Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Venue: Room 106

Meeting began at 4.00pm

1. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST

The Speaker sought any declarations of interest from the Commission in relation to items of business being discussed. Mrs Judith Cochrane and Mr Barry McElduff declared an interest in relation to Item 11; Childcare Scheme. All Members in attendance declared an interest in relation to item 10 relating to Members Consumables.

2. CHAIRMAN’S BUSINESS

NICCY Participation Awards

The Speaker thanked Mr Barry McElduff for his attendance on behalf of the Assembly Commission at the Northern Ireland Commission for Children and Young People Participation Awards on Wednesday 23 November 2011. The Speaker informed the Commission that they had been presented with a gold award as they had exemplified the highest standards of involving young people in their plans to develop a Youth Assembly. Members agreed that a presentation should now be arranged for the Assembly's Youth Panel, following the NICCY award, to be scheduled to take place during January 2012.  

3.  MINUTES

The minutes of meeting held on the 8 November 2011 were agreed subject to one amendment to item 8, Internal Good Relations Audit – Final Report, insert text to final paragraph: ‘He highlighted that certain emblems and symbols within the environs of Parliament Buildings presented a particular challenge to the Commission’.   

4.  MATTERS ARISING

4.1 The Clerk/Director General provided Members with an update in relation to the potential impact on service delivery within Parliament Buildings resulting from the proposed strike action on 30 November 2011.

5.  CLERK/DG REPORT

The Clerk/Director General provided Members with a brief overview of key issues and developments contained within the report. The Clerk/Director General drew Members attention to the following:

5.1 Ormiston House

The acting Director of Facilities provided Members with an update on progress in relation to the sale and planning application of the Ormiston House Site. Mr Cree raised the issue of potential added value arising from the approval of the planning application.

5.2 Visitor Management System   

The Clerk/Director General provided Members with an update in relation the introduction of the new ID Pass System for all Parliament Building users. The new system has been successfully implemented and is currently operating effectively.

5.3 Freedom of Information Requests

The Clerk/Director General provided a summary of all FOI requests that have been received from the start of the mandate.

5.4 Assembly Written Questions 

The Clerk/Director General provided a summary of all Assembly Written Questions received from the start of the mandate.  Following points raised by Mr Cree and Mr McElduff, it was agreed that Members would be given a short briefing note to assist with any potential media enquiries. He re-iterated that press queries should be directed to the Communications Office.

5.5  Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority Annual Review Consultation

The Clerk/Director General highlighted to Members that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority had launched its annual review of the MPs’ Scheme of Expenses and Costs with the consultation exercise running until January 2012.

5.6 Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee

The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that Mr Colm McKenna had been appointed to the position of Chair of the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee.  He highlighted that the resulting vacancy of Independent Member would now be filled through the reserve list created during the last recruitment exercise.  The Speaker congratulated Mr McKenna and wished him every success in his new position.

6. DRAFT CORPORATE STRATEGY

The Clerk/Director General provided an outline to Members on the new draft Corporate Strategy following from discussions held with the Commission at their last planning day and highlighted the key differences between the current Corporate Plan and the approach demonstrated in the new Draft Strategy. The Clerk/Director General also informed Members that the views of staff and those of TUS were currently being sought and it was agreed that Members would also ascertain the views of their Parties.  It was agreed that the Draft Strategy would be considered as the main item for the next Commission meeting in December 2011.

7. UPDATE ON EFFECTIVENESS PROJECT

The Director of Legal and Governance Services spoke to a paper in relation to the effectiveness of the Assembly. Mr Widdis provided a summary of the work to date of the Effectiveness Project Working Group, which has now completed its first report. He highlighted that the report detailed the outcomes of research and discussions with Party and Secretariat staff.  Mr Widdis informed the Commission that the next stage in the process was for Directors to decide on a process for implementing the recommendations. It was agreed that an update on progress made would be brought back to the Commission at a suitable juncture in 2012. 

