MINUTES OF THE SIXTY THIRD MEETING OF THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION HELD ON THURSDAY 16 SEPTEMBER 2010 AT 2.00PM IN ROOM 106
Mr Peter Weir
Mr Pat Doherty
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Sean Neeson
Mr T Reaney, Mr T Logue, Mr R Stewart, Mr J Stewart, , Mr S Welch, Mr H Widdis, Ms C Dodson and Ms C McGowan. Ms S Lappin was present for Items 1 – 3. Ms M Bannon was present for Items 5 – 9.
1. DECLARATION OF INTEREST
The Speaker sought any declarations of interest from the Commission in relation to items of business being discussed. Members declared an interest in relation to matters relating to the financial support and pensions for Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
2. MINUTES OF MEETING
The minutes of the meeting held on the 29 June 2010 were agreed without amendment.
3. MATTERS ARISING
3.1 Commission Report – Financial Support and Pensions
The Clerk/Director General drew Members attention to the revised version of the Commission Report on the Financial Support and Pensions for Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. He highlighted that minor amendments had been made to the document to reflect updates in Commission Membership and the progress achieved in relation to the establishment of an Independent Statutory Body. The Clerk/Director General also proposed that the original recommendation relating to independent valuations for constituency offices prior to the next mandate should be removed as time would not now permit this to take place. Mr Weir highlighted the need for valuations to consider the non-commercial factors involved in the selection of premises for rent as constituency offices.
The Clerk/Director General also highlighted the discussion which had taken place with Commission Members over Summer Recess relating to a revised model for Resettlement Allowance. Commission Members considered the schedules and agreed with the provisions as outlined for up to 10 years completed service. Following discussion, it was agreed that the Director of Resources would conduct an exercise to examine the potential financial impact for existing members of applying the proposed revisions as recommended by SSRB for more than 10 years complete service. The Commission agreed that they would consider the outcome of this exercise with a view to issuing a redrafted Report to Party Leaders for consideration. It was further agreed that written confirmation should be sought from Party Leaders prior to tabling a motion for Plenary to ensure that all Parties were satisfied with the content of the Report.
3.2 Independent Statutory Body Update
The Director of Legal Services provided the Commission with an update in relation to developments in preparing the Bill to establish an Independent Statutory Body to set pay, pensions and allowances. Mr Widdis informed the Commission that two responses had been received to the consultation paper and provided an overview of the main issues raised.
The Commission considered the request for further instruction for the draftsman and following discussion in relation to the content of the Bill, agreed that a further draft should be tabled for consideration at the next meeting.
3.3 Spending Review Update/ Correspondence
The Director of Resources drew Members attention to a paper which detailed correspondence from the Minister of Finance and Personnel on the Assembly Commission’s spending performance and a response from the Speaker on behalf of the Commission. Mr Stewart highlighted that the target of 5% underspend detailed within the current Corporate Plan was set in view of the number of significant variables in the early stages of the Assembly’s institutional development.
Following further discussion, Members emphasised the different role of the legislature in setting the budget of the Assembly Commission as opposed to an Executive Department. Members agreed that with the benefit of almost 3 years of operation that they should seek to reduce the level of underspend in the current year for 2010/11 and review the 5% target within the corporate plan for 2011/12.
Mr Stewart informed the Commission that he would be co-ordinating a review of spending for consideration a future Commission meeting. The Speaker suggested that a separate meeting should be convened to discuss the Commission’s future financial and budget matters.
The Clerk/Director General referred to the potential impact of spending cuts on the ongoing recruitment programme and sought Members views. Members did not believe a blanket recruitment freeze was appropriate at this stage but that recruitment competitions should be aligned with emerging findings from the ongoing Spending Review.
3.4 Draft Vetting Policy
Ms Lappin presented Members with the draft Vetting Policy. Following consideration it was agreed that Ms Lappin would meet with Sinn Fein to discuss their concerns. The Commission agreed that any proposals would be communicated at the next meeting.
3.5 Accommodation, Security Update and Car Parking Options
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House provided the Commission with an update in relation to the issue of car parking on Sitting Days. Mr Welch informed the Commission that DFP required a security study in relation to his proposals for alleviating congestion and were not prepared to consider the matter further until they received the results from the study. The Speaker highlighted that he would raise the issue with the Minister of Finance and Personnel whom he was scheduled to meet with next week.
Mr Welch also provided the Commission with an update in relation to security and highlighted that security personnel would continue to monitor the security in respect to Parliament Buildings and provide regular updates to the Commission.
Mr Welch further provided Commission Members’ with an update in relation to the work carried out during the Summer Recess. The Commission noted correspondence from the Head of the Civil Service and agreed to serve notice to relocate the Executive Information Service to alternative accommodation within Parliament Buildings.
3.6 Equal Pay Update
The Director of Resources provided the Commission with a detailed update on progress in relation to the implementation of the equal pay settlement to eligible staff within the Secretariat. He highlighted that there were a number of remaining equal pay issues relating to staff who had returned to their NICS Departments and those staff who were previously employed by the NICS but who joined the Assembly before the Civil Service’s equal pay cut-off date.
