MINUTES OF THE FIFTY SEVENTH MEETING OF THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION HELD ON THURSDAY 22 APRIL AT 1.00 PM 2010 IN ROOM 106
Mr Stephen Moutray
Mr Pat Doherty
Mr Sean Neeson
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr Alex Attwood
In Attendance: Mr T Reaney, Mr T Logue, Mr R Stewart, Mr S Welch, Mr H Widdis, Dr G McGrath, Mr J Stewart, Mr C McKenna, Mr A Davis, Ms C McGowan, Mrs N Shephard and Ms C Dodson.
1. DECLARATION OF INTEREST
The Speaker sought any declarations of interest from the Commission in relation to items of business being discussed. There were no declarations.
2. CHAIRMAN’S BUSINESS
The Speaker also informed Members that the seventh meeting of the North-South Parliamentary Forum Working Group would take place immediately after the Commission Meeting.
3. MINUTES OF LAST MEETING
The minutes of the meeting held on the 25 March 2010 were not agreed. Mr Attwood agreed to submit a note detailing his suggested amendments for consideration and approval at the next Commission meeting.
4. MATTERS ARISING
4.1 Commission Newsletter
The Commission considered the content of the Newsletter and agreed that it should now issue to all Members electronically.
4.2 Commission Planning Day
Mr Logue provided an update and tabled a draft programme in relation to the proposed planning day. The Commission agreed that the planning day would take place on the 19-20 May 2010 in the Galgorm Manor, Ballymena.
4.3 Commission Visit to the European Parliament
Mr T Logue provided an update and draft programme to the Commission in relation the joint visit to Brussels with the OFMdFM Committee. The proposed date for the visit is 8 – 10 June 2010.
The Director of Legal Services provided Members with an update in relation to current litigation against the Assembly Commission. Mr Attwood sought clarity in relation to a number of issues and it was agreed that a further paper on the application of the Commission's Starting Pay Policy would be brought forward for consideration at the next Commission meeting. In response to comments from a number of Members, the Clerk/DG clarified that the litigation in question was unrelated to previous litigation.
4.5 NICS Equal Pay Settlement
Mr Attwood expressed his concerns in relation to the one element of NICS Equal Pay settlement. The Director of Resources informed the Commission that he had written to DFP informing them of the Commission’s view on the matter and would bring back any correspondence to a future meeting. He also informed Members that discussions with Trade Union side were continuing in relation to its application to Secretariat staff.
5. UPDATE ON MEMBERS’ PAY, PENSIONS AND FINANCIAL SUPPORT ISSUES
The Clerk/DG took the Members through a paper regarding the outstanding issues arising from the Commissions Report on Pay Pensions and Financial Support for Members. Following discussion the Commission agreed a Draft Members’ Expenditure Determination would be prepared for the next Commission meeting. In addition, Members agreed that all remaining non-legislative recommendations should now be progressed through the draft Members Financial Services Handbook. The Speaker drew Members attention to the difficulties he had experienced in obtaining responses on the issues and Commission Members agreed to approach their parties and press for a response on outstanding issues at the next meeting.
The Commission also agreed to the continued non-payment of salary increases in light of the decision not to proceed with the Commission’s Report on Pay Pensions and Financial Support. It was also agreed that the Office Costs Allowance up-rating for April 2010 would proceed in line with the Retail Prices Index. A letter to that effect would now issue to all Members informing them of this decision. The Commission further agreed that the Audit Programme of Office Cost Allowances in 2010/11 would include a sample of on-site verification visits to strengthen the audit process.
The Clerk/DG informed the Commission that officials were currently drafting a specification to invite suitably qualified suppliers to provide valuation services to the Assembly and upon successful appointment, initial valuations would be carried out on constituency office rentals.
6. ISB - NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY BILL
The Director of Legal Services provided Members with an update in relation to developments for preparing a Bill to establish an Independent Statutory Body (ISB) to set pay, pensions and allowances for the Northern Ireland Assembly. Mr Widdis confirmed that he had only received one formal response, in relation to the consultation documentation issued on policy considerations, in respect of the establishment of an ISB.
The Commission reviewed each of the policy considerations. A number of further issues were raised for the Director of Legal Services to consider, namely:
- That the independence of the appointment process be considered further in relation to the mechanism for appointment of members to the ISB;
- That the number of members appointed to ISB should be three and that the disqualifications should also include councillors, council officials, any elected official, any employee of a political Member or Party;
- That the ISB should meet in the year before an Assembly Election;
- That in relation to terms and conditions of members appointed to the ISB, that further consideration should be given to practices operating within the public sphere i.e. ‘per diem’ rates;
- That the role of the Assembly Commission should be considered within the termination process for appointments to ISB;
- That in relation to budget and powers, consideration should be given to alternative methods of staffing and supporting the ISB; and
- That further consideration should be given to the powers of the ISB to employ staff or contract services and in particular the use of ‘expert advice’ in relation to financial matters.
The Director of Legal Services also requested that the Commission Members give consideration to the future title of the ISB.
7. CLERK/DIRECTOR GENERALS OVERVIEW
The Clerk/Director General presented his report to the Commission and highlighted that this was the first report following the Commissions agreement to move from a monthly to quarterly format. He drew Members attention to the Assembly Commission’s budget for 2010-11 and confirmed that a paper would be submitted to the May 2010 Commission meeting. The Clerk/DG also advised Members that guidance had issued to all MLAs on the use of Assembly Resources during the General Election 2010.
The Director of Properties/ Keeper of the House provided Members with an update in relation to the response from the Environment Agency and Planning Service for the Ormiston House site. He confirmed that planning restrictions were likely to further reduce the potential re-sale value of the property. Taking this into account together with the substantial estimated costs for providing a business continuity option, he proposed that the Commission reconsider its options for Ormiston House including the retention of the property and surrounding environs. Following further discussion in relation to costs, the Commission agreed that an options paper should now be presented, at the next Commission meeting, outlining proposals on the way forward.
The Clerk/DG also drew Members attention to the recent memorial service that took place in Parliament Buildings for the late Polish President. He highlighted that this was a significant piece of work, undertaken at short notice and he noted his thanks to all staff for the hard work and dedication they provided in respect of the event. Commission Members endorsed these comments.
8. POLICY ON MARRIAGE CEREMONIES AND WEDDING RECEPTIONS
The Director of Engagement spoke to a paper which detailed the impact of extending the policy on the holding of weddings and civil partnership receptions at Parliament Buildings. Following discussion in relation to the proposed conditions set out within the paper, Commission Members requested that further consideration should be given to the flexibility of the policy in terms of timings and costs involved and that a further options paper be forwarded for consideration to the next Commission meeting.
9. PUBLIC ATTITUDE SURVEY
The Director of Engagement spoke to a paper which set out proposals for the communication of the results of the Public Attitudes Survey on the perceptions of the Assembly. Following discussion the Commission requested that the final report should be considered during the Commission’s planning day, prior to publication.
10. SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT STRATEGY
The Assembly’s Sustainable Development Manager took Members through the paper on the proposed Sustainable Development Strategy and Action Plan. He highlighted the key themes and purpose of the Strategy. Commission Members agreed that the implementation of the initiatives within the strategy supported their aspirations of becoming an exemplar organisation in the respect of sustainable development. The Clerk/DG noted his thanks to the Sustainable Development Manager for the detailed piece of work. Following consideration the Commission endorsed the Sustainable Development Strategy and Action Plan.
11. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
There were no items considered.
12. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The next meeting of the Assembly Commission was agreed for Thursday 27 May 2010 at 1pm in room 106.
The meeting ended at 3.55 pm