MINUTES OF THE SIXTY FIRST MEETING OF THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION HELD ON TUESDAY 22 JUNE 2010 AT 2.00PM IN ROOM 106
Mr Stephen Moutray
Mr Pat Doherty
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Sean Neeson
In Attendance: Mr T Reaney, Mr T Logue, Mr R Stewart, Mr J Stewart, Dr McGrath, Mr S Welch, Mr H Widdis, Mr A McQuillan, Ms S Lappin, Ms F Leneghan and Ms C McGowan.
1. DECLARATION OF INTEREST
The Speaker sought any declarations of interest from the Commission in relation to items of business being discussed. Members declared an interest in relation to matters relating to the financial support and pensions for Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
2. CHAIRMAN’S BUSINESS
2.1 Commission Member Resignation
The Speaker informed Members that he had received a letter of resignation from Mr Stephen Moutray effective from Monday 28 June 2010. The Speaker thanked Mr Moutray for his valuable contribution to the work of the Commission and wished him success in his future work. Mr Moutray thanked the Speaker and Commission Members and stated that he had welcomed the opportunity to work as a Commission Member since the start of the mandate.
2.2 Brussels Visit
The Speaker raised the recent visit by the Commission to Brussels which he found both interesting and informative. Following discussion, Members agreed that the discussions held with representatives from the other legislatures based in Brussels and the session with the MEPs raised a number of issues for further consideration.
The Commission agreed that further work was required, particularly in the capacity of the Assembly Committees to deal with European issues and on relationships with MEPs. It was agreed that an options paper would be drafted, during recess, for consideration by the Commission in September 2010.
2.3 Unveiling of Portrait for Rt Hon Dr Paisley MLA
The Speaker confirmed that a portrait of the Rt Hon Dr Paisley MLA will be unveiled on Monday 28 June 2010 in the Members Dining Room and invited all Members to attend.
The Speaker also provided Members with an update on progress in relation to portraits for former First and deputy First Ministers and Speakers of the Northern Ireland Assembly and informed the Commission that the procurement process was currently being finalised.
3. Minutes of Meetings
The minutes of the meetings held on the 1 June 2010 and 15 June 2010 were agreed without amendment.
4. MATTERS ARISING
4.1 Commission Newsletter
Mr Logue informed the Commission that he would be redrafting the Newsletter to accommodate recent developments in relation to financial support for Members and would provide a draft to the next meeting.
4.2 Report from the Commission Planning Day
The Clerk/Director General provided Members with a report on the main discussions which took place during the Commission Planning Day on 20 May 2010 and proposed that further research would be undertaken into the time demands on Members between constituency work and in the Assembly at Committees and in Plenary. The Clerk/Director General also informed the Commission that the main themes outlined would be considered by SMG with a view to tabling an action plan for consideration at an early Commission meeting.
4.3 NICS Equal Pay Settlement
The Director of Resources provided the Commission with details of the proposed resolution of the equal pay issue within the Assembly Secretariat and the likely financial impact during the 2010/11 financial year. Following consideration, the Commission agreed that the matter be deferred until the next meeting to allow Members the opportunity to further consider the detail of the paper.
4.4 Proposed amendments to summer works programme
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House spoke to a paper which proposed minor alterations to the summer capital works scheme. Members approved the amendments and endorsed the exploration for a ‘changing places’ facility.
The Clerk/Director General provided Members with an update in relation to litigation and a contract tender process. The Director of Legal Services advised Members to forward any copies of correspondence in relation to the matter to the Head of the Commission Support and Compliance Unit.
5. FINANCIAL SUPPORT AND PENSIONS FOR MEMBERS OF THE NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY
The Speaker expressed his disappointment in relation to the withdrawal of the Commission’s Report on Financial Support and Pensions for Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Following discussions Members confirmed their desire to proceed with the proposals set out in the Report and following further consideration agreed that a copy of the Report should be issued to all MLAs. The Commission further agreed that a cover letter should be attached to highlight the approach adopted by the Commission in taking forward arrangements for interim reforms until such time as an Independent Statutory Body is set up. The Commission also agreed that a copy of the Report would be made publically available.
Mr Mc Quillan expressed his concern that the Report was not being taken forward. He highlighted the importance of proceeding with the improved governance and accountability measures contained in the Report and urged the Commission to move to make progress on these issues as as soon as practicable.
The Clerk/Director General outlined a range of options in relation to how the recommendations within the Report could now be taken forward and it was agreed that an options paper would be drafted for consideration at the next Commission meeting.
6. CLERK’S QUARTERLY REPORT
The Clerk/Director General introduced his quarterly report and drew Members attention to a number of matters, namely:
6.1 Public Expenditure
The Clerk/Director General reminded Members of their discussions held during the recent Planning Day in relation to the impact that pressures on public sector expenditure may have on the Commission’s budget. The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that a budget statement had been made by the Chancellor today and its impact would be assessed and considered at the next meeting of the Commission.
The Director of Clerking and Reporting provided the Commission with an update in relation to the increasing programme of legislation and the impact on Members and staff. He reported that all business sections were currently collectively coping with the pressures and that, beyond the summer recess a more rigorous approach to priorities and the allocation of time and resources would be required.
6.3 Staff Survey
The Clerk/Director General drew Members attention to the results of the recently completed Staff survey. He highlighted that overall the results were positive and compare well with previous surveys and other available results. The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that improvements have been made in a number of areas since previous surveys and a number of issues have been identified for further investigation and action.
7. SARC ANNUAL REPORT
Mr McQuillan, the Independent Chairman of the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC) provided the Assembly Commission with an account of the activities of the reconstituted Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee during 2009/2010 and sets out SARC’s objectives for 2010/11.
Mr McQuillan reported that the results were positive with an increase in overall assurance levels. He indicated that much progress had been made but further work was required. Mr McQuillan stated his gratitude for the support received by the Corporate Policy Unit in supporting the operation of SARC.
The Speaker thanked Mr McQuillan for the detailed report and the Clerk/Director General acknowledged the valuable support of SARC members in providing constructive advice and challenge in his role as Accounting Officer.
8. BUSINESS CONTINUITY RELOCATION PROPOSAL
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House drew Members attention to a paper which detailed options for a potential recovery site as part of the Assembly’s Major incident/Business Continuity Policy and Plan.
Following consideration of the options, and in particular the risks and costs involved with each option, the Commission decided not to proceed with establishing a permanent business continuity relocation due to the costs involved. Officials were asked to explore variations of a minimalist option and bring forward a further proposal on that basis.
9. ARTICLE 55 MONITORING REVIEW
The Head of Human Resources presented the Commission with a paper which detailed the key findings from the Article 55 Review and Annual Fair Employment Monitoring Return. Following consideration the Commission noted the return that had been made to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and agreed that a further breakdown covering recent recruitment competitions would be provided for consideration to a meeting after Summer Recess.
10. ASSEMBLY MEMBERS PENSION SCHEME 2008 (Amendment)
The Director of Resources spoke to a paper which proposed an amendment to the Assembly Members Pension Scheme 2008. Following consideration, the Commission agreed that a further resolution is passed by the Assembly to ensure that it has clear authority to amend scheme rules to permit the Attorney General for Northern Ireland to join the AMPS from the date of his appointment.
11. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
There were no further items considered.
12. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The next meeting of the Assembly Commission was agreed for Tuesday 29 June, at 1.30pm in Room 106.
The meeting ended at 4.35pm