MINUTES OF THE FIFTY EIGHTH MEETING OF THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION HELD ON THURSDAY 1 JUNE 2010 AT 6.30 PM IN ROOM 106
Mr Stephen Moutray
Mr Pat Doherty
Mr Sean Neeson
Mr Pat Ramsey
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr T Reaney, Mr T Logue, Mr R Stewart, Mr S Welch, Mr H Widdis, Dr G McGrath, Mr J Stewart, Mr A McQuillan, Ms C McGowan, Ms C Dodson and Ms F Leneghan.
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. Members declared an interest in relation to matters relating to the financial support and pensions for Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
2. CHAIRMAN’S BUSINESS
The Speaker welcomed Mr Pat Ramsey to his first Commission meeting and wished him success in the position. The Speaker also offered his thanks to Mr Alex Attwood and wished him success in his new ministerial position.
3. MINUTES OF LAST MEETINGS
The minutes of the meetings held on the 25 March 2010 and 22 April 2010 were agreed.
The Commission noted that no revisions had been received to date from Mr Alex Attwood MLA in relation to the Commission Meeting held on 25 March 2010 and agreed that they would consider any amendments when received.
4. MATTERS ARISING
Members received an update from the Director of Legal Services in relation to current litigation against the Commission. The Director of Legal Services highlighted that the information discussed was subject to legal privilege and should remain confidential.
4.2 Commission Visit to the European Parliament
Mr Logue provided Members with a detailed programme in relation to their scheduled visit to the European Parliament on 8 June 2010. Following consideration, it was agreed that Mr Logue would provide a further briefing paper highlighting the main issues relevant to the Commissions contemplation on European matters.
5. CLERK’S KEY UPDATE REPORT
5.1 Governance and Strategic Planning
The Clerk/Director General drew Members attention to their recent Planning Day held on 20 May 2010 and informed them that he would be presenting a report from the day along with a summary of the actions being taken forward. The Commission noted the usefulness of the event in allowing a forum for discussion in relation to governance and strategic planning matters.
The Director of Clerking and Reporting provided the Commission with details on the number of Bills which had taken through the House during May 2010 and highlighted that although pressure had increased on the main business offices concerned, they were coping with the increased legislation. He informed Members that he had secured a secondment from Westminster for the post of Assembly Clerk in the Bill Office. The Director advised Members that he would keep them informed on progress.
5.3 Human Resources
The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that the Job Evaluation exercise for all posts in the Secretariat was continuing with the appeal phase now in progress. He advised that the application of the NICS Equal Pay settlement to Secretariat staff is under consideration and negotiations have commenced with NIPSA. The Clerk/Director General informed Members that he would be bringing a paper on the matter to a future meeting of the Commission. The Clerk/Director General also informed Members that the proposed NICS Pay Settlement for 2009 has been put to the membership of NIPSA and an outcome is awaited. The Director of Resources provided Members with an update in relation to the detail of the settlement.
The Clerk/Director General highlighted that following recent discussions at the Commission meeting in March 2010 regarding security vigilance at Parliament Buildings, security arrangements continue to be kept under review. The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House informed Members that he would be tabling a paper on security to a future meeting of the Commission.
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House provided the Commission with an update in relation to the scheduled works which would take place during the Summer Recess. He highlighted that Mr Moutray and Mr Neeson had met with Mr Jim Wells to discuss accommodation matters regarding his Committee.
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House highlighted the current difficulties regarding accommodation within Parliament Buildings and following consideration the Commission agreed that a letter should issue to the Head of the Civil Service outlining their concerns and requesting his support on the matter. The Commission further agreed that a copy of the letter should also be forwarded to the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister.
Mr Ramsey raised concerns in relation to the provision of disabled facilities within Parliament Buildings and sought further clarity in relation to the progress achieved on the disability audit. The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House informed the Commission that work continues in relation to locating a suitable ‘changing place’ within Parliament Buildings to meet all regulations. The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House highlighted the difficulties inherent in a listed building such as Parliament Buildings but informed the Commission that further considerations would be given for suitable facilities for individuals with a disability on the ground floor should accommodation become available. Mr Logue also provided an update in relation to the disability audit and the disability organisations involved in the process and agreed that a progress paper would be brought to a future meeting.
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House tabled a simple schematic of the Senate Chamber and the proposed works which are to take place during the Summer Recess. The Commission noted the costs involved.
The Commission also noted that an outline scheme proposal for ramped access to the front of Parliament Buildings was currently being prepared for consideration at a future meeting. The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House informed the Commission that he expected that the proposal would require significant resources and would be need to be factored into future capital budgets.
5.6 Digital Audio Workflow System
The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that the procurement process for the new Hansard digital audio workflow system was progressing. The Commission noted the costs and savings associated with the project.
5.7 Information Security Breach
The Clerk/Director General updated Members on the current position regarding the information security breach. Mr Ramsey sought clarification in relation to current provision on data security and was assured by the Clerk/Director General that an information security policy had been developed and implemented.
5.8 European Procurement Remedies Directive
The Commission noted that a new European Directive was introduced in December 2009. The Clerk/Director General highlighted that the Directive provided a greater opportunity for potential suppliers to be provided with information and to challenge the award of contracts by contracting authorities of which the Commission is one. The Clerk/Director General further reported that the Commission’s procurement processes are currently under review to ensure compliance.
