MINUTES OF THE SEVENTY SECOND MEETING OF THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION HELD ON TUESDAY 22 FEBRUARY 2011 AT 2.50PM IN ROOM 106
Mr Peter Weir
Mr Pat Doherty
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Sean Neeson
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
In Attendance: Mr T Reaney, Mr T Logue, Mr R Stewart, Mr J Stewart, Mr S Welch, Mr H Widdis, Mr A Mc Quillan, Mr R Ramsey, Ms C Dodson and Mrs C McGowan. Mr S Graham was present for Item 6.
1. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
The Speaker sought any declarations of interest from the Commission in relation to items of business being discussed. None were declared.
2. MINUTES OF THE LAST MEETING
The minutes of the 7 February 2011 were agreed without amendment.
3. CHAIRMANS BUSINESS
The Speaker reminded Members that a former Commission Member would be in attendance at the end of the meeting to discuss a litigation matter.
4. MATTERS ARISING
4.1 Spending Review
The Clerk/Director General drew Members attention to the correspondence between the Speaker and the Department of Finance and Personnel in relation to the submission of revised assessments of the Assembly Commission’s capital and resource funding requirements for the Budget Period 2011-15.
The Clerk/Director General also highlighted that negotiations were continuing between management and Trade Union side in relation to the pay issues. He also informed the Commission that he had been made aware that NIPSA intended to hold a protest on the steps of Parliament Buildings on Tuesday 1 March 2011 regarding cuts to the Commission’s budget.
4.2 Election Planning
The Director of Clerking and Reporting provided the Commission with an update in relation to Election Planning and advised that guidance was now available for Members on AssISt. Mr Weir sought clarification on the approach for the return of ICT equipment from constituency offices and it was confirmed that Members could retain two computers within each office and then liaise with the IS Office to agree a suitable date for the return and upgrade of equipment.
4.3 Ormiston House Update
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House provided the Commission with an update in relation to the sale of the Ormiston House site and indicated that there had to date been a ‘healthy’ level of interest. Mr Welch informed Members that a public meeting had been scheduled to take place with local residents on Thursday 3 March 2011 and that invitations had also been extended to all local MLAs and Councilors. Mr Neeson sought information in relation to highlighting the linkage between the site and ‘the Titanic’ and Mr Welch confirmed that details of the previous owners were reflected within the sale brochure. Mr Welch further confirmed that no final closure date for the expressions of interest/ offers had been agreed.
Mr Ramsey joined the meeting.
4.4 Kosovo Update
The Director of Engagement informed the Commission that a joint bid had been developed with Estonia for a project to assist the Assembly of Kosovo and was due to be submitted by the end of the week. Dr McGrath highlighted that if successful in this process, the implementation phase of the project would commence in early 2012 and would last for approximately 18 months.
5. FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR MEMBERS HANDBOOK
The Director of Resources provided Members with an overview and sought comments from the Commission in relation to changes made to the revised Financial Support for Members Handbook. Following discussion, the Commission approved the revised Handbook and agreed that it should be printed. The Commission further agreed that a process should be developed for communicating details of the Handbook and revised changes to Parties and Members.
The Clerk/Director General also drew Members attention to the annual up-rating in relation to Office Costs Expenditure (OCE) and the Commission agreed that the OCE rate should be held at the current rate. It was further agreed that a letter would issue highlighting this decision to all Members.
The Clerk/Director General also reiterated the previous decision of the Commission to retain the current level of the Financial Assistance to Political Parties scheme and that a review of the scheme would take place in the first year of the new mandate. It was further agreed that that a letter should now issue to Party Leaders highlighting this decision.
Mr S Graham joined the meeting.
6. EUROPEAN STRATEGY
The Speaker welcomed Mr Graham to the meeting. Mr Graham spoke to a paper relating to the development of a draft European Engagement Strategy for the Northern Ireland Assembly. Mr Graham highlighted that the draft strategy seeks to address the issues under the responsibility of the Assembly Commission and as outlined in the OFMDFM Committee’s Report on its Inquiry into Consideration of European Issues.
Following discussion, Members agreed that the Northern Ireland Assembly should give further consideration to the options as set out in the paper at a future meeting. Members also noted their concerns in relation to the financial considerations of the strategy in the current economic climate.
In conclusion the Commission agreed to note the draft strategy and approved that it should be released to the OFMDFM Committee for consideration.
Mr S Graham left the meeting.
7. ICT PROVISION FOR MEMBERS 2011-15
The Director of Resources provided Members with an update in relation to proposed ICT provision for Members at the start of the forthcoming Mandate. Mr Stewart highlighted the detail of the information systems and equipment required and provided information in relation to broadband services.
