Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2013/2014

Date: Thursday, 12 December 2013

Venue: Private Dining Room, Parliament Buildings

The meeting commenced at 3.15pm

1. APOLOGIES

No apologies were received.        

2. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST

The Speaker sought any declarations of interest from the Commission in relation to items of business being discussed. None were received.

3. CHAIRPERSON’S BUSINESS

The Speaker welcomed Pat Ramsey back following his absence at the last meeting.  

4. MINUTES OF PREVIOUS MEETINGS

Minutes of the meeting on the 20 November 2013 were agreed with an amendment to item 16.            

5. MATTERS ARISING

There were no matters arising discussed.

6. BUDGET SETTING PROCESS

The Director of Corporate Services provided Members with an update in relation to the discussions with the Finance Minister and Department of Finance & Personnel Officials on the role of the Assembly in scrutinising the Assembly Commission’s budget.  A copy of the draft approach to setting the Commission’s budget, based on the Commission’s previous decision to adopt a model based on that used in the National Assembly for Wales, was provided to Members. Following discussion Members, with the exception of Ms Ruane, agreed that they were content with the proposals outlined in the draft approach. Ms Ruane stated that she could not support the approach at this point in time.  

7. DIGITAL FIRST/PRINT REDUCTION STRATEGY

The Director of Information and Outreach provided Members with a detailed account on the paper presented to the Commission on the future management of the Print & Associated Services Contract. The Clerk/Director General outlined for Members the time-line and sequence of events on this matter and agreed to forward to Ms. Ruane a copy of this timeline. Ms. Ruane sought assurances that there had been no discussions held with TSO since the Commission meeting on the 20 Nov 2013 to date. Mr Stewart said that there had been email correspondence between officials and the contractor seeking clarification in relation to a letter from TSO of 6 September 2013.  He agreed to provide Ms Ruane with copies of correspondence referred to in the timeline.

Ms Ruane stated that she had concerns around this issue and how it had been dealt with. She stated she was uneasy with the decision to extend the contract for 12 months without the Commission’s authority as at the last meeting of the Commission it had been agreed to wait until December’s meeting to take any decisions on the issue. The Clerk/Director General informed Ms Ruane that the subject of the original paper was the development of a Digital First Strategy and not the decision to extend the contract. He also confirmed that the decision on the contract extension was within his delegated authority and did not require a decision of the Commission.   Ms Ruane reiterated that she would not support the extension of the contract unless she was certain that the process was open and transparent. Ms Ruane stated that she did not accept that further savings could not be made, utilising the example of the letter from TSO discussed at the previous meeting.  The Clerk/Director General assured Ms Ruane that procurement policy is being followed at every stage and that governance rules are always adhered to. Ms Ruane stated that she believed the Clerk/Director General had acted Ultra Vires in the decision making process. The Clerk/Director General explained that the original decision had been taken under his delegated authority but that no further action had been taken to implement that decision pending the Commission’s consideration of the paper at today’s meeting.  

Following further discussion Mr Weir proposed the following motion be taken to a vote;

‘Extend the contract for 1 year to allow for a full exploration of all possible options, undertake any necessary procurement(s), and plan an efficient transition to new contracts and working practice.’

The Commission voted as follows:-

For :- Mr Weir, Mr Cree, Mr Ramsey and Mrs Cochrane = 75 votes.

Against :- Ms Ruane = 29 votes.

The proposal was agreed.

Mr Ramsey left the meeting.

8. EXTERNAL RELATIONS STRATEGY       

The Director of Information and Outreach provided Members with an update the revised draft External Relations Strategy including information on the financial implications of the Strategy. Mr Stewart outlined the General Administrative Expenditure (GAE) and salary costs directly relating to the Strategy. Mr Stewart further highlighted to Members that the majority of work and projects that are detailed within the Strategy are longstanding activities, funded from existing budgets which the Strategy document attempts to bring together in a more coordinated and strategic way.

Ms Ruane stated her opposition in relation the approval of the strategy, she stated she would not be in a position to support the financial spend needed for the implementation of the projects and that it would be money badly spent given the current period of austerity.

Mr Weir stated that he supported the approval of the Strategy with the exception of the proposals to establish links with the Maryland General Assembly and for affiliate membership of the National Conference of State Legislatures. The Speaker reminded Members of the importance of protecting some aspects of the good work that has been carried out especially in relation to the external work with Kosovo and the relationships that have been forged. Following further discussions Mr Weir proposed that a vote be taken in relation to the approval of the draft External Relations Strategy but without the inclusion of the proposed links with the Maryland General Assembly or affiliate membership of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Commission voted as follows:-

For:-Mr Weir, Mr Cree and Mrs Cochrane = 61

Against:- Mrs Ruane = 29

The proposal was agreed.   

9. LINKS WITH MARYLAND GENERAL ASSEMBLY

Members agreed not to proceed with the consideration of this proposal.

10. AFFILIATE MEMBERSHIP OF NATIONAL CONFERENCE OF STATE    LEGISLATURES

Members agreed not to proceed with the consideration of this proposal.

11. INTERNET CONNECTIONS – PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

The Director of Information and Outreach provided Members with information in relation to the need to procure separate, independent internet connections for Parliament Buildings. Mr Stewart took Members through the business case that set out a number of options for the procurement of a second internet connection for Parliament Buildings. He explained that under the Clerk/Director Generals delegated authority he is required to consult with the Commission on IT and consultancy expenditure in excess of £50,000. Ms Ruane expressed concerns about the recommended procurement strategy and the possible use of a framework contract.  Ms Ruane stated that she will only support a tendering process that is in line with the European Union Guidelines and that is open and transparent. The Director of Legal Services assured Ms Ruane that all procurement exercises are compliant with EU Legislation. Ms Ruane requested that she is provided with the framework contract’s start and end date and the information from Procurement Office on the proposed strategy with supporting rationale and indicative timetables. It was agreed that this information would be sent out to Members via correspondence within the next few days. The Clerk/Director General asked Members for a prompt response with any comments to enable him to make a decision before the Christmas holiday period.

12. ANY OTHER BUSINESS

12.1. EMPLOYERS LIABILITY INSURANCE

Members noted the correspondence sent from the Director of Corporate Services and a response received from Mr Givan MLA in relation to Employers Liability Insurance.

12.2 CORRESPONDENCE FROM MR BOYLAN MLA

Members took note of the correspondence received from Mr C Boylan MLA regarding an Employers Liability Insurance issue.   

12.3 REQUEST FOR RECOGNITION OF NELSON MANDELA

Members discussed the correspondence received from Mr Oliver McMullan, MLA requesting that the Commission consider naming a room in Parliament Buildings in memory of Nelson Mandela. It was noted that the Commission agreed to the development a revised draft policy, to deal with requests of this nature, at the Commission meeting on 20 November 2013 . Ms Ruane felt that this request could be dealt with prior to a policy being written, following discussions a vote on taken on the issue.

The Commission voted as follows:-

For:- Mrs Ruane and Mrs Cochrane = 37

Against:- Mr Weir and Mr Cree = 53

The proposal was lost.           

13. Date of next Meeting

It was agreed that the next meeting would take place on Wednesday 29 Jan 2014 in Room 106. Members also noted the date of the scheduled review session on Good Relations for the 7th Jan 2014.

The meeting concluded at 4.30pm

Tony Logue 
Head of the Commission and Corporate Support Unit 

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