MINUTES OF THE FORTY EIGHTH MEETING OF THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION HELD ON THURSDAY 24 SEPTEMBER 2009 AT 1.20PM IN ROOM 30
Mr Stephen Moutray
Mr Pat Doherty
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr Sean Neeson
Mrs Carmel Hanna
In Attendance: Mr T Reaney, Mr T Logue, Mr S Welch, Mr J Stewart, Dr G McGrath, Mr R Stewart, Mr H Widdis, Mr R Good, Ms C McGowan and Ms N Shephard. Mr A McQuillan was present for Items 5-7. Ms M Bannon was present for Item 14.
1. DECLARATION OF INTEREST
The Speaker sought any declarations of interest from the Commission in relation to items of business being discussed. There were no disclosures.
2. CHAIRMAN’S BUSINESS
The Speaker welcomed Mr Doherty to his first meeting as a Commission Member and wished him every success in his position. The Speaker also paid tribute to the contributions made by Mr P Butler during his time as a Commission Member since restoration in May 2007.
The Speaker also paid tribute to the Director of Facilities and his team for the work that had been undertaken during the summer recess to complete the transformation of the Member’s Reading Room into an additional Committee meeting room. Commission Members welcomed the additional facility and commended the standard that had been achieved.
3. MINUTES OF LAST MEETINGS
The minutes of the meetings held on the 18 June 2009 and 29 June 2009 were agreed without amendment.
4. MATTERS ARISING
4.1 Visit to Oireachtas: 14 October 2009
Mr Logue provided Members with an update in relation to their scheduled visit to the House of Oireachtas to meet with their counterpart Commission on 14 & 15 October 2009. Members noted that discussions would include proposed areas of mutual interest relating to engagement, outreach, pay & allowances and North South parliamentary relations. Mr Logue confirmed that the Commission Support and Compliance Unit would issue a full itinerary and programme details.
4.2 Accommodation Issues – Theme B/ Ormiston House Update
The Director of Facilities provided Members with an update in relation to the implementation of Theme B of the Accommodation Strategy, including the creation of both an additional committee meeting room and education room. The Director also provided an update in relation to the Ormiston House site, including an update on discussions held with the Planning service. Following consideration, the Commission agreed that work should progress with the Planning Service to seek flexibility within the revised planning proposal. It was further agreed that the site would be put on the market to test its current market value.
Rev Coulter sought further clarification in relation to the status of repairs to the roof of Parliament Buildings and was informed by the Director that the matter was being considered as part of Theme C within the Accommodation Strategy and a further report would be prepared for the Commission in late autumn.
4.3 Commission Newsletter
Mr Logue tabled the September 2009 copy of the Commission ‘Newsletter’. Following consideration, the Commission agreed that the newsletter should now be issued to Members.
4.4 Report from Commission Planning Day (June 2009)
The Commission noted the report from their meetings held at the Slieve Donard Hotel, Newcastle in June 2009. Following consideration, the Commission agreed that a work programme should be developed to include the actions defined at the June 2009 event and that further consideration should be given to holding further event within the next few months.
4.5 Publication of Members’ Expenses
The Director of Resources provided an update in relation to the publication of Members Expenses. He confirmed that summary information, set out on a highest to lowest expenditure basis, in respect of the periods April 2008 – March 2009 and April 2009 - July 2009 would be copied to all Members on Friday 25 September 2009. The Commission noted the timescales involved in relation to the release of information and agreed that representatives of the Stormont Correspondents Group should receive a briefing on Tuesday 29 September 2009, embargoed until the formal release of the information on Wednesday 30 September 2009. The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that to increase further transparency in the matter, the expenses claimed by the Clerk/Director General and Directors would also be published.
4.6 Commission Report on Members’ Pay and Financial Support
The Commission Members agreed that this matter required further consultation with Party Leaders and would be considered separately at a Commission meeting on 15 October 2009.
Mr Logue provided Members with an update in relation to the procurement process for the outstanding portraits of former First and Deputy First Ministers and Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly and informed Members that a further paper would be prepared for consideration. The Commission agreed to give further thought to the possible location, within Parliament Buildings, for hanging the portraits when procured.
