MINUTES OF THE FIFTY FIRST MEETING OF THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION HELD ON WEDNESDAY 11 NOVEMBER 2009 AT 1.25PM IN ROOM 106
Mr Stephen Moutray
Mr Pat Doherty
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mrs Carmel Hanna
Mr Sean Neeson
In Attendance: Mr T Reaney, Mr T Logue, Dr G McGrath, Mr R Stewart, Mr H Widdis, Mr A Witherspoon, Mr R Good, Mr A McQuillan, Ms S Lappin, Mrs N Shephard and Ms C McGowan. Ms S Lappin was present for Items 5 – 10.
1. DECLARATION OF INTEREST
The Speaker sought any declarations of interest from the Commission Members in relation to items of business being discussed and Members noted an interest in relation to the issues being discussed regarding the publication of expenses and the draft Report on Members’ Pay, Pensions and Financial Support for Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
2. CHAIRMAN’S BUSINESS
The Speaker thanked Mr B Devlin and his team for the presentation on the Assembly Information Management System (AIMS), which had been delivered prior to the Commission meeting.
3. MINUTES OF LAST MEETINGS
The minutes of the meeting held on the 20 October 2009 were agreed without amendment.
4. MATTERS ARISING
4.1 Commission Report on Members’ Pay, Pensions and Financial Support
The Clerk/Director General provided Members with an update in relation to the draft report on Members’ Pay, Pensions and Financial Support. Following further consideration of the draft report and the paper presented by the Clerk/Director General, the Commission agreed the Report for submission to the Assembly, subject to the following amendments:
- To amend the draft recommendation regarding the abatement of OCA for MLAs who hold seats at Westminster so that only the abatement to 50% at the start of the next mandate would be included as recommended by SSRB;
- To amend the draft recommendation regarding the payment of Whips so that a proportional payment would be introduced based on the sliding scale of Party strength used for the Financial Assistance to Political Parties Scheme;
- That the approach to dealing with breaches and sanctions suggested by the Clerk/Director General are included in the text of the Report.
Mr. Doherty expressed his Party’s view that some of the recommendations should be left for the new independent body to determine when it is established.
The Commission noted the proposed timeline and actions required to facilitate tabling of a motion from the Commission for Plenary in w/c 30 November 2009. The Commission agreed that Mr. Logue would liaise with Members on the wording of the motion and on who would move and wind the motion.
4.2 Changes to delegated authority for the Clerk/DG
The Members agreed to amend the Clerk/Director General’s level of delegation, to give further authority in relation to human resources issues with the revised exception now being ‘matters relating to salaries and pensions for staff and new or significant variations to terms and conditions and personnel policies which have significant direct budget implications’.
4.3 Accommodation Issues Update
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House provided Members with an update on the development proposals and market testing exercise carried out in relation to the Ormiston House site. The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House also provided Members with a status update on the condition of the roof of Parliament Buildings and informed Members that he would be providing initial proposals and recommendations on the required work at the Commission meeting in December 2009.
4.4 Data Security Update
The Clerk/Director General provided Members with an update on the ongoing investigation in relation to the breach in security.
4.5 Access to Upper Car Park
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House briefed Members on issues in relation to access to the upper car park on sitting days. Following discussion, the Commission noted the further difficulties arising for staff access to car parking in the lower car park and agreed to write to the Department of Finance and Personnel to review the existing parking facilities within their jurisdiction.
4.6 Commission Newsletter – November 2009 Edition
Mr Logue tabled the November 2009 copy of the Commission ‘Newsletter’. Following consideration, the Commission agreed that the newsletter should now be issued to Members.
4.7 Commission’s visit to Dublin
Mr Logue tabled the itinerary for the Commissions upcoming visit to Dublin, and briefed the Members on the programme.
Ms S Lappin joined the meeting.
5. HR ISSUES
The Director of Resources provided Members with a background to the issue of fair pay for Assembly Secretariat staff and to the principles adopted. The Commission considered the proposed way forward and welcomed the support indicated by the Trade Union Side. Following further discussion in relation to the financial implications, the Commission agreed the methodology and settlement proposed.
6. WEBSITE BUSINESS CASE
The Director of Engagement spoke to a paper outlining a business case for redeveloping the Assembly website. The Director of Engagement highlighted the budget implications of the project and the perceived engagement benefits on implementation. Following discussion, the Commission agreed to the redevelopment of the existing website and associated expenditure.
Mr Moutray raised a query in relation to the filming of Committee sessions and the Director of Engagement confirmed that filming is permitted ‘when a Committee is in public session’, however it would be up to the Committee to consider the matter further if any Committee member raised an issue of concern.
7. CLERK'S MONTHLY REPORT
The Clerk/Director General presented his monthly report to the Commission. The Clerk/Director General highlighted the continuing high quality and level of existing service provision within the Secretariat and drew Members attention to several key issues within the report, namely:
7.1 Human Resources Issues
The Clerk/Director General provided Members with an update in relation to the ongoing project to establish an appropriate pay and grading system for the Assembly Secretariat staff. He highlighted that a revised approach to undertaking the project was currently being considered by Trade Union Side.
7.2 Emergency Planning Issues
The Clerk/Director General provided an update to the Commission in relation to the work of the Emergency Planning Group, established to develop a contingency plan for a potential swine flu pandemic. He informed Members that the Procedures Committee is currently considering a proposed amendment to Standing Orders related to contingency arrangements for the absence of the Speaker and all Deputy Speakers.
7.3 Financial Planning
The Clerk/Director General drew Members attention to the financial position of the Commission’s budget at the end of September 2009. He informed the Commission that work would now commence on preparing the budgets for 2010/11 and sought Members views in relation to this planning exercise. The Commission agreed that this matter would be considered as part of their governance workshop to be delivered on the 19 November 2009 in Dublin.
7.4 Publication of Members’ Expenses Details
The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that details of Members’ expenses from April 2003 to July 2009 had been published on the 23 October.
7.5 Improved access to Research and Library Services
The Director of Engagement informed Members that in order to improve Members access to Research and Library Services, he was proposing to install an additional desk, manned by a researcher, outside the Assembly Chamber to assist any Member making a research request.
8. SARC APPRAISAL
The Commission agreed to defer this item until the next meeting.
Mr S Moutray left the meeting
9. SUSTAINABILITY POLICY UPDATE
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House spoke to a paper which provided Members with an update on sustainability and the development of a sustainability policy statement.
10. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
10.1 All Party Group on Diabetes
Mr Neeson informed the Commission of events occurring to mark World Diabetes Day on 14 November 2009 and in particular the proposed ‘lighting up’ of major buildings throughout the world to mark the day. The Commission agreed that it would not be possible for Parliament Buildings to take part in the event on the 14 November 2009.
11. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The next meeting of the Assembly Commission will take place on Thursday 10 December 2009.
The meeting ended at 3.32pm