MINUTES OF THE THIRTY EIGHTH MEETING OF THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION HELD ON TUESDAY 13 JANUARY 2009 AT 5.45PM IN ROOM 106
Mr Stephen Moutray
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr Sean Neeson
Mr Paul Butler
Mr Alban Maginness
Mr T Reaney, Mr T Logue, Dr G McGrath, Mr R Stewart, Mr S Welch , Mr J Stewart, Mr R Good and Ms C McGowan.
Mr H Widdis was in attendance for Items 1 - 5.
1. CHAIRMAN’S BUSINESS
The Commission considered a matter relating to the new Freedom of Information (Parliament) Order 2009. The Clerk/Director General informed Members of the detail of the proposals, by the Ministry of Justice, to amend Schedule 1 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
The Commission noted the timescale to be included in the Order and agreed that the Northern Ireland Assembly should not be included within the terms of the Draft Order at this stage. It was agreed that officials consider the implications of the Order and forward a paper outlining their proposals for consideration at an early Commission meeting.
2. MINUTES OF THE LAST MEETING
The minutes of the meeting held on the 2 December 2008 were agreed.
3. MATTERS ARISING
No matters arising were considered.
4. CLERK’S MONTHLY REPORT
The Clerk/Director General provided the Commission with an overview of his monthly report which detailed progress achieved in relation to each of the Commissions’ strategic objectives. He informed Members that he had revised the format of the report to include a summary section and attached annexes and sought the views of Members in relation to the revised format. Members endorsed the revised format of the report and confirmed that they were content that consideration be given to modernising the format of future reports.
The Clerk/Director General drew Members attention to the Secretariat’s ongoing work and the progress being made in improving service delivery and corporate governance across all Directorates. Members agreed that a survey should be conducted prior to the summer recess in 2009 to ascertain Member’s opinions and requirements relating to service delivery. The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that proposals would be brought forward for their consideration at an early meeting.
The Clerk/Director General also notified the Commission that he would be writing to Party leaders in relation to progressing the Good Relations Strategy and would report back to an early meeting.
The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that following discussion at the recent ‘On-Board’ training by CIPFA, that a paper would be prepared highlighting issues raised in relation to corporate governance.
The Commission noted the work that had been undertaken in reviewing the corporate plan for 2008-11 and agreed that an update paper would be presented for their consideration at the end of February 2009.
The Clerk/ Director General also provided Members with an update in relation to the work of the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC). He also highlighted a range of developments within the areas of Human Resources, policy development and finance.
The Clerk/Director General concluded his summary report by informing the Members of progress achieved in the implementation of a ‘space audit’ and the setting up of a team to further develop this area of work.
5. SENIOR SALARIES REVIEW BODY
The Commission considered the key recommendations arising from the Review Body on Senior Salaries Report on the Review of Pay, Pensions and Allowances in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The Clerk/Director General provided background information in relation to each of the key issues arising and following discussion it was agreed that Commission Members would take the paper to their Parties for consultation with a view to further consideration at the next Commission meeting.
It was further agreed that the Clerk/Director General and the Speaker would meet with Party Leaders to discuss the issues raised within the paper.
Mr Widdis left the meeting.
6. RECRUITMENT PROGRAMME
The Director of Resources, Mr Stewart provided the Commission with an update in relation to the on-going recruitment programme.
Members noted the current staffing profile and that the recruitment schedule for 2009 would significantly increase the number of directly recruited staff within the Secretariat.
7. ENGAGEMENT STRATEGY – NEXT STEPS
The Director of Engagement, Dr McGrath provided Members with an update in relation to the implementation of the Engagement Strategy. Dr McGrath outlined a range of recommendations which would either require consultation (internal and/or external) and those which would require the development of business cases.
Following discussion, Members agreed the recommendations which could commence immediately, and approved the list of actions for implementation.
8. MEDIA ACCESS
The Director of Engagement, Dr McGrath provided Members with an update in relation to access to Parliament Buildings by members of the media.
Following discussion and consideration of the current practices operating within other legislatures, the Commission agreed:
- that members of the Assembly Lobby be provided with a greater level of access as outlined;
- the parking arrangements of the Assembly Lobby as outlined;
- that the Press Handbook be updated to reflect the above; and
- that members of the Assembly Lobby undertake a mandatory induction.
Finally, Members agreed that this approach to media access be piloted up to the beginning of the summer recess and following an evaluation that any further recommendations be brought before the Commission in September 2009.
9. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
9.1 Request from a Member : Commemoration Tree
Rev Coulter informed Members that he had been approached by a member in relation to the planting of a commemoration tree within the Stormont Estate. Mr Logue informed Members of the Commission’s jurisdiction and that the matter was for the Department of Finance and Personnel and confirmed that he would communicate the Commission’s position in writing.
9.2 Internet Connections
Several Members highlighted that there were on-going difficulties in relation to connecting to the internet. The Director of Resources informed the Commission that the issue was currently being explored and a paper would be provided for the next meeting.
9.3 European Commission
Mr Neeson informed Members of a recent meeting he had had with the Head of the European Commission and suggested that the Commission look to developing further links with the European Commission. The Clerk/Director General highlighted that officials were currently exploring possible linkages and how the Northern Ireland Assembly was represented in Brussels. The Speaker suggested that a meeting be organised initially with the Head of the European Commission to explore the matter.
9.4 Regularity of Assembly Commission Meetings
The Commission agreed that they were content to introduce Commission meetings on a monthly basis.
10. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The next meeting of the Assembly Commission was agreed for Tuesday 27 January 2009, 15 minutes after rise of House.
The meeting ended at 7.00pm