MINUTES OF THE FIFTY FOURTH MEETING OF THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION HELD ON THURSDAY 21 JANUARY 2010 AT 1.05PM IN ROOM 106
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 R Stewart, Mr A Witherspoon, Mr H Widdis, Mr R Good, Mr C McKenna, Ms C McGowan and Mrs N Shephard. Ms M Bannon was present for Items 1 – 4. Mr A Davis was present for Item 5.
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 congratulated Rev Coulter on his award of an MBE in the New Year's Honours list for his services to the Assembly Commission.
The Commission Members approved Mrs Hanna’s request for retirement and noted that the SDLP had nominated Mr Alex Attwood as her replacement on the Commission to be approved by the Assembly at Plenary on 25 January 2010. The Speaker extended his thanks for Mrs Hanna’s contribution to the work of the Assembly Commission and offered his best wishes on her retirement.
It was further agreed that the Clerk to the Commission would liaise with Members to seek a replacement member for the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee prior to their next meeting on the 3 rd February 2010.
Members noted that the planned meetings with Party Leaders regarding the Report on Pay, Pensions and Financial Support for Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly had been postponed. Members agreed that a letter should issue to Party Leaders providing an update on the issues and that the Director General would make himself available for Party Meetings to provide further clarity and assist in seeking views on the way forward.
3. MINUTES OF LAST MEETINGS
The minutes of the meetings held on the 10 December 2009 were agreed without amendment.
4. MATTERS ARISING
4.1 Good Relations Action Plan
The Commission further considered the Good Relations Plan, following consultation with their Party Groups. Following a proposal to amend the wording of Section 1.1, the Commission agreed the plan and associated actions in complying with the Good Relations Duty.
Ms M Bannon left the meeting.
4.2 Indicative Costs for Roof Reconstruction
m r A Witherspoon provided Members with a presentation in relation to the detail and indicative costs for the roof development proposals. Mr Witherspoon provided detail on a modified proposal to provide additional accommodation on a smaller scale while simultaneously addressing the existing problems on the roof of Parliament Buildings.
The Commission discussed the impact of the proposal in terms of cost and disruption and agreed that a detailed proposal should now be developed to include scheme layout drawings and more detailed costing schedules.
4.3 European Report – OFM/DFM
The Speaker advised that the report on European Issues from the Committee for the Office of the First and deputy First Minister was scheduled for debate in Plenary on 26 January 2010. The Speaker confirmed that there were six recommendations for the Assembly Commission. The Commission agreed that Rev Coulter would speak on behalf of the Commission during the debate on the report on the 26 January 2010.
4.4 Response to Standards and Privileges Committee
The Clerk/Director General provided Members with a summary of the issues raised between the Speaker and the Chairperson and Deputy Chairperson of the Standards and Privileges Committee at their meeting on the 14 January 2010 as part of the consultation exercise in relation to the appointment of an Assembly Commissioner on Standards.
Following further consideration the Commission agreed that a formal response should now be drafted for submission to the Committee and that the Clerk/Director General attend the Committee if that was judged helpful by the Committee.
Mr A Davis joined the meeting.
5. SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT PRESENTATION
The Speaker welcomed Mr A Davis, Sustainable Development Manager, who provided Members with a presentation on the development of Sustainability within Parliament Buildings. The Speaker reminded Members that the Commission had approved a Sustainable Development Policy at the last meeting and thanked Mr Davis for his presentation.
Mr A Davis left the meeting.
6. COMMISSION REPORT ON PAY, PENSIONS AND FINANCIAL SUPPORT
6.1 NI Assembly Members Bill
The Clerk to the Commission provided on update on the current passage of the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Bill, explaining that it was debated at the House of Lords on Tuesday 12 January 2010. Mr Logue explained that an amendment was proposed seeking to end the double salaries and allowances of MLAs who were also MPs.
6.2 Draft Independent Statutory Body Bill
The Commission considered a policy paper outlining the a series of issues/ questions for consideration with regard to the progression of a Bill to enable the establishment of an Independent Statutory Body to determine members’ pay, pension and financial support. The Commission agreed that the paper should now issue to Parties for their consideration and response. The Commission further agreed that the Clerk/Director General when attending Party Group meetings could also seek to clarify any issues arising from the letter.
6.3 Audit of Members Expenses Claims
The Clerk/Director General advised Members that an audit of Members expenses claims was scheduled in the Audit Programme for 2009/10. The scope of the audit was discussed.
