MINUTES OF THE TWELFTH MEETING OF THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION
HELD ON 14 NOVEMBER 2007
AT 10:30 IN ROOM 106
Present: The Speaker
Mr Stephen Moutray
Rev Robert Coulter
Mr Alban Maginness
Mr Sean Neeson
Apologies: Mr Paul Butler
In Attendance: Mrs C Devon, Mr T Logue, Mr R Good, Mr F Duffy, Mrs C McGowan, Ms C Foster. Mrs S McClelland was in attendance for Item 3, Ms M Mageean was in attendance for Item 4, Mr R Stewart was in attendance for Item 7 and Mr Gibson and Mr Evans were in attendance for Items 8 & 9.
1. CHAIRMAN’S BUSINESS
The Speaker expressed his sympathy and that of the Assembly Commission to the family of John Fee, a former Commission member, who died on Sunday 10 November. The Speaker highlighted the vital role that Mr Fee played in helping set up the Secretariat adding that he had been a champion for its staff.
Mr Neeson suggested that as a mark of respect to the late Mr Fee, the Speaker should, on behalf of the Commission, write to Mrs Fee offering the Commissions’ condolences. Rev Coulter agreed and highlighted the excellent work undertaken by John during the period of the first Assembly Commission.
Mr Maginness thanked the Commission, on behalf of his party, for their collective and individual expressions of sympathy.
The Speaker informed the Commission that he along with the interim Clerk/Director General, John Hunter and Frank Duffy had addressed staff at a meeting in the Long Gallery on Wednesday 7 November in relation to the Review of the Assembly Secretariat. The Speaker remarked that it had been a worthwhile meeting which provided an opportunity for staff to clarify issues/actions which had been proposed within the Review.
The interim Clerk/Director General talked through the range of issues raised by staff and informed the Commission that she was currently working alongside the Director of Implementation to complete a Questions and Answers information page for AssiST. She emphasised the importance of keeping the Communication channels open with staff around the impact of the Review recommendations.
Mr Duffy, Director of Implementation, updated Members on his meeting with Trade Union Side (TUS) and reported that TUS were content with the current approach.
2. MINUTES OF THE LAST THREE MEETINGS
The minutes of the ninth meeting held on the 18 October 2007 were agreed with two amendments. Rev Coulter suggested that Item 5.1 be reworded to read ‘Mr Logue confirmed that Mr Brendan O’Neill will replace Cait Byrne as the temporary Head of IT following his success in a recent promotion competition’. At Item 5.5, ‘to’ was replaced with ‘the’ in final sentence.
The minutes of the tenth meeting held on the 23 October 2007 were agreed.
The minutes of the eleventh meeting held on the 1 November 2007 were agreed with one amendment. It was agreed that the final sentence in paragraph 4 on Item 3 be deleted.
3. MATTERS ARISING
3.1 Chamber Refurbishment
The interim Clerk/Director General provided the Commission with progress to date in relation to the Chamber Upgrade Project. She proposed that a recently established Chamber Upgrade Steering Group, Chaired by Speaker Molloy, should be invited to provide an update to the next Commission Meeting.
Ms McClelland then informed the Commission that following this presentation, Commission Members would be invited to view the proposals for the upgraded Chamber in the week commencing 3 December 2007 and that, subject to Commission views, all MLAs and Stormont Correspondents might be invited to view the proposals on 10 December 2007.
A set of draft floor plans were tabled for discussion and Members gave personal and Party preferences in relation to the layout of the Chamber.
Members agreed that the financial elements of the proposals should be clarified between essential modification costs to the Chamber and those additional costs (IT and Broadcasting) which are required to enhance the effective operation of business within the Chamber.
Following a proposal by Rev Coulter, Members agreed that the Commission should consider the way forward, following the presentation from the Chamber Upgrade Steering Group on 29 November.
