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1. The Northern Ireland Act 1998 states that "there
shall be a body corporate known as the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission
("the Commission") to perform:
2. On 14 September 1998 the New Northern Ireland Assembly
established a Shadow Commission to assist, during the transitional period leading
to devolution, in making preparation for the effective functioning of the Assembly.
The Terms of Reference of the Shadow Commission are:
3. The Membership of the Shadow Commission is:
Mrs E Bell
4. The Shadow Commission met for the first time on
18 September when it agreed a quorum and rules of procedure. (see Annex 1 for
minutes of the first meeting). The Shadow Commission has now met on seventeen
occasions, some of which have been all day meetings, and considered a very broad
range of issues which needed to be addressed in preparation for devolution.
The Shadow Commission, in its deliberations, has consulted widely with all the
Assembly Parties on the full range of issues which have been considered. The
Shadow Commission has also met members of the Scottish Consultative Steering
Group on the Scottish Parliament, the Dail, the Scottish and Welsh Offices and
had a two day working visit to Westminster. However, there is still a great
deal of essential preparatory work, required for devolution, on which the Assembly
may have a view. The purpose of this report is to:
6. Another consideration is that the Commission has been operating in shadow form, which has its own limitations. On the appointed day the Commission will become the Assembly's corporate body and will have its own delegated budget; and the full powers as set out in section 4 and schedule 5 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (Annex II). The Commission will be able to appoint staff, hold property, enter into legal contracts, charge for goods and services and could, by Order in Council, have Crown Status. Although the Act confers legal competence on the Commission to make determinations on salaries and pensions the Shadow Commission would not want to operate outside of the Assembly. This first report of the Shadow Commission establishes the precedent that the Commission will consult the Assembly on substantial matters. Presently the Shadow Commission enjoys none of these powers and depends on the Department of Finance and Personnel to act as the Assembly's agent on financial, staffing and contractual issues.
7. The Commission, while it is in shadow form, does not yet have a delegated budget and is required to consult with and secure agreement from the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP), the Department of the Environment for Northern Ireland (DOE)(NI) and the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) for the drawing down of additional funds to meet emerging priorities. This is a regular occurrence as the initial estimates for the current and subsequent financial years have been grossly inadequate and in no way reflect the needs of a developing professional Assembly. In terms of staffing, recruitment is managed by the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) recruitment service and all staff are the employees of the DFP. The involvement of such intermediary bodies significantly lengthens the recruitment cycle.
8. Finally, on contractual issues the Shadow Commission is unable to negotiate service contracts on behalf of the Assembly, and must depend on the good offices of the DFP. This has created its own complications not least in respect of the catering, facilities management and porterage services currently delivered by Mount Charles. The original contract was negotiated by the DFP in the autumn of 1997 and still has eighteen months to run. The contract was based on the needs of the NICS department occupying Parliament Buildings at that time and in no way reflects the requirements of the Assembly. The Shadow Commission has invested significant time working with Mount Charles on the developing requirements of the Assembly which will change substantially once devolution occurs.
PLANNING PROCESS ESTIMATES
9. A key priority for the Shadow Commission is to secure sufficient resources from the Northern Ireland block to provide the staffing, property and services, which will be required to support the Assembly. Unfortunately, an early estimate of £14 million for 1999-2000 period, which is already in the public domain, did not take account of a number of essential factors without which the Assembly could not operate. Other substantial matters, which would transfer from the DOE (NI) on the appointed day with related budgets, were not included in the original estimate. It is against that background that the Shadow Commission, working with the Assembly Board of Management, has prepared a realistic estimate of what will be required by the Assembly post-devolution.
