Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Venue: Room 106, Parliament Buildings

Meeting began at 4.10pm

1.            DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST

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

2.            CHAIRMAN’S BUSINESS

The Speaker welcomed Mr Douglas Bain to the meeting as the newly appointed independent member of the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC) and on behalf of the Commission wished him every success in the post.

The Speaker drew Members attention to correspondence which he had issued to the Commission on 27 February 2012 detailing a range of options to mark historic anniversaries within the Northern Ireland Assembly.  Following discussion it was agreed that the Commission would mark upcoming historic anniversaries within the Northern Ireland Assembly subject to the following criteria:

  • All events will be of a measured and sensitive tone concentrating on the historical fact;
  • All Parties will be invited to events;
  • Events should take account of financial constraints; and
  • The number of events in the year will be limited with only significant milestone anniversaries marked.

 

Following further consideration the Commission agreed that a paper would be brought to a future meeting highlighting a proposed list of historic anniversaries and an outline of events to mark them during 2012.  It was further agreed that the Speaker would bring forward similar programmes of events to mark historic anniversaries in January of each consecutive year, for the Commission’s consideration.

3.            MINUTES

The minutes of meetings held on the 24 January 2012 were agreed.

4.            MATTERS ARISING

4.1         Ormiston House

The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House provided Members with an update in relation to the sale and disposal of the Ormiston House site.  Mr Welch informed Members that the Planning Service Group had met earlier and it was anticipated that it would be making a recommendation to the Belfast City Council Planning Committee on the 8 March 2012.  Following further discussion, it was agreed that Mr Welch would provide a paper to the next meeting detailing proposals to reduce the costs relating to the security and maintenance of the site and the associated risks. 

4.2         Draft Language Policy

The Head of the Commission and Corporate Support Unit provided Members with an update in relation the development of the draft language policy and highlighted that he had held discussions with those Parties who had not to date submitted responses to the draft policy.  Mr Logue informed the Commission that on receipt of outstanding submissions he would compile responses for consideration at an early Commission meeting.

The Speaker further proposed that in taking forward Good Relations, a meeting should be initially organised between the Commission and Holywell Consultancy to discuss the findings of their Internal Good Relations Audit.  The Clerk/Director General reminded the Commission that in addition to the wider political issues surrounding Good Relations they had responsibilities, as the Secretariat’s employer, to consider the results of the audit.

4.3       Assembly Members Pension Scheme - Update

The Director of Corporate Services reminded Members that they considered the procedures to be used to raise recommendations for amendments to the Assembly Members Pension Scheme at their last meeting and that having received responses from all Commission Members, it was agreed that recommendations should now be submitted from the Pension Trustees to the Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP) for consideration and decision.  Mr Stewart informed the Commission that he had now issued letters to both the IFRP and the Pension Trustees informing them of the Commission’s decision on the matter.

5.            CLERK/DG KEY UPDATE REPORT

The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that the re-advertisement for the position of Commissioner for Standards had been published. The Clerk/ Director General then provided Members with a brief overview of key issues contained within his update report, drawing Members attention to the following:

5.1         Procurement – Consultancy and Single Tender Actions

The Clerk/Director informed the Commission that the Secretariat had voluntarily participated in the DFP Consultancy Test Drilling exercise to assist in developing best practice in corporate governance.  He reported that as a result, a number of recommendations had been made and adopted which would enhance the Commission’s current procedures.   The Commission noted that under the revised procedures, the Speaker as Chair of the Assembly Commission would provide approval for external consultancy expenditure over £10,000.  Members further noted that as a result, an element of the delegation previously given directly by the Commission to the Clerk/Director General would be amended.

5.2         Business Efficiency Programme

The Clerk/Director General provided the Commission with an update in relation to the Business Efficiency Programme (BEP) and reported that the Review Reports covering the Security and Usher Service and the Research and Information Service (RaISe) were published on the 13 February 2012 and were currently subject to consultation.

The Director of Clerking and Reporting conveyed his gratitude to Party Whips for sending party staff to the briefing sessions on the BEP.  Members agreed that this had been a useful exercise in considering party support staff.

