David McNarry believes the Assembly could operate effectively with just 50 MLAs – but no lower than 80 would ever be agreed, says the sole UKIP member.
Statistically we could take less than 50. Compared to Scotland, 36 would be the proportionate to our size.
However if a reduction is agreed – and both the DUP and Sinn Féin say they are working on it – 90 seems to be the most likely number to be agreed, more than twice the proportion per head of population in Scotland or Wales.
Our inflated system of government dates back to the days when the Good Friday Agreement was negotiated. Then the economy was buoyant, the alternative was continued violence and Tony Blair, who footed the bill, thought agreement was cheap at any price.
One imperative was creating enough seats so the PUP and the Ulster Political Research Group, who spoke for the UVF and UDA loyalist paramilitary groups, would be guaranteed places. It was also thought important that the Women's Coalition should be represented. Including these three parties, who all played important parts in negotiating the agreement, stretched the size of our institutions beyond anything that would be considered reasonable elsewhere. Now all three have disappeared from the Assembly but the extra seats, and all the trappings of power, still remain.
MLAs are practically tripping over each other and the scale of their back-up staff is huge.
When David McNarry defected from the UUP to UKIP, which wants a drastic cut in costs, he qualified for party allowances. He now has two people employed, at the Assembly's expense, in his Stormont support office and three work in his constituency office paid for by his allowances. Not bad for what is effectively a one-man band.
Leaving aside office and constituency workers there is also provision for 19 Special Advisers (SPADs) in Stormont, eight in the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister and one in each of the other 11 ministries.
Their salaries are not published but range between £60,000 and £80,000. By contrast Scotland, with three times our population, has only 12.
Of MLAs, McNarry said: "In the UUP and other Executive parties you could have got away with not being very productive. I used to have heated discussions with some of my colleagues because, as far as I was concerned, they were not putting the effort in."
Perhaps it is time we moved beyond what Mark Durkan, the former SDLP leader, once referred to as "the ugly scaffolding" needed to sustain the peace process in its early days.