Do we need as many MLAs?

October 28, 2011 12:08 PM

In an article earlier this year, Lee Canning wrote how in Strabane there were only 1664 electors per councillor. It appears that it's not just in councils in Northern Ireland where there are a small number of voters per elected representative. The Northern Ireland Assembly is exactly the same.

Let me start by giving you some facts and figures about the other devolved nations - Scotland and Wales.

There are 3,985,161 people eligible to vote for MSPs in the Scottish Parliament. With a total of 129 members, this works out at an average of 30,893 voters per member. In Wales, the electorate for AMs in the Welsh Assembly is 2,302,300. With a total of 60 members, this works out at an average of 38,372 voters per member.

In Northern Ireland, there are 1,223,139 on the electoral register, and with 108 MLAs, this works out at an average of 11,325 voters per member.

Although they are paid less than their Scottish and Welsh counterparts (£43,101, as opposed to £57,521 and £53,852 respectively) you do have to ask the question why Northern Ireland needs so many MLAs. Their constituencies are small, so they won't deal with as much casework as MSPs and AMs. There doesn't appear to be a record of attendance available, so we don't even know the amount of work they do for their salaries. So would it be beneficial to cut the numbers?

I ask this question not just as a cost saving measure, which it undoubtedly is, but because anyone who has served on large committees knows that the more people trying to speak, the harder it is to do business. During the EU Referendum debate in the House of Commons on Monday, there were many MPs who did not get a chance to air their views. This was despite MPs being restricted to speeches of 5 minutes - which went down to 4 minutes - during the course of the debate.

If you halved the number of MLAs, they would still have fewer constituents than their Scottish and Welsh counterparts. As the number of MPs will be reduced to 600 after the next general election, it is also time to think about reducing the number of MLAs?In an article earlier this year, Lee Canning wrote how in Strabane there were only 1664 electors per councillor. It appears that it's not just in councils in Northern Ireland where there are a small number of voters per elected representative. The Northern Ireland Assembly is exactly the same.

Let me start by giving you some facts and figures about the other devolved nations - Scotland and Wales.

There are 3,985,161 people eligible to vote for MSPs in the Scottish Parliament. With a total of 129 members, this works out at an average of 30,893 voters per member. In Wales, the electorate for AMs in the Welsh Assembly is 2,302,300. With a total of 60 members, this works out at an average of 38,372 voters per member.

In Northern Ireland, there are 1,223,139 on the electoral register, and with 108 MLAs, this works out at an average of 11,325 voters per member.

Although they are paid less than their Scottish and Welsh counterparts (£43,101, as opposed to £57,521 and £53,852 respectively) you do have to ask the question why Northern Ireland needs so many MLAs. Their constituencies are small, so they won't deal with as much casework as MSPs and AMs. There doesn't appear to be a record of attendance available, so we don't even know the amount of work they do for their salaries. So would it be beneficial to cut the numbers?

I ask this question not just as a cost saving measure, which it undoubtedly is, but because anyone who has served on large committees knows that the more people trying to speak, the harder it is to do business. During the EU Referendum debate in the House of Commons on Monday, there were many MPs who did not get a chance to air their views. This was despite MPs being restricted to speeches of 5 minutes - which went down to 4 minutes - during the course of the debate.

If you halved the number of MLAs, they would still have fewer constituents than their Scottish and Welsh counterparts. As the number of MPs will be reduced to 600 after the next general election, it is also time to think about reducing the number of MLAs?

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