Mr Stewart highlighted that DFP did not consider that the first group of staff came within the full terms of the settlement. Following consideration, the Commission agreed that staff who have left the Secretariat should not suffer any financial detriment as a result of working in the Assembly during the qualifying period of the equal pay settlement and based on this and in the interests of fairness agreed that the Commission would take responsibility for the provision of the compensatory element of the Equal Pay Settlement as applicable.
The Commission further agreed that staff who were previously employed by the NICS but who joined the Assembly before the Civil Service’s equal pay cut-off date with no break in service between the two periods of employment should be included within the Commission equal pay settlement. Mr Stewart undertook to come back to the Commission if any difficulties arose in progressing these issues.
Ms Lappin left the meeting.
3.7 Provision of a ‘Changing Places’ facility
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House provided the Commission with an update in relation to the installation of a ‘changing places’ facility in Parliament Buildings. Mr Welch proposed that in order to maximise the usage of the new facility, that a unisex toilet should be created to incorporate all the features of a ‘changing places’ facility. The Commission noted that consultation with representatives from Mencap and DFP (Building Regulations) had concluded that the proposed area was suitable for conversion to a ‘changing places’ facility. The Commission requested that a detailed timeline and cost for the conversion should be brought to the next meeting for approval.
4. CLERK’S KEY UPDATE REPORT
The Clerk/Director General introduced his Key Update Report. The Director of Clerking and Reporting provided the Commission with an update in relation to handling the increase in new legislation and the associated demands on Members and Secretariat staff.
Ms Bannon joined the meeting.
5. ANNUAL PROGRESS REPORT TO THE EQUALITY COMMISSION
The Speaker welcomed Ms M Bannon to the meeting. Ms Bannon spoke to a paper which detailed the requirement for the Assembly Commission to submit an annual progress report to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland on the actions undertaken during 2009/10 in relation to the Assembly Commission’s obligations under Section 75 of the NI Act 1998 and Section 49A of the Disability Discrimination Order (DDO) 2006.
Ms Bannon informed the Commission that an extension for submission had been granted due to Summer Recess. Following consideration, it was agreed that a further week would be given for Mr Doherty to consider the Report and if content then the Report would be submitted to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.
6. RESULTS OF GOOD RELATIONS CONSULTATION UPDATE
Ms Bannon spoke to a paper which highlighted the results arising from public consultation on the Commission’s draft Good Relations Action Plan. Ms Bannon highlighted that the additional actions and revisions suggested by consultees would have a beneficial effect in terms of the three equality categories as falling under Section 75(2) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
Following consideration, it was agreed that a further week would be given for Mr Doherty to consider the ‘Results of Consultation on the Good Relations Action Plan 2010-2011’ and if content then the results would issue for public consideration.
7. REVISED EQUALITY SCHEME UPDATE
The Commission noted the revised statutory duties (Section 75) guidance produced by the Equality Commission for NI and its impact on the Assembly Commission as a public authority.
8. REPORT ON EQUALITY SCREENING OF POLICIES
Ms Bannon spoke to a paper which provided the Commission with an outline of the actions required in the publication and circulation of results arising from public consultation on the Commission’s Screening of Policies document.
Following consideration, it was agreed that a further week would be given for Mr Doherty to consider the ‘Screening of Policies’ paper for public circulation and if content Phase 2 consultation would commence. The Speaker thanked Mr Logue and Ms Bannon on the substantial amount of work in taking forward equality matters.
9. GOOD RELATIONS
Mr Logue provided an update in relation to the internal Good Relations audit and informed the Commission that the next stage in the process would be to issue a questionnaire to staff and seek Members’ views on the way forward.
10. PAY AND GRADING REVIEW
The Director of Resources provided an update in relation to the Pay and Grading exercise and informed the Commission that he would be tabling proposals on pay and grading to include timescales for implementation at a future Commission meeting. The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that NIPSA had lodged a pay claim for 2010 which would also require to be considered.
11. ORMISTON HOUSE UPDATE
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House presented the Commission with a paper which detailed proposals for the future of the Ormiston House site. Following consideration, the Commission agreed to adopt a twin track approach to the disposal of the site by placing the property for sale on the open market while simultaneously pursuing planning approval for limited development of the surrounding site.
12. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
12.1 Atlantic Philanthropies
The Clerk/Director General provided the Commission with an update in relation to the Atlantic Philanthropies organisation following initial discussions in April 2009 to provide funding for a development programme for Members. The Clerk/Director General highlighted the tight timescale involved in the bidding cycle for submitting a proposal for funding.
Following further consideration, the Commission agreed in principle to the proposal but requested that the Director of Engagement contact all Members to provide information on the proposed bid and allow an opportunity for Members to respond.
12.2 Litigation Matters
The Director of Legal Services provided Members with an update in relation to current litigation against the Commission. Members noted that further discussion was required.
13. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
To be confirmed.