MINUTES OF THE SIXTY FOUTH MEETING OF THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION HELD ON MONDAY 18 OCTOBER 2010 AT 4.25PM 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
Mr A McQuillan
Ms F Leneghan
Ms C McGowan.
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. CHAIRMAN'S BUSINESS
2.1 Spending Review
The Speaker tabled a draft letter to Party Leaders and Members highlighting the Assembly Commission’s plans for a spending review in the light of the wider comprehensive Spending Review.
Following consideration, the Commission agreed that they would give consideration to the content of the letter with a view to forwarding any comments for consideration by close of play on 19 Oct 2010. It was further agreed that a meeting would be convened to discuss the potential impact of the spending review on the Assembly Commission.
2.2 North South Parliamentary Conference
The Speaker informed Members that a Conference Report was currently being prepared for the Commissions consideration on the discussions held during the conference on the 6 and 7 October 2010. Mr Ramsey highlighted the usefulness of the conference in enhancing engagement and networking opportunities between the institutions but raised concerns in relation to the process for the establishment of a North South Parliamentary Forum.
3. MINUTES OF MEETING
The minutes of the meeting held on the 16 September 2010 were agreed without amendment; however Mr Ramsey informed Members that he was dissatisfied with the level of detail provided within the minute in relation to the detailed discussion on litigation matters. The Clerk/Director General advised that such minutes were necessarily brief as the matters being discussed were legally privileged and confidentiality for all parties concerned was paramount.
Following discussion, it was agreed that a further legal briefing would be convened in relation to the original matter and that the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee would also be invited
4. MATTERS ARISING
4.1 Car Parking
Mr Doherty sought information from the Speaker in relation to his meeting with the Finance Minister. The Speaker confirmed that the Minister had agreed to raise the matter with officials from DFP and forward a response which would be copied to Commission Members. The Director of Facilities informed the Commission that he was aware that DFP had received a copy of a security report and that it indicated an unfavourable position in relation to utlising preferred grounds within the estate for car-parking facilities.
Following consideration, it was agreed that the Director of Facilities upon receipt of the report would contact the PSNI to discuss the matter further. Mr Ramsey further suggested that a shuttle service should be considered for those staff that have to park distances from Parliament Buildings on Sitting Days. He also suggested that consideration is given to the timings of ‘breakfast events’ within the building on Sitting Days as these had an adverse impact on staff trying to use the lower East Car Park.
4.2 Commission Report for Financial Support and Pensions
The Commission considered the outcomes of the Director of Resources exercise to examine the potential financial impact for existing members of applying the proposed revisions as recommended by SSRB for more than 10 years service.
Following discussion in relation to the impact of adopting the proposed revisions the Commission agreed that there would be no change to the existing provisions for members with more than 10 years service. It was further agreed that the schedule would be revised to take account of the Commission’s decision on resettlement expenditure to reflect provisions below 10 years service as agreed at the meeting on the 16 September 2010 and arrangements for more than 10 years to remain as outlined within the existing schedule.
The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that if Members were content with the adjusted schedule for resettlement expenditure then the Commission’s Report on Pensions and Financial Support would be revised and issued for final consideration and approval to the Commission by correspondence. It was further agreed that if content, the Report would then issue to Party Leaders for comment and written confirmation sought with a view to introducing the Report before the Assembly prior to Christmas Recess.
4.3 Allowances to Members of the Assembly (Repeal) Bill
The Director of Legal Services informed the Commission that in anticipation of the House agreeing the Commission Report on Pensions and Financial Support, that the Second Stage of the process to introduce a Bill to repeal the Allowances to Members Act (NI) 2000 should now progress. Following consideration, it was agreed that the Business Committee should be asked to put Second Stage of the Bill on the Order Paper.
4.4 ISB Progress
The Director of Legal Services spoke to a paper which provided Members with an update in relation to preparing a Bill to establish an Independent Statutory Body to set pay, pensions and allowances for members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The Commission discussed the policy issues in relation to commencement, disqualifications and dismissal and agreed that the draft Bill should be amended accordingly. It was further agreed that the short title of the Bill would be ‘Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill’ and that the independence of the body would be highlighted within the name given to the Body.
4.5 Equality Papers
Mr Logue reminded Members that Mr Pat Doherty had requested further time to consider the papers in relation to the Annual Progress Report to the Equality Commission, the results of the Good Relations consultation and the Report on Equality Screening of Policies. It was agreed that a further week would be given to Mr Doherty to consider the outstanding matters.
4.6 Accommodation Update
The Director of Facilities provided the Commission with an update in relation to the disposal of the Ormiston House site and confirmed that consultation with local residents had indicated a positive response on the proposed approach. It was agreed that consultation would also extend to the local MLAs and MP for the area.
The Director of Facilities provided an update on the schedule for the planning process and agreed that he would hold further discussions with the Planning Service to investigate the potential for reducing the indicative timeline.
The Director of Facilities also provided an update in relation to the scheduled relocation of HR staff from Annexe C to Parliament Buildings during Recess and confirmed that a final offer had been issued to EIS for relocation within the basement. The Director of Facilities also confirmed that the matters raised by Mr Ramsey in relation to his room were being progressed.
