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By Paul Ainsworth

A WAR of words has broken out among Castlereagh Councillors over which party is providing ratepayers with the best ‘value for money’. Details of expenses claimed by each individual councillor on the local authority have been released, showing who claimed what for the financial year 2011/2012.

Expenses include basic allowances, motor mileage, travel allowance, and “special responsibility allowances”, while council members can also claim for visits to relevant conferences and courses.

In Castlereagh Central and South, which includes parts of South Belfast and Carryduff, members of the DUP and Ulster Unionist Party cost ratepayers the most cash, through individual totals with the DUP’s Vivienne McCoy claiming the highest total figure for the year, at £13,707, followed by party colleague Jack Beattie at £12,801. The UUP’s Michael Henderson was next, with a total claim of £12,537, and the DUP’s Thomas Sandford put in an expense total of £9,456.

Meanwhile, the three local Alliance claims saw Geraldine Rice claim £10,416, Michael Long £9,884, and Carol Howard £8,455. The SDLP’s Brian Hanvey claimed a total of £11,649.

Councillor Michael Long said he was “delighted” with the average figure for the Alliance Party compared to rivals in the chamber, who he accused of “excluding” his party colleagues from committee chairmanships.

“Several years ago, I faced considerable opposition in my fight to ensure that these figures were made public and published on the website but I am glad that the Council now does publish them as I think it is important that local ratepayers can see how their money is spent,” he said.

“We believe that it is important that we provide value for money for ratepayers and these figures show that the average Alliance Councillor cost over £2,000 less than their Unionist counterparts in the DUP and UUP. “We will continue to do what we can to ensure that Councillors are not a financial burden to our ratepayers.”

However, defending his party’s costs, Councillor Beattie told this paper Mr Long was “stirring the pot”, and said: “As councillors we have travel expenses for meetings with outside bodies, but even then, we have one of the lowest totals for any council in Northern Ireland”.

The UUP’s Michael Henderson added: “We are required to represent the ratepayer when attending events such as meetings of the National Association of Councillors, which are held all over the UK. We do the work we are appointed to do.”


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