5.3         Assembly and Executive Review Committee

The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that the Assembly and Executive Review Committee (AERC) were currently undertaking a Review on the size of the Northern Ireland Assembly and the number of Departments.  The Clerk/Director General asked the Commission to note that he, together with the Clerks and Chief Executives from a number of other Parliaments and Assemblies, had been invited to make a submission to the Committee as part of the stakeholder consultation and that he would take part in an evidence session to the Committee on 20 March 2012.  He highlighted that the submission would focus on the professional and procedural aspects of the AERC’s review.

5.4         Management Accounts

The Director of Corporate Services provided an overview of the management accounts for the period 1 April 2011 – 31 January 2012.

Mr McElduff MLA joined the meeting.

6.            CORPORATE STRATEGY IMPLEMENTATION FRAMEWORK

The Clerk/Director General provided the Commission with an update in relation to the Implementation Framework for the new Corporate Strategy for 2012/16. 

The Clerk/Director General highlighted that a Corporate Business Plan for each year of the Corporate Strategy would not be developed and that the Strategy would instead be delivered through the combined effort of individual Directorate Business Plans.  The Clerk/Director General confirmed that the plans would describe (in broad terms) the actions and on-going work which would contribute to the achievement of the Strategic Aims and Objectives for those years and would also include objectives and actions relating to major service strategies and major projects.

The Clerk/Director General also informed the Commission that in addition to the Directorate Business Plans, four Strategic Work Strands had been identified which would contribute to the overall delivery of the Corporate Strategy, namely: 

1.    Business Efficiency

2.    Organisational Development

3.    Institutional Review

4.    Organisational Redesign  

Following consideration of each of the strands, the Clerk/Director General drew attention to the continuation of the Business Efficiency Project Board and Team for the second stage of the efficiency reviews.  The Clerk/Director General also highlighted that the Corporate Strategy recognised that a review of the Secretariat’s structure was now appropriate to prepare the Secretariat for the future and that this work would be led by himself reporting directly to the Commission and drawing on a range of external research and inputs.  A paper will be prepared for consideration at the next meeting detailing a timetable and the Terms of Reference and including underpinning principles and the objectives for the review.

7.            AUDIO UPGRADES

The Director of Information and Outreach spoke to a paper which outlined the issues regarding upgrading audio facilities in Parliament Buildings to mitigate against mobile phone interference.  Dr McGrath provided an overview of the type and impact of the interference within the Northern Ireland Assembly with particular reference to the Chamber, the Senate and several Committee Rooms.

The Commission considered the seven proposed options to mitigate against the interference and agreed in light of the large costs required to make the necessary adjustments and in light of the current economic climate that they would reconsider the matter in two years (March 2014).  It was further agreed that a letter should now issue to all Members outlining the Commission’s position on this matter.

Members also sought further information in relation to the pilot ICT project for the provision of electronic meeting packs for Committee members and it was agreed that the Director of Clerking and Reporting would provide an update on progress at the next Commission meeting.

8.            CATERING TARIFF SETTING MECHANISM

Mr Sebastien Mingout joined the meeting

Mr Mingout spoke to a paper relating to the setting of a catering tariff mechanism within the Support Services Contract.  He provided the Commission with a range of options to address the Commission’s approach to the existing risks in terms of catering tariffs and the mechanism needed for the implementation of catering tariff as indicated in the Support Services Tender Business Case approved in June 2011.

The Commission considered the findings of a benchmarking exercise conducted to ascertain comparative pricing across a range of public authorities and other legislatures and agreed that a pragmatic approach should be applied to increase the current NIA prices with the latest CPI rate + 1%.  The Commission further agreed to utilise this approach for a minimum period of 3 years as part of an annual review of prices in line with the new Support Services contract.  It was also agreed that the mechanism would be closely monitored and would give consideration to all prevailing commercial factors at that time.

9.            REVIEW OF FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE TO POLITICAL PARTIES (FAPP) SCHEME 2007

The Director of Corporate Services provided the Commission with an update on the review of the Financial Assistance to Political Parties (FAPP) Scheme 2007 and highlighted a range of recommendations to enhance the governance and accountability of the assistance provided to Political Parties.