Following discussion, the Commission agreed that the current equipment (including desktop, laptop and printer equipment) should be used for a further 2 years. Members also agreed that the procurement of the new broadband contract should be initiated but that further detail in relation to the options for funding broadband provision should be brought for further consideration to the next Commission meeting.
8. FRONT RAMP ACCESS
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House provided the Commission with the detail of a proposal to provide front ramped access to Parliament Buildings. Mr Welch also provided an update in relation to his discussions with Central Procurement Directorate architects and representatives from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) in respect of the impact on the listed status of the building. Following further consideration, the Commission agreed to proceed with an initial application for planning approval.
9. REVIEW OF DINING FACILITIES
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House spoke to a paper which detailed proposals for the amalgamation of the Brasserie and Members Dining Room. Following consideration, the Commission agreed that the amalgamation should proceed with the resulting increase in the efficiency and productivity of the fine dining catering facilities on the 1 st floor and the provision of additional meeting space within Parliament Buildings.
10. ACCOMMODATION FOR NEW MANDATE
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House provided the Commission with an update on proposals to provide accommodation in Parliament Buildings for Members and their support staff for the new mandate. The Commission approved the range of broad principles proposed by the Director and agreed that Mr Welch should consult with Party Whips or a nominated Party contact to seek informal comments in relation to the proposals for the allocation of accommodation. It was noted that final office allocation could not be settled until the list of those successful MLAs was available following the Election.
The Commission also agreed that Party meeting rooms could be made available for other uses (e.g. staff training) when not required by Parties. Arrangements to be made directly with Parties.
11. CLERK’S KEY UPDATE REPORT
11.1 Scrutiny Procedures for Parliamentary Budgets
The Clerk/Director General referred to previous discussions on this issue and informed the Commission that the Committee for Finance and Personnel had commissioned a research paper on scrutiny procedures for the budgets of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body and the National Assembly for Wales Commission. Following consideration of the research paper, Members agreed that a response should be issued to the Committee highlighting their preference for the structures within the Welsh Assembly. It was also agreed that this should be explored further in the next mandate.
11.2 Independent Financial Review Panel
The Clerk/Director General provided the Commission with an update in relation to passage of (Independent Financial Review and Standards) Bill , and subject to approval, the preparations for the appointment of the three members of the Independent Financial Review Panel.
11.3 Staff Briefing – End of Mandate
The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that he proposed to hold a Clerk/Director General’s staff Briefing to coincide with the end of the current mandate. The Commission agreed that this would offer an opportunity to express appreciation for the work of staff over the four years of the 2007-11 mandate.
11.4 Pay Issues
Mr Ramsey requested an update in relation to the Pay and Grading exercise. The Clerk/Director General confirmed that management was in negotiations with TUS, with the aim of providing a report to the next meeting.
11.5 Re-launch of Crafters’ Initiative within Assembly Gift Shop
The Clerk/Director General provided the Commission with information in relation to the re-launch of a new Designer-Maker/Crafts People Initiative at the Assembly Gift Shop, in partnership with Craft N.I. The Clerk/Director General informed Members that communication would progress with MLAs to ensure that information regarding this programme is circulated in constituencies throughout Northern Ireland.
11.6 Members Survey
The Clerk/Director General sought the Commission’s assistance in encouraging responses to the Members Survey.
11.7 Breach of Media Handbook
The Clerk/Director General provided the Commission with the detail in relation to a breach of the Media Handbook.
12 ASSEMBLY MEMBERS PENSION SCHEME- RETENTION OF EARNINGS CAP
The Director of Resources spoke to a paper from the Trustees of the Assembly Members Pension Scheme (NI) 2008 which proposed the retention of the Earnings Cap. Following discussion the Commission agreed that the current earnings cap of £123,600 is retained beyond 5 April 2011 and revalued each year in line with RPI. The Commission agreed that there decision should now be communicated to the Trustees to amend the Scheme rules.
13. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
13.1 End of Mandate Commission Report
The Commission agreed that an end of mandate Report should be developed to incorporate a review of the work of the Commission over the life time of the mandate. Members also agreed that the report should contain proposals from the Commission in relation to taking forward Commission business in the new mandate. It was also agreed to hold a discussion with current and former Commission Members after the next Commission meeting to draw on their experience and reflections.
All Officials with the exception of the Clerk/Director General, Director of Legal Services and the Head of the Commission Support and Compliance Unit left the meeting. Mr A Attwood joined the meeting.
14. Litigation matter
The Commission meeting was adjourned at 4.50pm to allow Members to participate in a Division. The Commission meeting reconvened at 5.00pm. Mr Doherty was not in attendance. Mr Ramsey left the meeting from 5.05pm and returned at 5.20.
A former Commission Member addressed the Commission on a litigation matter.
15. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
To be confirmed
Meeting ended at 5.25pm
Head of Commission Support and Compliance Unit