MINUTES OF THE
THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION
AT 09.30 AM IN ROOM 106
Mr Stephen Moutray
Rev Robert Coulter
Mr Alban Maginness
Mr Sean Neeson and Mr Paul Butler
Mrs C Devon, Mr F Duffy, Mr T Logue, Mrs S McClelland, Mrs C McGowan, Ms C Foster. Mr B Cassidy, Ms M Campbell and Mr C Prentice were present for Item 3.
MINUTES OF THE LAST MEETING
The minutes of the eighteenth meeting held on the 7 February 2008 were agreed.
2.1 Recruitment of the Clerk
Members noted a paper which gave details to date on interest in the recently advertised post for the Clerk/Director General vacancy and agreed the timetable outlined for the recruitment of the position.
2.2 Dublin Visit
Mr Logue apprised Members of the initial travel itinerary for the Commission’s visit to Dublin on 27/28 February 2008 and outlined a draft programme for the event. Members agreed timings and a work programme and Mr Logue confirmed that information packs would issue to Members in due course.
Ms Campbell/Mr Prentice/Mr Cassidy joined the meeting at 09:50am
The Speaker welcomed Ms Campbell, Mr Prentice and Mr Cassidy to the meeting.
Ms McClelland informed Members that Eurest had been awarded contract in March 2007 and explained that the presentation would enable the provider to give an overview of work during the past 10 months and allow Members to put forward views on service provision.
Ms Campbell and Mr Prentice summarised Eurest’s work since contract award and highlighted key elements and challenges during that time. Particular attention was drawn to the:
- provision of service for a number of high profile events;
- experience and training of key personnel;
- range of services;
- re-neogtiation of cleaning contract;
- use of local suppliers and fair trade produce;
- tariff and ‘fine dining’ benchmarking;
- innovative improvements and promotion/theme work; and
- key challenges and future initiatives.
Members paid tribute to the work of Eurest and thanked them for their prompt handling of any complaints/queries. A few issues were raised in relation to continuous high standards, tea-time menus and the absence of cutlery. Eurest agreed to address these areas of concern. It was noted that a Catering Focus Group was operational and that MLAs and staff were encouraged to become involved in this group.
Ms McClelland apprised the Commission of a recent FOI request asking for detailed subsidy information in relation to the Catering contract. She explained that high costs were due in part to the lack of use of the Brasserie and Members’ Restaurants. Mr Maginness proposed opening the restaurants on a trial basis during the evening/weekends. It was further suggested that Eurest could decrease the level of subsidy during these times. It was agreed that Eurest would work with the Keeper of the House to explore these options.
Eurest were thanked for their presentation.
Ms Campbell/Mr Prentice/Mr Cassidy left the meeting at 10:35am.
The Interim Clerk/Director General provided the Commission with an overview of her monthly report, drawing particular attention in Section One to the significant amount of Plenary and Committee business undertaken to date. She highlighted maintenance work in progress/completed and referenced the new smoking shelter and refurbishment of the basement restaurant. She further reported that work planned for Easter and Summer recesses included upgrading the Estate’s control room. Mr Moutray asked about staffing changes resulting from the transfer of ownership of the control room to the Assembly and the Clerk/DG explained that agency staff were being engaged until final decisions on structure and staff numbers had been taken. Mr Moutray also enquired about a current deficiency in the alarm system at Parliament buildings. The Interim Clerk/DG explained that problems with this facility had now been ironed out.
In Section Two Members noted the continuing high level of engagement activity across the organisation and were informed that a working group had been established to bring forward proposals for an engagement strategy which would be presented to the Commission in due course.
The Interim Clerk/DG reminded Members of progress made at a recent Away Day to develop corporate and business planning and Mr Duffy drew Members attention to Section Three (annex c) which contained an update on actions arising out of the Secretariat Review Report. Mr Maginness asked about staff feedback on the review and Mr Duffy reported the Implementation Team’s perception was that personnel were broadly content with changes. The Interim Clerk/DG highlighted recent internal communication developments which included the establishment of an internal communications working group. Ms McClelland then tabled a paper which profiled the work of a Planning Consultant to assist with the Accommodation strand of the Review and reported that IMB anticipated a consultant would take up post in March 2008.
In Section Four the Interim Clerk/DG updated Members on the recent meeting of the interim Audit Committee and reported that a paper on the recruitment of a Chairperson and independent members of the Audit Committee would be brought to an early Commission meeting. She highlighted the current budget underspend and reported on the Assembly’s dual running of a new payroll system. Finally, IMB’s progress on the issues of starting pay, recruitment and restructuring was mentioned and it was noted that the Commission would have sight of proposals coming forward on these matters in due course. It was agreed that all future responses to Freedom of Information requests from the Assembly Commission would be copied to Members.
ASSEMBLY CLERKS & ASSISTANT ASSEMBLY CLERKS COMPETITIONS
Mr Duffy spoke to a paper updating the Commission on the latest position in relation to recruiting Clerks and Assistant Clerks to the NI Assembly. He gave an overview of the recruitment exercise initiated in May 2007 and apprised the group on the agreement reached at that time to skills-test potential candidates - 512 candidates were subsequently tested in October 2007. Mr Duffy relayed that, following engagement with TUS during which the validity of the tests were questioned, Management consulted with NISRA and sought legal advice, on a way forward. Advice was to proceed to the next stage, sift the applications of those candidates who had reached the required performance in the tests and invite successful candidates to interview. He further reported that the ratio of interviews to posts would be in the region of 3:1.
The Assembly Commission noted Trade Union Side’s concerns and asked to be kept informed of future consultation with TUS. The Commission agreed the conclusion that officials should move forward with the Assembly Clerk and Assistant Assembly Clerk recruitment competitions and noted that this would be discussed further at the forthcoming Whitley Committee meeting.
PROMS IN THE PARK
Ms McClelland referred to a paper which outlined a proposal to host a ‘Proms in the Park’ event at Stormont. She informed Members that following recent deliberations with the BBC and others the Commission were unable to secure this event for summer 2008; however it was anticipated that the event could be staged at Stormont during 2009. Members expressed their disappointment but reiterated their support for attracting the event to Stormont in 2009. Ms McClelland agreed to continue to explore options with promoters for staging future concerts/events at Stormont and looking at innovative ways to capitalise on outreach/engagement (such as open days etc).
Mr Logue referred to a draft paper to the Commission on the outcome of a recent public consultation exercise on the draft Equality Scheme. It was noted that the paper required further consideration by IMB. The Commission agreed that the draft Equality Scheme should immediately issue to the Equality Commission. The group further agreed to the establishment of an External Working Forum to monitor progress in meeting obligations under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
Mr Logue raised the issue of developing a Good Relations Policy and Members agreed that work in this area should be progressed. Mr Maginness referred Belfast City Council as a best practice model in this field and it was agreed to explore this matter further with officials within the Council.
ANY OTHER BUSINESS
Mr Moutray asked about shower facilities at Parliament Buildings. Ms McClelland informed the Member that a new facility had recently been installed on the 2 nd and 4 th floors of the building and agreed to issue a postmaster highlighting the new facility.
DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The Assembly Commission will visit the House of the Oireachtas, Dublin on 27/28 February 2008.
The next full meeting of the Assembly Commission will be held on Wednesday 5 March 2008 at 10.00am in Room 106.
The meeting ended at 11:35am
Clerk to the Assembly Commission