Mr J Gilsenan joined the meeting

8. GOOD RELATIONS AND EQUALITY ISSUES

The Clerk to the Commission and Corporate Support Unit spoke to a paper in relation to the Internal Good Relations Audit Report that was completed by Holywell Consulting in July 2011. Members were asked for their comments.

Mr McElduff highlighted that his party previously made a submission to the Assembly Commission in April 2010 around the issue of Good Relations. This submission covered the areas of language, symbols and emblems and set out the legal framework and statutory requirements to the implementation of Good Relations. Mr McElduff highlighted that in the context of Parliament Buildings it is important that the building reflects all those who use it.  He indicated that there was strong statistical evidence to indicate disparity on how people see Parliament Buildings and also highlighted that this affected visitors, in that certain people perceive the building as less welcoming.  Mr McElduff made particular reference to individuals who live in rural areas, West of the Bann, who he believed did not visit Parliament Buildings for those reasons. Mr McElduff further highlighted that issues around the building relating to signage, statues, symbols and language had to be addressed and there was a need to ‘secure a space’ to have the discussion in an attempt to address them.  Mr McElduff also requested further information in relation to what good relations work had been undertaken and if the issue of language had been considered within the development of the new website.  

Mr Weir suggested it would be useful for Members to be given a copy of the submissions received from Parties to the Assembly Commission from April 2010. He further highlighted the need for Members to look carefully at research and statistics in relation to determining disparities in those who visit Parliament Buildings. Mr Weir suggested that certain geographical or demographic reasons may also result in disparities. The Director of Outreach and Information agreed to provide Members with a geographical breakdown on the number of visitors to Parliament Buildings participating on the education programme.

Mr Cree highlighted that the issues discussed were sensitive and that the history of Parliament Buildings could not be re-written.  He further proposed that a balanced approach should be adopted to address sensitivities and there was a need to ensure that Good Relations is dovetailed into the Corporate Strategy.  Mr Cree also drew Members attention to developments such as the reconciliation sculpture within the Stormont Estate.

The Head of the Commission and Corporate Support Unit confirmed to Members that there had been limited progress in relation to the draft language policy. It was agreed that the submissions on the draft language policy and cover paper that were considered during the last mandate would re-issue to Members with a view to requesting outstanding submissions from those Parties who had not responded.    

Mr McElduff requested an explanation of why only two Parties’ views are reflected in the engagement feedback within the Holywell Report. The Head of the Commission and Corporate Support Unit explained that all parties were given the opportunity to take part in the interviews and he would look into the reasons behind the non-participation of the other parties.  

Mr McElduff requested that the Good Relations Audit be subjected to a full Equality Impact Assessment (EQIA).   

4.50pm Meeting was adjourned for Members to participate in a division

5.05pm Meeting was reconvened

The Head of the Commission and Corporate Support Unit summarised the discussions on the equality issues. In relation to the Good Relations Audit report, he highlighted that any further submissions or comments from members would be welcomed. The Good Relations Action Plan Monitoring report was also noted by Members and further discussions would take place as required.

Mr McElduff suggested that the Good Relations Action Plan should be subjected to a full EQIA.

8.3 REVISED EQUALITY SCHEME/DISABILITY ACTION PLAN

Mr J Gilsenan provided Members with an update in relation to the revised Equality Scheme and Disability Action Plan. The revisions were highlighted to Members following the completion of a 13 week consultation. Members considered and approved the revised Equality Scheme and Disability Action Plan and further agreed that the scheme and plan should now be submitted to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and published on the Assembly website.

9.  MEMBERS CONSUMABLES

The acting Director of Facilities spoke to a paper in relation to Members Consumables. Mr Martin explained to Members that since the last Commission meeting, he had been made aware that the Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP) has an interest in the issue of Member’s consumables and in particular the proposed cap on expenditure for office consumables. Members agreed to leave the issue of the proposed cap for IFRP to consider.

