When the Independent Review Panel looked at MLAs' pay earlier this year it couldn't make any recommendation on MLA numbers but it gave broad hints.
The report commented on the low pay our MLAs drew compared to other jurisdictions. It also commented on the number of constituents per fulltime representative. One table summed the whole thing up.
In Westminster an MP is paid £65,738 and here an MLA gets £43,101, just 65.6% of a Westminster salary.
But when you look at how much they are paid per constituency the picture changes – an MP gets 65p for each person represented but an MLA gets £2.64, more than four times as much.
Compared to an MLA's £2.64, an MSP in Scotland is paid £57,521, far more than an MLA, but the MSP gets only £1.44 per constituent. In Wales an Assembly Member gets £53,852, which works out at £1.08 per head in the constituency. It couldn't be clearer that, compared to other jurisdictions, we don't pay our MLAs particularly well. We may not attract the most able people, but, on the other hand, we are grossly overstaffed.
It shows in the quality. There doesn't seem to be the talent pool in local politics to fill all 108 places at any price. Many debates are leaden affairs. Many members read monotonous speeches written by taxpayerfunded backroom teams. That wouldn"t be allowed in other parliaments. Here, anything goes, and every word is translated into Irish and Ulster-Scots. Everyone seems busy at Stormont; the independent review said they worked long hours.
The question is whether their effort is best value for money, or an example of Parkinson's Law that "work expands to fill the time available for its completion".
In Stormont, most decisions are taken by the OFMDFM and then passed to the Executive for approval. Anything that the two big parties agree can be pushed through and our stability is built on their co-operation.
All the same, the 108-member Assembly can be left looking like a cross between a Greek Chorus, providing a commentary on Executive decisions, and a school debating society. Last month's marathon sitting on welfare reform is a case in point. It gave members an opportunity to let off steam and show where their hearts lay, but changed nothing.
Devolution costs us £48m a year. We could save a fair chunk of that by cutting numbers and still pay our MLAs well enough to attract the best talent available.