7. CLERKS MONTHLY REPORT
The Clerk/Director General presented his monthly report to the Commission. The Clerk/Director General highlighted the high volume and quality of existing service provision within the Clerking and Reporting Directorate and drew Members attention to several key issues within the report, namely:
7.1 Policing and Justice
The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that Secretariat preparations for the Devolution of Policing and Justice were well advanced and support would be available for Plenary and a new Committee as and when required.
7.2 Genesis Project
The Clerk/Director General provided an update on the work of Genesis Project in relation to the separation of the Northern Ireland Assembly from the Northern Ireland Civil Service. He explained that a job evaluation exercise had commenced which is being conducted and moderated by colleagues from the Scottish Parliament. The Director of Resources explained that initial feedback from the process was positive. The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that he had received correspondence from NIPSA asking that the Assembly formally review their position with regard to the NICS Equal Pay settlement. The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that a paper in the issue would be tabled at a future meeting.
The Clerk/Director General also provided an update on the recruitment programme and informed Members that an affirmative action statement had now been included within the planned competition for security / usher staff.
7.3 Financial Performance/Planning
The Clerk/Director General gave an overview on the financial performance and drew attention to the publication by the Minister of Finance and Personnel of the draft expenditure plans for 2010/2011. He referred to discussions on long-term financial planning which commenced at the governance briefing session held when the Commission had visited the Oireachtas in November 2009.
The Clerk/Director General highlighted that the current Corporate Plan was due to enter its final year. He endorsed the view that the review of the Corporate Plan that was conducted in 2009 would be sufficient to carry through to the end of the plan period. The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that a discussion paper in relation the development of the next Corporate Plan would be tabled at a future meeting.
7.4 Breach in Information Security
The Clerk/Director General provided Members with an update in relation to the breach in Information Security and that he was awaiting a response from the PSNI on the matter.
7.5 Ormiston House
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House provided an update in relation to the Ormiston House site. He informed Members that a pre-application discussion meeting had occurred on 7 January 2010 and a request had been made for a formal submission of the development proposal for the site. He provided an update in relation to the costs incurred from the current security arrangements at the site. It was agreed that an options paper would be provided to a future meeting detailing proposals for reducing the cost of security provision at the site.
7.6 Car Parking – Lower East Car Park
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House provided an update in relation to the lower east car park and reported that correspondence was sent to DFP to ascertain whether they would agree in principle to transfer ownership of the Lower East Car Park so that it would be for the sole use of the Assembly. He reported that DFP have indicated that they are unable to make such a transfer due to the possible negative impact on other Civil Servants within the Estate. The Commission agreed that a fact finding exercise should be undertaken in relation to current usage and that the matter be taken forward with the Permanent Secretary of DFP.
Mr Moutray left the meeting at 3.00pm
8. DRAFT COMPLAINTS POLICY
The Clerk/Director General spoke to a paper proposing a policy for dealing with complaints to the Assembly. The Commission considered and approved the Assembly Complaints Policy.
9. ASSEMBLY EXPO
The Commission noted the proposals for the Assembly ‘Expo, including the operational and staffing requirements of the project, and proposed host venue and the proposed date of 2012. The proposals would be presented to the Commission following the elections in 2011. The Speaker highlighted the excellent work being taken forward by Dr McGrath and his team on developing the Assembly Expo.
10. ASSEMBLY EXHIBITION
The Clerk/Director General provided the Commission with an update in relation to the Assembly Exhibition, including matters relating to design, content and delivery schedule. It was agreed that further information would be provided to the Commission in relation to the proposed content of the display material to be used.
11. EVALUATION OF ASSEMBLY ROADSHOWS (AUTUMN 2009)
The Commission considered the evaluation report of the second series of Assembly Road Shows and agreed that consideration should now be given to holding focused Road Shows for specific groups, for example on the basis of disability, ethnicity, youth, schools etc.
12. NI ASSEMBLY ANNUAL REPORT
The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that the Director of Engagement would provide a further update on the NI Assembly Annual Report at the next meeting.
13. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
13.1 The Clerk to the Commission provided Members with an overview of six questions for Oral Answer which had been tabled for Plenary on 2 February 2010. It was agreed that Mr Logue would liaise with Members to agree which Commission Members would respond.
13.2 The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that he expected that Mr Stephen Welch would be returning to the post of Director of Facilities week commencing 1 February 2010. Both the Clerk/Director General and the Commission thanked Mr Allen Witherspoon for his contribution to the Secretariat during his time with the Assembly and wished him every success in the future.
14. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The next meeting of the Assembly Commission was agreed for Thursday 18 February 2010 at 1pm in room 106.
The meeting ended at 3.15 pm