MINUTES OF THE THIRTY THIRD MEETING OF THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION HELD ON TUESDAY 23 SEPTEMBER AT 6.00PM IN ROOM 106
Mr Stephen Moutray
Mr Alban Maginness
Mr Sean Neeson
Mr Paul Butler
Apology: Rev Robert Coulter
In Attendance: Mr T Reaney, Mr J Stewart, Mr G McGrath, Mr S Welch, Mr R Stewart, Mr T Logue, Mr R Good and Ms C McGowan.
1. CHAIRMANS BUSINESS
The Speaker formally welcomed Mr Trevor Reaney as the new Clerk / Director General and the new members of the Secretariat Management Group and wished them every success in their appointments.
The Speaker also reminded Members of the dinner for Mrs Carol Devon, the interim Clerk/Director General, on Thursday 25 September 2008, which would also provide an opportunity to acknowledge the work of the Interim Management Board.
The Clerk / Director General provided an update on the arrangements for the Prime Ministers visit on the 16 September 2008. He informed the Commission that he would be meeting with the new Assistant Chief Constable (Urban Region) on Thursday 25 September 2008 and would highlight the issues raised in relation to searches, with a view to developing a protocol in conjunction within the existing Service Level Agreement.
The Speaker concluded by thanking the Secretariat staff involved in organising the arrangements for the recent visit of the Prime Minister to Parliament Buildings.
2. MINUTES OF THE LAST MEETINGS
The minutes of the meeting held on the 1 July 2008 were agreed with one amendment:
Item 4 Insert ‘or members of political parties not represented on the Commission’.
The minutes of the meeting held on the 15 September 2008 were agreed.
3. MATTERS ARISING
3.1 Ormiston House
Mr Welch provided Members with a verbal update in relation to the Ormiston House site. He informed Members that an initial draft report from the consultants had arrived however, this still required significant work and would be forwarded to the Commission in due course. He also advised that in addition to the development options identified, a further option of departmental transfer was being considered.
The Clerk/Director General also advised the Commission that he had requested that Internal Audit review the processes and options employed to date in relation to the site with a view to ensuring that all necessary processes and possible options had been fully identified and addressed.
3.2 Audit of existing accommodation usage
Mr Welch provided the Commission with a verbal update on the process involved in commencing the audit of existing accommodation usage and tabled a draft project timeline. He informed Members that a consultant would be appointed with both architectural and space planning experience within the next 3 - 5 weeks to commence the audit and would provide an update at a future Commission meeting.
The Commission agreed the draft timeline, including Mr Maginness’ proposal that an interim report be made in relation to exploring the internal organisation of the building.
The Clerk /Director General provided the Commission with an update in relation to the legal position regarding the ownership of property within the Stormont Estate and the wider issues surrounding the management of the Estate . He also drew Members’ attention to the poor working conditions for staff in Annex C and emphasised that this should be considered as a priority area within the audit when considering any potential interim solution.
3.3 Chamber Upgrade
Mr Welch provided the Commission with a verbal update on the refurbishment of the Assembly Chamber and highlighted the positive feedback received from MLAs and members of the general public. Members congratulated the staff involved in the upgrade for the quality of workmanship and in ensuring that work was completed within the agreed time frame.
4. CLERK / DIRECTOR GENERAL BRIEFING
The Speaker invited the Clerk /Director General to provide a general briefing on his first month in post.
The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that he would be providing a Clerk’s Monthly Report to the next meeting in line with previous submissions but would be grateful for any views from Members on its format and content.
The Clerk/Director General outlined his initial views in relation to his new role including the Review of the Secretariat, staffing issues, internal communications, corporate governance and current strategic issues.
He informed the Commission that he had chaired the first meeting of the reformed Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee, pending the appointment of an independent Chairperson. He further advised that the appointment process for the independent Chair and an independent Member of the Committee would commence shortly.
Mr Maginness as the Commission Member serving on the Committee, would chair the next meeting if an independent Chair was not appointed or available at that time.
5. ASSEMBLY COMMISSION HANDBOOK
Mr Logue drew Members attention to the published version of the Assembly Commission Handbook. Following consideration, the Commission agreed that the Handbook should be issued to all MLAs to increase their knowledge and understanding of the role and responsibilities of the corporate body.
6. ASSEMBLY COMMISSION ANNUAL REPORT
The Clerk /Director General spoke to a paper outlining several options on the format of the next Assembly Commission Annual Report.
The Commission agreed the option proposed by the Secretariat Management Group to produce both a full report and summary document. Members agreed that the main report should be minimally produced in hard copy for distribution to libraries and other legislative and/or public bodies but also developed as a HTML document for general access through the Assembly Website. In addition, it was agreed that a brochure format be produced to convey the key information, activities and decisions detailed from the main report to members of the general public.
It was further agreed that the Commission would consider the distribution costs for both documents at a future meeting.
7. COMMISSION OFF-SITE MEETING - ACTIONS
The Clerk /Director General updated Members on the progress achieved in relation to issues arising from the Commission’s off-site meeting on the 5/6June 2008.
Mr Maginness requested that consideration also needed to be given to Commissions’ role in the North-South Parliamentary Forum. The Speaker advised that a joint meeting of the Commissions was being arranged for October 2008 at which the Forum would be discussed.
8. FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE TO POLITICAL PARTIES – Provision of information to the Electoral Commission
Mr Stewart spoke to a paper detailing a recent request from the Electoral Commission to provide routine information on amounts paid by the Assembly to political parties under the Financial Assistance for Political Parties Scheme 2007.
Following consideration, the Commission agreed to defer their decision until the next meeting.
9. SEPTEMBER MONITORING ROUND
Mr Stewart provided the Commission with an update relating to the Assembly’s financial position in relation to the submission of the September monitoring round return to DFP.
10. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
10.1 Assembly Commission Questions
Mr Logue provided the Commission with details of two questions for Oral Answer on Monday 29 September 2008. Mr Neeson agreed to answer the questions for oral answer in line with his portfolio arrangements during plenary on the 29 September 2008.
10.2 Visit of the President of the European Parliament
The Speaker informed Members that the President of the European Parliament would be visiting the Assembly prior to Christmas and had indicated that he wished to address all Members. The Speaker asked Members if they would consider, for the next meeting, the most appropriate venue in which the address should be given.
10.3 Freedom of Information
Mr Logue provided an update in relation to a recent FOI request on the recruitment of an Assistant Editor for Ulster/Scots and agreed to forward details of the request and response to Members.
10.4 Publication ‘Stormont on the Hill’
Mr Logue tabled final draft copies of the illustrative history of the Stormont Parliament, titled ‘Stormont: The House on the Hill’. Members were reminded that in June 2007 the Commission agreed to support the publication subject to consultation on its contents. The Speaker asked Members to consider the content of the publication and feed back their views to Mr Logue.
11. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The next meeting of the Assembly Commission was agreed for Tuesday 7 October 2008. The time of the meeting to be confirmed.
The meeting ended at 7.40pm