot of patronage in the hands of the Sinn Fein ledership.
Frankly I think that Sinn Fein overplays the whole “average industrial wage” thing. They are representing an increasingly aspirational Catholic middle class. People aspire to be solicitors, doctors, accountants and it is certainly possible to be a member of the “professional class” and have a social conscience.
It is of course unpopular to say it but politicians deserve a decent salary. My commenters (sic) will correct me if I am wrong but I understand that a MLA salary is around £40,000…its decent without being extravagant. But Sinn Fein are wrong to push the populist line that they get by on the average industrial wage.
One of the weapons Conservatives used against the Labour Party more than a century ago was to deny a decent salary. ..to ensure that people could not afford to be MPs unless privately financed.
The Labourer is worthy of his hire.
But we know that a Special Advisor is paid more than double the salary of a MLA. And therein lies the problem. While the office workers are often paid at ( below average) civil service clerical rates, the people with fancy titles working for the political parties are overpaid. Those policy wonks and press officers.
In their own minds they fix their earnings potential on the salaries of people in the private sector…working for NGOs and lobby groups, the charity sector.
A political party like the SDLP feels it should pay the going rate for the job. Which is all very noble but Id not be surprised if there were was maybe one or two SDLP employees with a package worth more than £50,000.
That is simply too much.
In saying that of course I am effectively ruling myself out of ever being employed by SDLP. And I declare an interest that I have tried and failed on three occasions to become a SDLP intern (expenses only). This included two occasions when I applied to work in the Press Office.
A senior SDLP took the view that I am exactly the wrong sort of person to work in a Press Office. My readers MIGHT think that I have SOME talent and SDLP under-use me. In fact they dont use me at all.
SDLP has a tradition of preferring its enemies to its friends.
But that was only internship.
Consider actual EMPLOYMENT.
I have no idea what a SDLP Press Officer earns….lets say £27,000.
Id do it for half that.
Because I could afford it.
I am 61 years old and in receipt of a generous pension from Mrs Elizabeth Windsor.
I am also (thank you Minister Nelson McCausland) the proud holder of a Translink Bus Pass which entitles me to free transport…and would probably be worth more than £4,000 to travel to work at Stormont.
So the SDLP COULD save itself some money.
Now let me emphasise this is NOT a very clever pitch for employment with SDLP.
That train has long left the station.
Having an interview with the SDLP General Secretary and pitching that he/she is overpaid is probably not a good idea.