MINUTES OF THE SEVENTIETH MEETING OF THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION HELD ON TUESDAY 25 JANUARY 2011 AT 2.35PM IN ROOM 106
Mr Peter Weir
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Sean Neeson
Rev Dr Robert Coulter
In Attendance: Mr T Reaney, Mr T Logue, Mr R Stewart, Dr McGrath, Mr J Stewart, Mr H Widdis, Mr S Welch, Mr C McKenna, Mr R Ramsey, Ms C Dodson and Mrs C McGowan. Mr S Burrowes was present for Item 5.2. Mr K Eccles was present for Items 7 – 9.
1. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
The Speaker sought any declarations of interest from the Commission in relation to items of business being discussed.
2. CHAIRMAN’S BUSINESS
The Speaker informed Members that there would be a short meeting of the North South Parliamentary Working Group to discuss the draft Conference Report from the North South Parliamentary Forum Conference of the 7-8 October 2010.
3. MINUTES OF THE LAST MEETINGS
The minutes of the 7 December 2010 were agreed without amendment. Further to discussion, the Commission approved proceeding with the savings as outlined within Item 7.
The minutes of the 15 December 2010 and 18 January 2011 were agreed without amendment.
4. MATTERS ARISING
4.1 Election Planning
The Director of Clerking and Reporting provided an update in relation to work to date in preparation for the elections on 5 May 2011. He informed Members that there had been a substantial data gathering exercise in order to prioritise the tasks that need to be undertaken. Mr Stewart highlighted that contact points had been established through the Whips for each of the 5 largest parties and that the main queries to date that had been established related to arrangements for office accommodation and IT equipment. Mr Stewart also informed the Commission that the main priority was to issue comprehensive guidance to members and it is hoped that this would be achieved in the first week of February 2011 and would be similar in format to previous guidance.
Mr Stewart also provided an update in relation to the arrangements for the reception of new members. Following consideration it was agreed that the Commission would be consulted if any problems were identified prior to consideration by the Business Committee.
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House welcomed advice from Commission Members in relation to the allocation of accommodation for the next Mandate.
4.2 Implementation of Commission Report on the Financial Support and Pensions/Financial Support for Members Handbook
The Clerk/Director General provided Members with a brief update in relation to the Commission Report on the Financial Support and Pensions for Members of the Assembly.
The Director of Resources highlighted that the Financial Support for Members Handbook was a practical adaptation of the recommendations agreed by the Assembly on the 13 December 2010. Mr Stewart highlighted that to ensure the provisions of the Determination and the application of the Commission’s recommendations, that a number of changes had been made to the Handbook for Members. Mr Stewart provided the Commission with detail relating to the changes made and informed Members that the timings for the implementation of the changes varied between:
- Those effective from the date of the repeal of the Allowances to Members of the Assembly Act (Northern Ireland) 2000;
- Those effective from 1 April 2011; and
- Those effective from the start of the new Mandate in May 2011.
Following further consideration it was agreed that Commission Members would seek the view of their Party in relation to the revised Handbook for final sign off at a future meeting.
4.3 Commission Newsletter
The Head of the Commission Support and Compliance Unit provided Members with an overview of the January Edition of the Commission’s Newsletter to Members. The Commission agreed that further detail should be added in relation to the legislative programme and that the Newsletter should then issue electronically to all Members and Party Support staff.
5 NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY SPENDING REVIEW 2010
The Commission considered the correspondence trail between the Commission and the Minister of Finance and Personnel in relation to the Spending Review 2010. It was noted that an inaccurate date detailed within the Finance Minister’s correspondence to Mr A Attwood MLA on 14 January 2011should be formally raised with DFP.
5.1 Efficiency Reviews
The Clerk/Director General provided the Commission with draft outline proposals for business efficiency reviews. The Commission agreed the objectives, scope and methodology for the programme and that a project board be established to take the programme forward. Mr Weir also suggested that the timeline be reduced to a 9 – 12 month period. The Clerk/Director General also informed the Commission that the programme could be drawn together quickly for Project Board approval with a view to commencing the programme in April 2011.
The Commission further discussed the objectives of the programme and again reiterated their position in relation to the Spending Review budget resulting in an overall real cut of 13.3% over the four year period which included a real cut in Secretariat running costs of 15.7%. The Members confirmed that this approach to efficiency reviews would result in further cost reductions and efficiencies in Secretariat running costs through a programme of efficiency reviews with adjustments being made to levels of service and business improvements.
Following consideration of the overall budget position it was agreed that further discussions would take place and that the Commission would convene in week commencing 31 January 2011 to review progress. The Clerk/Director General also advised the Commission that he would be tabling a paper relating to revised capital expenditure proposals for discussion at the meeting.
5.2 Hansard Bound Volumes
The Speaker welcomed the Editor of Debates, Mr Simon Burrowes to the meeting. Mr Burrowes spoke to a paper which provided the Commission with the findings of a recent review of Bound Volumes (BVs) of the Official Report (Hansard). Mr Burrowes highlighted the findings and drew Members attention to a range of recommendations to develop a robust, sustainable and accessible archive whilst seeking best value for money.