5. COMMISSION APPOINTMENTS
5.1 SARC Membership
The Clerk/Director General provided Members with some background in relation to a vacancy on the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC) arising from the resignation of Mr Alban Maginness from the Commission. Members agreed that Mr Logue would discuss the vacancy with Mrs Carmel Hanna to confirm that she would be agreeable to replace Mr Maginness as the Commission representative at SARC.
5.2 Directorate Portfolios
The Commission agreed that current portfolio arrangements would continue and that the two new Commission Members would assume responsibility for the portfolios relating to Clerking and Reporting and Resources.
6. SARC ANNUAL REPORT 2008/09
Mr A McQuillan joined the meeting.
The Speaker welcomed Mr Alan McQuillan as the Chairman of the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC) to the meeting. Mr McQuillan provided Members with an account of the activities of the reconstituted Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee during 2008/2009 and detail of their objectives for 2009/10. Mr McQuillan paid tribute to the staff within the Assembly Finance Office in ensuring the effective early closure of the yearly accounts.
The Clerk/Director General emphasised the positive contribution created by SARC in relation to his role as Accounting Officer and also noted that in line with best practice, Commission Members would have future opportunities to meet and be briefed by Mr Mc Quillan, without officials being present.
7. ANNUAL ACCOUNTS/NIAO REPORT 2008/09
Mr Stewart provided the Commission with an overview of a number of issues relating to governance arrangements in the Assembly arising out of the Northern Ireland Audit Office’s Report to those charged with Governance 2008/09.
Following consideration of the Report and specifically, matters referred to the Commission, Members agreed that the Chair of the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee should be invited to attend meetings of the Assembly Commission as an observer. The Commission further agreed that the issue of Members’ support staff contracts of employment would be taken forward in the review of the Members’ Financial Services Handbook.
8. CORPORATE RISK REGISTER
The Clerk/Director General highlighted the copy of the Assembly’s Corporate Risk Register to Members and the actions being implemented to mitigate risk. Mr McQuillan confirmed the positive direction indicated in the Risk Register in relation to the residual impact and likelihood summary of risks.
Mr A McQuillan left the meeting.
9. CLERK'S MONTHLY REPORT
The Clerk/Director General presented his monthly report to the Commission. Members noted the overview of the September 2009 report, which due to the Summer Recess period, covered a period of more than one month. The Clerk/Director General highlighted the continuing high quality and level of existing service provision within the Secretariat and drew Members attention to several key issues within the report, namely:
The Director of Legal Services provided the Commission with detail in relation to the current litigation cases ongoing against the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission.
Human Resources Issues
The Clerk/Director General provided the Commission with an update in relation to the ‘Genesis Project’. He highlighted that as the project develops there would be an increased volume of draft policies / or changes to existing policies in the area of Human Resources coming forward for the Commissions consideration. The Commission agreed that, the Clerk/Director General’s letter of delegation should be reviewed to increase the level of delegation to him. A further paper will be considered at a future Commision meeting.
The Commission noted the work that had been undertaken in relation to ‘Fair Pay’ and noted that a substantive paper should be brought to a future meeting for approval. The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that pending the conclusion of the NICS negotiations in relation to pay, that eligible Secretariat staff had received their annual salary increments in August 2009.
The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that a further paper in relation to expanding the ‘Dignity at Work’ policy to include relationships with MLAs and their staff would be brought to the Commission for their consideration.
Emergency Planning Issues
The Commission noted the ongoing work of the Emergency Planning Group in the development of the contingency plan for a potential swine flu pandemic. Commission Members also endorsed their support in complying with their obligations in respect of fire safety, including the need for regular fire drills.
The Commission noted the change in title for the Properties Directorate to Facilities Directorate which would bring it into line with titles used in other legislatures and the wider professional discipline. The Commission also noted the use of Keeper of the House along with Director of Facilities and it was agreed that a request should be made to the Committee on Procedures to amend Standing Order 68 to reflect the new title. The Clerk/Director General also informed the Commission that the Director of Facilities would shortly be absent for a period of 3 months and sought the Commissions consideration on options to cover his absence. It was agreed that an external appointment would be the most appropriate in the circumstances.