10. It is important that the Assembly understands the basis for the original £14 million estimate, which does not reflect the requirements of a fully functioning Assembly. The estimate was based on the operation of the 1996-1998 Northern Ireland Forum for political dialogue, which ran in parallel to the "Talks" process. This estimate did not recognise the scale and complexity of the functions of an Assembly. The Forum was a deliberative body, meeting in plenary one day per week, which was only attended by unsalaried representatives of only some of the Parties elected to it. The £14 million was also predicated on a number of inaccurate planning assumptions and made no provision for other key functions. The following represents some of the major shortfalls and omissions in the original estimate:
The Forum was staffed by 28 civil servants, which was estimated to rise to 130 post devolution when, in fact, the complement needed to support the Assembly will be almost 400 (£9 million);
Senior Salaries Review Body (SSRB) recommendations may have the effect of increasing Members' salaries by £2 million and Office Costs Allowance (OCA) by £1.8 million;
the original estimate made little provision for Committee costs (£2.900 million), Members' and Members' staff pensions (£1 million), Assembly Party allowances (£500 k), Research and IT (£1.9 million), Printing and Publishing contract (£3.9 million).
No account was taken of maintenance and capital expenditure nor the fact that after devolution the Commission will be responsible for the maintenance of Parliament Buildings and its immediate curtilage, at a cost in the first year of over £3 million. This sum should either be clearly identified within the DOE vote or transferred to the Assembly's vote.
11. Over the past four months the Shadow Commission has been building up a detailed assessment of the Assembly's requirements post devolution. Recently the Shadow Commission visited Westminster and met representatives of the House of Commons Commission, the Overseas Office together with the Clerk to the House of Commons and the Clerk of the Parliaments. These discussions provided further insight into the operation of a Parliament and how that translates to a regional Assembly. At official level there have been meetings with Westminster colleagues, the Dail and the Scottish and Welsh Offices which have been helpful in understanding the structures and resources which need to be in place. The Shadow Commission's estimate of £36.885 million is the assessment of what is required to operate the Assembly over a full financial year. All the resources and staff may not be in place from the date of devolution but the Assembly will have established the baseline for future planning purposes. The Shadow Commission has had to work under the assumption that we will have a fully functioning Assembly from the Appointed Day. If the reality falls short of this objective there may be savings to be returned to the Northern Ireland Block. There may also be, in subsequent years, savings of start up and non-recurring costs.
12. A detailed breakdown of the estimates for 1999/2000 are attached at Annex III. The Shadow Commission has asked for monitoring arrangements to be developed which will provide quality information on expenditure, that can be fed into the planning process for subsequent financial years.
13. The Shadow Commission would recommend that the Assembly adopts the recommendations of the SSRB on Ministerial and Members' salaries, office cost allowances and pensions. However, the Shadow Commission will consider, where appropriate, making provision for other posts and office holders as required in the Act.
PROGRESS ON THE TERMS OF REFERENCE
14. Early in its deliberations the Shadow Commission realised the enormity of the task of establishing the infrastructure required for the purpose of the Assembly. The Shadow Commission decided to establish a Board of Management (Annex IV) and other administrative structures analogous to those of the House of Commons. The Board of Management, consisting of the directors of the various departments, reports to the Shadow Commission on the key development issues and from time to time meets with the full Shadow Commission. The Initial Presiding Officer chairs the Board of Management as well as the Shadow Commission but will relinquish the Chairman of the Board of Management when the Clerk to the Assembly has been appointed. Each Member of the Shadow Commission is linked to one of the Board of Management's directorates which ensures that there is direct input from Members to the development of the Assembly's infrastructure.
15. The task of putting in place the facilities required by the Assembly has been considerable and the Assembly staff, led by the Deputy Clerk, Nigel Carson, deserve much credit for the part they have played in establishing the Shadow Assembly. The Assembly staff have shown professionalism and dedication and have worked tirelessly, often operating a Monday - Sunday schedule, to ensure that Members have the necessary support to carry out their responsibilities. A major effort is still required but the Assembly Shadow Commission is confident that the staff will continue to deliver.
16. Currently there are 134 staff who are civil servants, seconded to the Assembly from DFP. When the Shadow Commission first met on 18 September many of these staff were in place. Although, in the medium term, there is a requirement to increase the complement substantially, the Shadow Commission has been careful not to bring in large numbers of staff who would be under-employed prior to devolution. The Shadow Commission has spent a great deal of time considering the status of the Assembly's staff post-devolution, when the Commission will be the employer, and has agreed the following guiding principles:
promotion of commitment to equality of opportunity and fair treatment in all its recruitment practices;
commitment to public advertisement, for all vacancies; and
the establishment of a discreet cadre of Assembly staff which is not just an off-shoot of the NICS but also reflects the wider Northern Ireland community.