5.9 SARC Independent Members – Annual Fee Review
The Clerk/Director General reported that both independent SARC Members had indicated that they would not be seeking an increase this year to their per diem fee.
5.10 Internal Audit of Members’ Expenses
The Clerk/Director General highlighted that the first internal audit of a sample of 25% of Members expenses was conducted during January and February 2010 and that two recommendations were made relating to administration of rental agreements and uploading of expenses information to the Assembly’s website. The Clerk/Director General informed Members that the level of assurance for the audit was satisfactory.
5.11 The Balmoral Show
The Clerk/Director General highlighted the successful range of events undertaken by the Assembly and its Committees in conjunction with the Balmoral Show during 12 to 14 May 2010. The Clerk/Director General reported that feedback has been very positive and the significant efforts of staff in Clerking and Engagement proved very worthwhile.
5.12 Stormont Fun Day
The Clerk/Director General highlighted the recent Stormont Fun Day which saw over 2,000 members of the general public through Parliament Buildings.
Mr Moutray left the meeting.
6. REVIEW OF CORPORATE/ BUSINESS PLAN 2009/10
The Commission noted the contents of the monitoring report in relation to performance against Corporate Plan objectives for 2009/2010.
7. MEMBERS’ PAY, PENSIONS AND FINANCIAL SUPPORT ISSUES
The Clerk/Director General highlighted that this matter had been broken down into four separate areas, namely;
7.1 Draft Report on the Financial Support and Pensions for Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly
The Clerk/Director General provided background to the development of the Commission Report on the Financial Support and Pensions for Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and discussed indicative timings for submitting the report to the Assembly. The Commission agreed that the report should be laid before the Assembly w/c 28 June 2010 and that the Commission would meet again on the 15 June 2010 to approve the final report.
The Clerk/Director General informed Commission Members that he was available to meet with Parties or Members to clarify any aspects of the Report.
7.2 Draft Financial Support for Members’ Handbook
The Clerk/Director General highlighted that the draft Financial Support for Members’ Handbook now included those issues involving changes relating to governance and administration and which did not require any legislative effect, as agreed by the Commission at their last meeting. It was agreed that Commission Members would consider the Commission draft Report and Draft Handbook and forward any comments to Mr Logue with a view to obtaining final sign-off at the next Commission meeting on 15 June 2010.
7.3 Repeal of the Allowances to Members of the Assembly Act (NI) 2000
The Director of Legal Services informed the Commission that the draft Report proposes changes to Winding-up, ill health and Resettlement Allowances and that to make these changes by way of determination and pave the way for the establishment of an Independent Statutory Body would require repeal of the existing Allowances to Members of the Assembly Act (Northern Ireland) 2000.
Following consideration, Members approved the draft Bill and Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to allow for introduction to the Assembly on 7 June 2010. The Director of Legal Services highlighted that the Bill would require accelerated passage to allow all new allowances to come into force on 1 September 2010. The Commission agreed that consultation should take place with the Finance and Personnel Committee to seek their agreement for accelerated passage.
7.4 Independent Statutory Body
The Director of Legal Services provided the Commission with an update in relation to developments in preparing a Bill to establish an Independent Statutory Body to set pay, pensions and financial support for Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The Commission approved the public consultation documentation and agreed that the exercise should take place during Summer Recess to allow for the Bill to be brought before the Assembly at the earliest opportunity. Members noted that the Body should be established prior to the next Mandate.
The Commission further considered a range of staffing options for the Independent Statutory Body and agreed that due to the nature of the Body, the most cost effective means should involve seconding staff from the Secretariat under a duty imposed by the Bill. Members agreed that this option would be subject to consideration by the Independent Statutory Body when established.
8. POLICY ON MARRIAGE CEREMONIES AND WEDDING RECEPTIONS
The Director of Engagement spoke to a paper which detailed the policy on wedding and civil partnership receptions within Parliament Buildings. Members requested further time to consider the issue and it was agreed that the matter would be included at 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 to Members and the media. The Commission noted the proposal for publication in June 2010 and approved the establishment of a Speaker’s Inquiry.
10. ASSEMBLY COMMISSION BUDGET 2010/2011
The Director of Resources spoke to a paper which provided details of the proposed Commission budget for 2010-2011, prepared as a result of a Secretariat wide corporate budgeting exercise.
Following further consideration, Commission Members noted the planned Resources and Capital requirements for the forthcoming year.
11. DRAFT LANGUAGE POLICY
This item was deferred for consideration to the next Assembly Commission meeting.
12. REVIEW OF CHILDCARE POLICY
The Clerk/Director General spoke to a paper proposing an amendment to the current Assembly Childcare Scheme. Members agreed that the terms of the Childcare Allowance Scheme should be amended to remove the current provision that limits the payment of the allowance to two children.
13. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
There were no items considered.
14. DATE OF NEXT MEETINGS
The next meeting of the Assembly Commission was agreed for Tuesday 15 June, 15 minutes after rise of House in Room 106.
The meeting ended at 8.05pm
Clerk to the Assembly Commission