10. ASSEMBLY EXPO
The Director of Engagement spoke to a paper detailing proposals for the programme for the ‘Assembly Expo’. The Director informed the Commission that the Engagement Strategy included a commitment to hold an annual Assembly Festival in order to raise public awareness of the Assembly and to increase engagement with the public. Mr Neeson proposed that consideration should be given to using Derry/Londonderry as the location for the first Expo. Following consideration in relation to arrangements and cost, the Commission agreed that further detail should be produced for consideration at a future meeting.
11. PREPARATION OF NI ASSEMBLY ANNUAL REPORT 2008/09
The Director of Engagement informed the Commission of the intention to produce two documents to report on the parliamentary year 2008 – 09. The Commission agreed that both a Parliamentary Review and a shorter version of the document for public consumption should be produced.
12. CORPORATE IDENTITY POLICY
Mr Moutray left the meeting.
The Director of Engagement provided the Commission with an update in relation to the work to date on the development of revised Corporate Identity Guidelines. The Director informed Members that following his meetings with Commission Members he had also recently discussed corporate identity for Committee reports with the Chairpersons’ Liaison Group and they had agreed a format for publication for all future reports. The Commission also agreed to the continued use of the existing headed paper.
13. SPACE MANAGEMENT POLICY
The Director of Facilities presented a draft policy clarifying the arrangements for the allocation and management of accommodation. Following review, the Commission approved the policy on the management of accommodation for immediate implementation.
14. HR POLICIES
The Director of Resources presented two draft policies relating to Filling Vacancies in the Assembly Secretariat and the Re-grading of Posts. Following consideration, the Commission agreed the adoption of the policies.
15. ANNUAL REPORT TO THE EQUALITY COMMISSION (NI)
Ms Bannon joined the meeting.
The Speaker welcomed Ms Bannon, the new Equality Manager to the meeting. Ms Bannon spoke to an annual report relating to the actions undertaken during 2008-09 in relation to the Assembly Commission’s obligations under Section 75 and Disability Discrimination legislation. Following review, the Commission agreed that the report should now be formally submitted to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.
Ms Bannon left the meeting.
16. MEMBERS SURVEY
The Director of Clerking and Reporting provided Members with an update on the recent Members Survey. Following consideration of the methodology and main findings, the Commission agreed that there was no need to facilitate ‘focus groups’ as there was sufficient information to proceed. The Commission agreed that Assembly Members, their staff and staff within the Secretariat should now receive a copy of the Report along with a summary of the main findings of the survey.
The Commission further agreed that a paper would be produced detailing proposals for an action plan to address the issues causing dissatisfaction and that progress would be reported on a quarterly basis through the Clerk/Director General’s Monthly Report. Members also agreed that the responses to the survey should be used as a ‘baseline’ for future surveys and that further consideration is given to increasing future response rates.
Rev Coulter, who represented the Commission on the project Working Group, paid tribute to the staff involved in conducting and analysing the survey.
The Speaker, and the Clerk/Director General, paid tribute to the Secretariat Staff who consistently delivered a high standard of service to Members and their support staff.
17. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
17.1 MLA Correspondence
The Director of Engagement drew Members attention to correspondence received from a Member proposing the development of an Education Centre within Parliament Buildings. Following consideration, the Commission agreed the draft response for the Member.
17.2 Speaker’s Reception
Mr Logue presented Members with an invitation to a reception for the Speaker of the House of Commons at Westminster to be held on the 5 October 2009.
17.3 MLAs Travel Expense Forms
The Director of Resources informed the Commission that further guidance would be made available in relation to the new travel claim forms for MLAs.
18. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The next meeting of the Assembly Commission to be arranged for Thursday 15 October 2009, as part of the Commission’s visit to Dublin.
The meeting ended at 3.45pm