17. The Assembly will become the most public body in Northern Ireland and, in preparation for this, the Shadow Commission, although it does not yet have responsibility for staff, has started the process of putting in place monitoring arrangements to ensure compliance with equality legislation. The Shadow Commission will also be developing its own code of practice on equality of opportunity, similar to the arrangements operated by the Northern Ireland Civil Service and other public sector organisations.
18. The most critical appointment by the Shadow Commission will be the Clerk to the Assembly who will be the principal adviser to the Presiding Officer on procedural issues and, as the Accounting Officer, will be responsible for the administration of the Assembly. The Shadow Commission supported by the DFP's Central Personnel Group, has completed stage one of the appointment process. Once the Clerk has been appointed the Shadow Commission will follow the same process for the Deputy Clerk and Head of Administration. In recognition of the importance of these appointments the Shadow Commission asked the House of Commons Staff Inspector to draw up job descriptions, building on earlier drafts prepared by Central Personnel Group.
19. The Shadow Commission is committed to building a corporate ethos and developing a sense of ownership within the Assembly. This has been clearly demonstrated by the creation of an excellent cadre of Assembly Doorkeepers most of whom previously fulfilled a Civil Service messenger function. The Shadow Commission has recently agreed the Assembly's human resource strategy, presented by the Director of Finance and Personnel, which identified the future staffing requirements (400) and established the Shadow Commission's recruitment strategy.
20. Section 93 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 vests ownership of the Stormont Estate in the DOE 'to be applied for the purposes of the Assembly, or such other purposes as the Department of the Environment may determine.' It is clear from the Act that Parliament Buildings has been set aside for the purposes of the Assembly. Further however, the Shadow Commission recognised the need to secure some measure of control on how the Stormont Estate would be used. The Shadow Commission spent a considerable amount of time negotiating with the Secretary of State on the future use of the Estate and the Commission's role in the decision making process. The Initial Presiding Officer, on the request of the Shadow Commission, put down an amendment in the House of Lords, which proposed to transfer control to the Shadow Commission. The amendment was withdrawn after a commitment by the Government that the Secretary of State and DOE (NI) would consult on all proposals for the Estate giving the Shadow Commission a say in the management of the Stormont Estate.
21. The arrangement is working well and the DOE, through the Clerk to the Shadow Commission, consults on all proposals planned for the Estate. The Shadow Commission has also taken over responsibility for Parliament Buildings from the DOE. The Shadow Commission has also established a Public Information and Events Co-ordination Unit which approves all requests to hold events in Parliament Buildings and manages and oversees all functions and tours. This has been an excellent development which has been appreciated by Members. Regulations for tours and functions in Parliament Buildings have also been developed to ensure that the business of the Assembly is not disrupted.
22. One of the early priorities for the Shadow Commission was to expedite the DFP's move out of Parliament Buildings to free up accommodation for Members and their staff. All the necessary refurbishment and adaptations have been completed and all Members, Party staff and Assembly staff are now accommodated in Parliament Buildings. The issue of accommodation features at every meeting of the Shadow Commission reflecting the changing needs of the Assembly and the Executive. The Shadow Commission has allocated rooms for Ministers and Committee Chairmen and is in the process of identifying suitable furniture. The development of the procedural side of the Assembly, the intake of the additional staff which will be required post devolution, and the growing requirements of the Executive will put further pressure on space in Parliament Buildings. Ultimately the facilities at Parliament Buildings may not be able to accommodate the needs of the Assembly and it will be for the Commission to consider what are the alternatives.
23. A number of other issues have been advanced by the Shadow Commission. The Post Office opened on 21 January and the Shadow Commission recently established a House Committee to consider the development of an Assembly Gift Shop.
24. The Shadow Commission is considering a number of issues which have been raised in the Assembly. Regulations have been developed for deciding who should have access to the upper car parks. The security pass system is under review and a new system will come into operation in the near future. The Shadow Commission, at an early meeting, agreed to delegate to the Initial Presiding Officer, responsibility for addressing security issues.
