Former MLA who received £27K ‘Golden Handshake’ still paid by public purse

FORMER Mid-Ulster MLA Billy Armstrong is still being paid by the public purse despite receiving a £27K ‘golden handshake’ for retiring last year.

Mr Armstrong, whose daughter Sandra Overend took over his UUP Assembly seat last year, is currently working as a consultant in her Moneymore constituency office.

Last week the MAIL reported how the former MLA claimed £44,427 in expenses for the last nine months of 2011 despite vacating his Assembly seat in April that year.

His claims included Winding Up Expenditure (WUE) of £11,511 to allow him to bring his Assembly business to an orderly close, almost £6,000 in other expenditure and a lump sum retirement payment of £27,154.

Mrs Overend’s office confirmed this week that Mr Armstrong took up his consultancy role at her office in January this year, although in the Assembly’s Register of Interest Mr Armstrong is not noted as working for his daughter.

It is not known how much Mr Armstrong gets paid for his consultancy role, or how often he gets paid.

The Register, which requires all MLA’s to name any family members benefiting “directly or indirectly in any way” from Office Cost Expenditure, was updated last month.

This week the MAIL received phone calls and letters from the public who expressed anger at some of the expense claims of Mid-Ulster’s six MLA’s.

On Moneymore resident, who asked not to be named, said: “When people can’t even afford to buy heating oil for their homes it is a smack in the teeth to read what some of our MLA’s are spending tax-payer’s money on.

“Questions need to be asked on the operation of constituency offices including opening hours and the staffing of them.”

“It should also be made more clearer to the public how a former MLA can claim expenses months after giving up office.”

Mrs Overend is not the only Mid-Ulster MLA who employs family members.

The DUP’s Ian McCrea also employs his wife as a part-time secretary and his brother in law as a full-time personal assistant and researcher.

Both connections are noted in the MLA’s Register of Interests.