Mr Stewart reminded the Commission that at its meeting of 25 January 2011, they had considered recommendations made by the Assembly’s Internal Audit team and from the Northern Ireland Audit Office as they related to the Financial Assistance for Political Parties (FAPP) Scheme 2007.  Mr Stewart highlighted that at that meeting the Commission had agreed to conduct a full review and in addition that the Scheme should be amended in two parts to require firstly, that all Parties to only pay salary costs funded by the Scheme through the Assembly’s payroll processes and secondly that responsibility for obtaining an independent audit certificate should transfer to the Assembly Commission.

The Commission endorsed the approach to enhancing the governance arrangements and administrative control of the Scheme and agreed that consultation should take place with Party Leaders to gain commitment to recommendations prior to the Commission submitting a revised FAPP Scheme to the House for approval.   It was further agreed that a copy of the Review and Audit Reports would form part of the correspondence to Party Leaders.

10.         REVIEW OF THE BUDGET SETTING PROCESS FOR THE NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY

The Director of Corporate Services spoke to a paper which detailed the outcome of the previous Committee for Finance & Personnel’s deliberations on the role of the Assembly in scrutinising the Executive's budgets and expenditure.  Mr Stewart highlighted that the present arrangements for funding the activities of the Assembly via the Commission’s budget are, in practice, indistinguishable from an Executive department funded from the NI Block.   Mr Stewart also provided a comparative analysis of the funding arrangements in place for the legislatures in Scotland and Wales.

Following consideration, the Commission agreed that further consultation should now take place with interested stakeholders regarding discussions about the Assembly’s processes for setting the Commission’s budget with a view to discussing further at a later Commission meeting.

11.         USA GROUP

The Commission considered a paper from the Advisor to the Speaker relating to the formation of a new group to take forward the work of the former All Party Group on the USA from the 2007-11 Mandate and develop relationships between the Assembly and the USA in a strategic way.  In this context, the Director of Information and Outreach also provided the Commission with an update in relation to three existing initiatives between the Northern Ireland Assembly and the USA, namely;

  • Boston College;
  • American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL); and
  • US-UK Fullbright. 

 

Following consideration, the Members confirmed that the relationship between Northern Ireland and the USA merited being treated in an exceptional way beyond other All Party Groups and further agreed that the Group should be formed to operate initially on a trial basis for eight months subject to financial constraints with a view to the Commission revisiting the matter to confirm its approval and use of Commission funds.  

Mr McElduff also drew attention to the potential to develop relationships with Brazil, Russia, India and China. (BRIC countries)

12.       ANY OTHER BUSINESS

12.1    Official Visit to the Assembly of Kosovo

The Speaker drew Members attention to correspondence he had issued to Commission Members relating to an invitation he had received from the President of the Assembly of the Republic of Kosovo inviting a delegation from the Northern Ireland Assembly to Kosovo.  The Speaker highlighted that the core purpose of the visit would be to officially establish a relationship to assist the Assembly of Kosovo on parliamentary and corporate issues.  He further highlighted that as the initial connection between both assemblies had emerged from the work of the NI Assembly branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), he had decided that the delegation should also consist of one member of the CPA.  Following consideration, Mr McElduff, in his capacity as portfolio holder for Information and Outreach Directorate agreed to check his availability to participate.

12.2    Assembly Commission Oral Question Time

The Head of the Commission and Corporate Support Unit informed the Commission that the next Oral Question Time for the Assembly Commission had been scheduled for Tuesday 27 March 2012 and that he would ensure that Members received a full list of questions electronically on 16 March 2012.   It was further agreed that Mr Logue would liaise with Members to agree suitable dates for briefing sessions.

12.3     Visit from the Canadian Parliament

The Head of the Commission and Corporate Support Unit informed Members that the Northern Ireland Assembly was hosting a delegation from the Canadian Parliament and that the Commission may wish to meet with the delegation on Tuesday 20 March 2012.  It was agreed that Mr Logue would organise and communicate arrangements with the Commission Members.     

13        DATE OF NEXT MEETING

20 March 2012 at 4.00pm in Room 106   

Meeting ended at 5.55pm

Tony Logue 
Head of the Commission and Corporate Support Unit 

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