4.7 ‘Changing Places’ facility-Update
The Director of Facilities provided the Commission with the costs and timeline for the provision of a ‘changing places’ facility within Parliament Buildings and it was agreed that the construction of the facility should proceed during the Christmas 2010 Recess period. The Commission also agreed that representatives from MENCAP should be invited to view the facility with Commission Members upon completion.
5. CLERK’S QUARTERLY REPORT
The Clerk/Director General presented the Commission with a copy of his quarterly report and drew Members attention to several matters, namely:
The Spending Review
The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that Directorates have now prepared initial Spending Review submissions based on two options – 2.5% and 5% per annum reductions in budget over the four years 2011-15. He highlighted that the submissions are now being reviewed by a team led by the Head of Finance with a view to preliminary consideration by SMG before the end of October and then initial consideration by the Commission in early November 2010. The Clerk/Director General also informed the Commission that meetings with TUS have been held to discuss the process for preparing the submissions and consultation will take place as options for budget reductions are developed by the Commission .
The Director of Clerking and Reporting provided the Commission with an update in relation to the current situation with regard to the ongoing programme of legislation.
The Clerk/Director General provided Members with an update in relation to the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) in identifying a potential partner country for the Assembly. The Director of Engagement informed the Commission that several countries were shortlisted and the Kosovo was chosen as a possible partner. He reported that in September 2010, he and Ms Sheila McClelland had participated on a fact finding mission to the country, during which time they met with representatives from the government, MPs and the Speaker, as well as the British Ambassador. The Director of Engagement highlighted that CPA will now consider the findings of the trip before making a final decision on a partner country for the Assembly.
In conclusion, the Clerk/Director General provided an overview of the current staffing complement, the status of the Genesis Project team and the on-going work of the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee.
6. CORPORATE GOVERNANCE FRAMEWORK
The Clerk/Director General invited comments from Commission Members in relation to the Corporate Governance Framework. Following consideration it was agreed that Mr Doherty would be given a further two weeks to consider the content of the framework prior to final approval.
7. PAY AND GRADING REVIEW
The Director of Resources informed the Commission that Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) were nearing the completion of their review and he would be tabling a paper for consideration at the next Commission meeting.
8. SEPTEMBER MONITORING OUTCOME
The Director of Resources provided the Commission with an update in relation to the outcome of the September monitoring round and drew Members attention to correspondence received from officials within DFP requesting further information relating to the makeup of the Commission’s September monitoring bid.
Following discussion it was proposed that the matter be considered at the Commission meeting at which the Minister of Finance would be in attendance.
9. ASSEMBLY MEMBERS PENSION SCHEME – RESOLUTION
The Commission agreed the resolution to confer functions on the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission which takes account of the changes to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 made by the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Act 2010 and the coming into force of section 23 (5) of the Justice (NI) Act 2002, which expressly empowers the Assembly Commission to make pension provision for the Attorney General for Northern Ireland. It was further agreed that signatures would be sought from all Members and that Mr Logue would liaise with Members to seek a Member to speak on behalf of the Commission during the debate.
10. POLITICAL LEADERSHIP PROGRAMME
The Commission noted the submission from the Director of Engagement of a proposal to develop a Political Leadership Programme which is currently being considered by the Atlantic Philanthropies. He highlighted that the outcome of these deliberations will be know in December 2010.
11. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
11.1 Correspondence from Committee for OFM/DFM
The Commission considered correspondence received from the Committee for OFMDFM seeking a response as part of their consultation to their proposal to update the legislation to reform the Office of the Northern Ireland Ombudsman. Mr Logue highlighted that the closing date for written evidence is 17 December 2010. The Commission agreed to consider the consultation document and liaise with Mr Logue with a view to agreeing a submission from the Commission at their next meeting.
11.2 Correspondence from Committee for OFM/DFM
The Commission considered correspondence from the Committee for the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister seeking their consideration of how members of the Assembly could be supported when they are the subject of defamatory remarks. Following discussion, it was agreed that the legal responsibilities of the Commission would be clarified to examine whether or not they held responsibility in this matter.
11.3 Correspondence from Employment and Learning Committee
The Commission considered correspondence received from the Chairperson turn off electronic communication devices during Committee meetings to prevent them interfering with the sound recording of the meeting. Following consideration it was agreed that further costings in relation to upgrading Committee Rooms should be sought for the Commission’s consideration with a view to seeking further opinion through the Chairperson’s Liaison Group.
11.4 Public Attitude Survey
The Commission agreed that the Public Attitude Survey should be published as soon as possible.
11.5 NIA Reprographics
Mr Doherty raised concerns in relation to diminished performance of some photocopiers within the building. The Directors of Facilities and Resources under took to address the problems as a matter of urgency.
11.6 NIA Internet Provision
Mr Doherty raised concerns in relation to the speed of internet connection during busy periods of the Assembly and the detrimental impact for his party support staff. Following consideration, the Commission agreed that the Assembly Commission should now install a stand alone connection.
Meeting ended at 6.50pm
12. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
Tuesday 23 November 2010, 15 minutes after conclusion of the Business Committee.