3.2 Rally Ireland
Ms McClelland talked to a paper which set out arrangements for the forthcoming first stage of the World Rally Championship event being hosted at Stormont on 15 November 2007.
3.3 Smoking Facilities
Ms McClelland provided Members with a proposal which looked at enhancing the existing smoking facility at Parliament Buildings. The Commission agreed to the proposed “gazebo” structure.
Members expressed some reservations in relation to enforcing smoking regulations and some discussion took place around how this could be tentatively addressed.
Mr Moutray raised his concerns about smoking close to gas-piping in the court yard area. Ms McClelland agreed to continue to address this health and safety issue. It was noted that the placement of the agreed structure should help to address this matter
3.4 Visit to Canada
The Speaker drew Members’ attention to a letter from the Honourable Noël A Kinsella inviting the Commission to lead a parliamentary delegation to Canada in the Spring of 2008. It was agreed that the Commission should form the outward delegation. Mr Logue agreed to discuss indicative diary dates with individual Members and consider appropriate arrangements.
4. FOI GOVERANCE ARRANGEMENTS
Mrs Mageean apprised Members on the current governance arrangements in relation to handling of Freedom of Information (FoI) matters.
The Commission noted the arrangements for responding to FoI requests through the FoI Unit and agreed that strategic, novel or contentious issues related to FoI should be brought to the Commission for consideration. Furthermore, the Commission endorsed the approach that Committees do not become involved in handling requests but rather, should be kept informed of the request and associated response. These decisions were consistent with the recently agreed delegation to the interim Clerk/Director General.
5. IMPLEMENTATION ISSUES FROM THE REVIEW OF THE SECRETARIAT
Mr Duffy briefed Members on progress made in relation to implementing recommendations from the recent Review of the Assembly Secretariat.
The Commission requested further information regarding several staffing and recruitment matters and following a brief discussion, Mr Duffy assured Members that all questions asked during the Long Gallery event and those major concerns raised would be responded to through a Question and Answer page on AssISt.
Following discussion, the Commission endorsed the approach to negotiate with TUS to resolve the Pay and Grading and Recruitment issues. The Commission also agreed to the establishment of an Implementation Team under the direction of the Director of Implementation and approved the associated budget up to the end of April 2008.
6. CLERK/ DIRECTOR GENERAL MONTHLY REPORT
The interim Clerk/Director General provided an overview of her report and highlighted the need to revise the format of the report to include input from the procedural side. She asked that Members consider the current format and forward suggested improvements /additions to the Office of the interim Clerk/Director General.
She drew particular attention to the security section of the paper and informed the Commission that the Service Level Agreement between the Assembly and PSNI, which had been previously endorsed by the Commission, was being finalised and was ready for sign-off by the Assistant Chief Constable. The Commission agreed that the Assembly should be informed of the Agreement at Plenary and that the Speaker should write to Party Leaders highlighting the new arrangements.
The Commission noted the contents of the paper. The interim Clerk/Director General proposed that she would write to DFP to seek clarification regarding the process for setting the proposed budget allocation for the next three years. It was further agreed that budget planning would need revisited in line with consideration of a manpower planning exercise. A report would come forward to the Commission before Christmas.
Mr Maginness requested further information in relation to the ’Ormiston House’ site. The interim Clerk/Director General agreed that she would establish where matters stood on getting an indicative valuation, dependent on the future planning implications for sale of the site.
8. HR CONNECT
The interim Clerk/Director General provided an update in relation to the provision of Human Resource Management (HRMS) and Payroll systems for the Assembly Secretariat.
The Commission noted the background to the project and agreed that the Assembly Secretariat opt out of the NICS eHR Programme and that the Personnel Office should urgently procure an alternative, interim means of providing a payroll and HR service to Secretariat staff, pending the completion of new terms and conditions and a pay and grading review.
9. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The next meeting will be held on Wednesday 29 November 2007 at 10.00 am in Room 106.
The meeting ended at 12:15 pm