25 The Shadow Commission has been concerned about the requirement to address the needs of Members, their staff and Assembly staff and early in its deliberation identified the following priorities:
information technology; research information; Members' fees; catering, hospitality and facilities management; reprographics, stationery and mail collection; and post office, shop and bank facilities.
26. The provision of IT facilities for Members, has been and will continue to be a huge undertaking. All Members and the majority of Assembly staff have been provided with:
standard IT hardware and IT consumables with upgraded package for Party offices;
access to the Internet and in the near future a fully networked service; and
detailed IT based training needs analysis and a rolling programme of modular training.
27. The Assembly has also secured access to the very wide range of information systems which are available to Members at Westminster. The Shadow Commission has recently received a draft information systems/information technology strategy which sets out how the longer term IT needs of the Assembly will be addressed.
28. The provision of comprehensive research and information services is another high priority. The Shadow Commission recognised that the existing Parliament Buildings Library could never be expected to meet the needs of 108 Members once the Assembly is in full operation. With this in mind the Shadow Commission appointed a researcher, seconded from the Northern Ireland Statistical Research Agency (NISRA), to consider how the Assembly's research capability should be developed. On the basis of a placement with the House of Commons Research and Information Service and discussions with officials in the Scottish and Welsh Office he has recommended:
the establishment of a central research resource staffed by specialist and generalist researchers;
future development of the Assembly's information systems based on the Westminster model; and
development of links with other Northern Ireland based research organisations.
29. The Shadow Commission has endorsed the above recommendations and approved the proposed staffing levels which will be required to deliver the level of service which Members will expect. The Shadow Commission view this as the start of a development phase and envisage that the research facility will continue to grow in parallel with the demand and expectations of the Members. An early indication of the value of having an in-house research facility was the background brief on the Port of Belfast which has been made available to the recently established Ad Hoc Committee.
30. The Assembly staff continue to revise the services available to Members, through the Finance Office. The Members' Handbook, which provides information on the range of services provided by the Assembly staff and essential housekeeping information, continues to be updated. A full reprographics, stationery and mail collection service is operational. The Shadow Commission continues to review the quality, nature and level of the catering/hospitality service provided by Mount Charles. The next stage will be to assess the scale of the catering operation which will be required, post devolution.
31. Post office facilities are now available in Parliament Buildings and by early March a Bank Auto Teller machine will be in place. There are a number of other development areas which the Shadow Commission has identified:
printing and publishing of Assembly documents, public information, annunciator system and child care provision.
32. The Shadow Commission will continue to work towards its objective of providing the property, staff and resources required for the purpose of the Assembly. This will present many challenges for the Shadow Commission and Assembly staff ranging from the important detail through to the higher order strategic issues.
33. The Shadow Commission has identified a number of key priorities which will need to be progressed in advance of devolution:
secure the Assembly vote from the Northern Ireland Block;
preparation of the Pensions Bill and a Resolution on Members' salaries. This raises the question of who will be responsible for taking the Bill through the Assembly;
develop financial monitoring arrangements and almost immediately start the planning process for the 2000/2001 estimates;
complete the accommodation plan for the Assembly and the Executive;
consider options for the re-location of some Assembly personnel in anticipation of the Assembly outgrowing Parliament Buildings;
appoint the Clerk of the Assembly, Deputy Clerk and head of Administration;
establish the Assembly's procedural offices;
continue the recruitment of the additional staff required to support the work of the Assembly;
completed the details of the equal opportunity policy and appropriate monitoring arrangements;
establish printing, publication and distribution arrangements which will meet the needs of the Assembly post-devolution.
34. The Shadow Commission will continue to meet, and work with the Board of Management, to ensure that all the above priorities are progressed in readiness for the appointed day.
35. The Assembly is asked to note progress to date on the Terms of Reference and endorse the key recommendations proposed in this report:
acceptance of the estimate of £36.885 million for 1999/2000;
acceptance of the SSRB recommendations; and
commitment to public advertisement for all Assembly posts.
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