Mr Danny Kennedy MLA (Chairperson)
Mr Simon Hamilton MLA
Mr Alban Maginness MLA
Mr Paul Maskey MLA
Mr Barry McElduff MLA
Mr Declan O’Loan MLA
Mr Jimmy Spratt MLA
Mr Jim Wells MLA
Ms Nuala Dunwoody, Clerk Assistant
Mrs Christine Darrah, Clerk to the Liaison Group
Ms Marie Austin, Assistant Clerk
Mr George McClelland, Clerical Supervisor
Mr Oliver Bellew, Clerical Officer
Mrs Dolores Kelly MLA (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr Fred Cobain MLA
The Lord Morrow MLA
Mr Ian Paisley Jnr MLA
Ms Sue Ramsey MLA
Mr Peter Weir MLA
12.36 p.m. The meeting opened in closed session
1. Chairperson’s introduction
The Chairperson welcomed all to the meeting.
2. Minutes of the meeting of 16 February 2010
The minutes of the meeting of 16 February 2010 were agreed.
3. Matters Arising
The Chairperson advised the Liaison Group that the new committee web pages were currently being implemented and arrangements to record the short video clips of each chairperson speaking about their committee would be taken forward within the coming weeks.
4. Briefing on the Draft Communications Strategy
12.39 p.m. Mr. Simon Hamilton joined the meeting
12.40 p.m. Mr. Jim Wells joined the meeting
12.56 p.m. Mr. Alban Maginness joined the meeting
Dr Gareth McGrath, Director of Engagement, and Ms Susie Brown, Head of Communications, briefed the Liaison Group on the draft Assembly Communications Strategy and other engagement and outreach activities. This was followed by a question and answer session. Issues covered included:
- Promoting the work of committees;
- The assignment of specific communications officers to each committee and the importance of liaison between the communications officer, the committee clerk, the chairperson and the committee;
- Redevelopment of the Assembly Website;
- Development of a Weekly Media Briefing programme;
- Developing relationships with subject specific journalists;
- The provision of an additional web stream which provides increased coverage of committee meetings;
- The effectiveness of the Engagement Strategy and appropriate performance measurement indicators;
- Development of a social media strategy covering Facebook, Twitter etc;
- The introduction of a media coverage system;
- The retendering of the Broadcast contract and opportunities to encourage innovative approaches;
- The availability of video conferencing facilities; and
- The making of a documentary on the Assembly.
The Chairperson thanked Dr McGrath and Ms Brown for the briefing and the support provided to committees and they left the meeting.
5. Committee Budget and Expenditure Scrutiny Process
Following the decision at the last meeting to revisit the committee budget and expenditure scrutiny process in light of the concerns expressed that committees had not been able to carry out their scrutiny role in this area effectively, the Liaison Group considered the conclusions and recommendations contained in the report by the Committee for Finance and Personnel on the Review of the 2010/11 Spending Plans.
T he Liaison Group noted the actions the Committee for Finance and Personnel intended to take to address the difficulties faced and improve the capacity of the committees to effectively carry out their budgetary scrutiny role. The call by the Committee for Finance and Personnel for the urgent establishment of a formal process for Assembly scrutiny of future Executive Budgets and expenditure, which would both enable the statutory committees to plan the necessary scrutiny and would focus departments’ attention on meeting the future briefing requirements of their committees, was also noted.
Agreed: Further consideration should be given to issues around the scrutiny of future Executive Budgets and spending plans and the need for proper engagement by departments with their statutory committees within the context of the Committee for Finance and Personnel’s development of protocols for the provision of timely and appropriate budgetary information to the statutory committees.
Agreed: The Committee for Finance and Personnel should be asked to provide a copy of the research into international good practice in executive-legislature relations on budgetary scrutiny that it had commissioned rather than CLG seeking separate research as agreed at the last meeting.
6. Westminster Elections and committee meetings
The Liaison Group was advised that guidance on conduct during the forthcoming Westminster election campaign would issue to Assembly Secretariat staff in the near future and guidance would also be provided to Members on a range of issues. A discussion took place regarding the possible implications for committee meetings in the weeks preceding the actual Election day.
Agreed: While it is a matter for each committee when it meets, in principle committee meetings should not take place during the week of the Westminster Elections.
7. Letter from the Public Accounts Committee regarding Assembly Questions
The Liaison Group considered a letter from the Public Accounts Committee regarding concerns about the accuracy of answers to Assembly Questions. The concerns had been raised in the context of statistics provided in answers to Assembly Questions which were inconsistent with information supplied to the NI Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee in relation to its 2008 Report into the Use of Consultants. The Public Accounts Committee was of the view that there is a need to consider quality assurance mechanisms and controls for answers to Assembly Questions.
The Liaison Group discussed the matter and other concerns regarding the delay in receiving answers, the lack of quality and the lack of detail provided in answers and, in some cases, the apparent reluctance to provide the information requested despite it being available by other means were also raised. It was noted that statistics on the length of time taken to reply to Assembly Questions was provided by Assembly officials on a regular basis to the Permanent Secretaries Group and there had been an improvement in response times across departments.
Agreed: The letter from the Public Accounts Committee and the other concerns highlighted regarding answers to Assembly Questions should be referred to the Committee on Procedures for consideration.
Agreed: The Clerk Assistant should raise a specific issue regarding written answers with OFMDFM officials at the regular Liaison Group meeting.
Agreed: The information on the cost of answering written questions that had been requested by the Committee on Procedures should be circulated to members of CLG when available.
8. Any other business
9. Date, time and venue of next meeting
The next meeting of the Liaison Group will take place on Tuesday 20 April 2010 at 12.30 p.m. in Room 21, Parliament Buildings.1.25 p.m. The Chairperson adjourned the meeting.
Mr Danny Kennedy, Chairperson
18 May 2010