Further issues around the recommendations to improve governance as required by the Northern Ireland Audit Office were discussed. Following discussion it was agreed that expenditure by Member on office consumables would be published for 2011-2012 at the same time as information on Office Cost Expenditure is published. It was further agreed that this information would be circulated to Commission Members prior to publication. The Commission also agreed that the provision of a second class option for pre-paid envelopes should be included when undertaking the next procurement exercise, due to commence in early 2012.  In conclusion, the Commission also agreed that in future, orders for consumables must be approved by the MLAs themselves.

10. CHILDCARE SCHEME

The Director of Corporate Services spoke to a paper in relation to the Assembly’s current Childcare Scheme. As requested in the previous meeting comparative figures were provided showing the impact on costs arising from a change in the current scheme to the childcare voucher scheme.

Mrs Cochrane reiterated her position in regards to the current scheme. She expressed the view that in line with efficiency savings, it would be a financially viable solution to replace the current scheme with the Government voucher scheme. Mr McElduff supported Mrs Cochrane’s view and stated that the scheme used by MLAs should not be different that used by Secretariat Staff.

The Clerk/Director General outlined that the Scheme used by MLAs currently falls within the remit of the Independent Financial Review Panel under the authority of the Northern Ireland Assembly (Members’ Expenditure) Determination 2010 and that the Scheme used by Secretariat staff is a matter for the Commission. Mr Reaney proposed that it might be prudent to await the determination of the IFRP before considering any changes in the current scheme and include in future negotiations with TUS. The Clerk/Director General also highlighted that the Director of Corporate Services and himself were scheduled to meet with the IFRP and would raise the matter and provide an update to the next meeting.  Mr McKenna highlighted that there may be certain risks to changing the scheme for Secretariat Staff within the current economic climate affecting public sector employees.      

11. UPPER CAR PARK ISSUES

The acting Director of Facilities spoke to a paper in relation to the outstanding issues on car parking access to Parliament Buildings. The Commission considered the issue on access to the Upper Car Parks on medical grounds for Secretariat Staff, NICS Staff and Party Staff. Following discussion Mr Martin agreed to clarify the position in relation to obtaining a 'blue badge' for any individuals who were over the pension age and further agreed to offer a practical solution to those affected.  Mr Martin agreed to implement the recommendation in relation to upper car park access on medical grounds taking into account the need for a reasonable timeframe and effective communication prior to implementation.

On the issue of parking permits it was agreed that Mr Martin would liaise with parties to provide limited additional parking permits prior to implementation of the policy on non-transfer of MLA passes.

12. INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS

The Clerk/Director General provided members with an update in relation to the ongoing disagreement regarding the application of the Assembly Secretariat Probationary Policy and procedures and Assembly Commission employee’s right of appeal to the Civil Service Appeals Board. The Commission noted a letter from NIPSA regarding the outcome of discussions at the LRA on a related disagreement and a related case which proceedings have been lodged with the Industrial Tribunal.  Following consideration, the Commission agreed that the Industrial Tribunal is the appropriate forum to consider these and any other matters related to this case and would await the outcome of those proceedings.

13. ANY OTHER BUSINESS 

13.1 ASSEMBLY COMMISSION QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER ON 6

DECEMBER

Members agreed the running order for the Oral Questions to the Assembly Commission due for response in plenary on 6 December 2011. The Head of the Commission and Corporate Support Unit agreed to organise briefings for Members as soon as possible.

13.2 MEMBERS FINANCIAL SERVICES HANDBOOK

The Director of Corporate Services reminded the Commission of discussions they had held in relation to proposals on the Financial Support for Members Handbook at their last meeting.  He highlighted that following the meeting, a number of key issues were summarised in a further paper and issued by means of correspondence for Members consideration.  He confirmed that he required all Members to complete the pro-forma attached to the paper, to allow for changes to be made to the Handbook.

14. DATE OF NEXT MEETING

Tuesday 13 December 2011 at 4.00pm

Meeting ended at 6.00pm

Tony Logue
Head of the Commission and Corporate Support Unit

The Commission meeting was followed by a presentation in relation to the new Assembly Website.

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