Following discussion, it was agreed that Members would consult with their Parties on the findings and proposals with a view to final consideration at a future meeting.
6 REVIEW OF FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE FOR POLITICAL PARTIES
The Director of Resources spoke to a paper in relation to the Internal Audit Unit’s final report on its review of Financial Assistance for Political Parties (FAPP) and Members’ salaries. Mr Stewart informed the Commission that the report had raised a number of issues relating to the governance arrangements for the FAPP Scheme and for Members’ support staff contracts.
Following further consideration of the issues raised, the Commission agreed that a review of the FAPP Scheme 2007 should now be undertaken and that additional guidance should be issued to Parties in respect of the activities and expenditure that are properly claimable under the Scheme. The Commission further agreed that the independent auditor’s certificate should be amended to include a further requirement for supporting documentation and that the Commission would determine the nature and extent of that documentation.
Members also agreed that the Scheme should be amended to remove the responsibility for obtaining an independent audit certificate from the Parties and a requirement inserted for all Parties to only pay salary costs funded by the Scheme through the Assembly’s payroll processes and in the interim, to prescribe that a contract of employment is provided for all Party employees whose salaries are presently processed through the Assembly’s payroll system.
7 BUSINESS CONTINUITY PLAN
The Speaker welcomed the Head of Security, Mr Ken Eccles to the meeting.
Mr Eccles highlighted that the paper outlined proposals following the Commission’s previous decision not to establish a dedicated relocation site for the Assembly.
The Commission meeting was adjourned at 3.50pm to allow Members to participate in a Division. The Commission meeting reconvened at 4.05pm.
Following a recap and further consideration in relation to the Commission’s Business Continuity Plan, Members approved the principle to extend the current arrangements with the NICS Pavilion and endorsed the approach to be undertaken by Procurement in the event of a major incident. The Commission further agreed that the Business Continuity Plan should be updated to specify a resumption of normal Assembly activities within one calendar month as opposed to 14 days. The Commission also endorsed the IS Office preferred option to securing Assembly data.
8 NEW ASSEMBLY ID PASS SYSTEM
The Head of Security spoke to a paper which detailed proposals for the introduction of an Assembly wide pass system. Mr Eccles highlighted that the new system would allow for the monitoring of access of building users, including all visitors to Parliament Buildings.
Following discussion in relation to the resource implications of the introduction of a new system, Members requested that Mr Eccles provide further detail in relation to the comparative timings for processing groups of individuals under the current system and indicative timings using the proposed system. The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House highlighted the advantages for upgrading the current system and it was agreed that the Commission would consider the paper further at the next meeting.
Mr Eccles also provided the Commission with an update in relation to car parking and informed Members that discussions were continuing with DFP in relation for further car parking options within the Stormont Estate.
9 SECURITY REPORT-UPDATE
The Head of Security provided the Commission with an update in relation to security matters.
10 CLERK/DG’s QUARTERLY REPORT
The Clerk/Director General presented the Commission with a copy of his monthly update report and drew Members attention to several matters, namely:
10.1 Members’ Survey
The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that a follow-up survey of Members and their Assembly support staff on the services provided by the Secretariat will be undertaken in late January/February 2011 to allow for any issues to be highlighted which can be addressed in advance of the next mandate to improve Secretariat services.
The Director of Clerking and Reporting provided an update to Members in relation to the current situation with regard to the ongoing programme of legislation.
10.3 Annual Audit of Members Allowances
The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that the second annual audit of a random 25% sample of Members allowances will take place shortly and as previously agreed would include verification visits to constituency offices.
10.4 Ormiston House
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House informed Members that Ormiston House has now been formally placed on the market and that there has been recent media coverage of the acquisition and sale of the property.
The Director of Legal Services provided the Commission with an update on ongoing litigation against the Commission. Following consideration, it was agreed that a former Commission Member would be given the opportunity to address the Commission in relation to an ongoing litigation matter.
10.6 Political Leadership Programme
The Director of Engagement provided Members with an update in relation to the development of a Political Leadership Programme supported by the Atlantic Philanthropies. Dr McGrath informed Members that a stand-alone Trust has been formally incorporated as a company, and would be responsible for managing the development and delivery of the Programme. Dr McGrath advised the Commission that as an interim measure, the Speaker and a number of Members had agreed to act as Trustees, and that this would be reviewed after the forthcoming election. He also advised that the Clerk/Director General will also act as a Trustee and that it was anticipated that three external Trustees would be appointed. Dr McGrath also informed the Commission that he would act in a personal capacity as an officer of the Trust, and was currently overseeing the procurement of a Programme Manager as required by the application for funding.
Dr McGrath highlighted that to ensure that appropriate Governance arrangements are in place, a meeting of the Trustees would take place before the end of January 2011. The Commission paid tribute to Dr McGrath and his team on the development of the programme.
11. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
To be confirmed
Meeting finished at 5.28pm
Head of Commission Support and Compliance Unit