Minutes of Proceedings
Date: Wednesday, 30 January 2013
Venue: Room 106, Parliament Buildings
Meeting began at 1.13pm
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. MINUTES OF PREVIOUS MEETINGS
The minutes of the meetings held on the 6 November 2012 and 4 December 2012 were agreed.
3. MATTERS ARISING
3.1 Parliament Buildings Roof
The Director of Facilities provided Members with an update in relation to the roof project. He informed Members that the integrated design team had been appointed and were holding monthly progress meetings. In addition, he highlighted that a project support group had also been established, (chaired by Mr S Burrowes and including Mr P Ramsey) to support the Project Board, to assist with internal communication and the management of potential disruption to Assembly business. Mr Welch informed the Commission that the earliest start date for the build project would be November 2013.
3.2 Commission Newsletter
The Commission agreed the quarterly Commission Newsletter for electronic distribution to MLAs, their staff and publication on AssISt.
3.3 Proposals for Electronic Access Control
The Commission agreed that this matter should be deferred for consideration until the Commission meeting in February 2013.
4. CLERK/DG KEY UPDATE REPORT
The Clerk/Director General provided Members with a brief overview of key issues contained within his update report, drawing Members attention to the following:
4.1 Commission study visit to Scottish Parliament and Strategic Planning Event
The Clerk/Director General highlighted the useful nature of the Commission's recent visit to the Scottish Parliament and emphasised that he hoped to organise the postponed strategic planning event for the Commission in late February 2013. The Clerk/DG also reported that he would hope to meet individually with Commission Members in advance of the group session.
4.2 Management Accounts-December 2012
The Director of Corporate Services took Members through the management accounts for the 9 month period 1 April – 31 December 2012.
4.3 Assembly Members' Professional Development
The Commission noted the significant work continuing to support the professional development of MLAs, primarily through the NIA Legislative Strengthening Trust.
4.4 The Fulbright-Northern Ireland Assembly Award in Legislative Studies
The Commission noted that a partnership had been established between the Northern Ireland Assembly, Queen's University Belfast and the UK-US Fulbright Commission to launch a new Fulbright award – "The Fulbright-Northern Ireland Assembly Award in Legislative Studies". The Commission further noted that a launch event had taken place on 17 January 2013 with the opportunity for a successful student to fill one of the placements that the Commission has already committed to facilitating under the Bursary Scheme.
The Commission noted that Mr John Power, Head of RaISe and Mr Brian Devlin, Head of IS had visited the Assembly of Kosovo from 19 to 23 November 2012 to progress work in relation to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the respective institutions in respect of research and IT services. The Clerk/Director General highlighted that both Mr Power and Mr Devlin had met with colleagues in their respective business areas in order to progress practical assistance under the MoU and that a return study visit by Kosovan colleagues to the NI Assembly was being planned for February 2013.
4.6 Assembly Members Pension Scheme (NI) 2008 – Revised Scheme Rules
The Commission noted the revised Assembly Members Pension Scheme (Northern Ireland) 2012 and that it was available both within the Business Office and on the Assembly Website.
4.7 Secretariat Staff pay Negotiations – 2012 and 2013
The Commission noted that negotiations on a two year pay deal covering 2012 and 2013 had been completed and agreed with Trade Union Side.
4.8 Business Continuity Planning-Update
The Commission noted that work was continuing to develop an enhanced Business Continuity Plan and associated arrangements, and in so doing to address recommendations from a recent Internal Audit report. The Clerk/Director General highlighted that on following completion of this report that a paper would be brought to the Commission for consideration. The Clerk/Director General also confirmed that it was anticipated that additional resources would be required to ensure the capacity for effective business continuity, including options for contingency premises should Parliament Buildings be put out of action following a major incident.
4.9 Assembly Commission – Awards
The Commission noted the external awards recently received on behalf of the Commission in respect of three areas of work, namely:
• The Assembly Commission had achieved a Platinum Award in the ARENA Network annual Environmental Survey;
• The Education Service web site in conjunction with CCEA received a Gold Award at the national e-learning awards for excellence in the production of learning content; and
• Parliament Buildings has been awarded the first National Autism Society (NAS) Award made to any public building in the UK or Ireland. The accreditation is entitled "The Stormont Standard" – a name which will now be used nationally by NAS.
The Commission paid tribute to the dedication and efforts of Building Services and Education Service staff in these areas of work.
4.10 Query relating to Members Financial Services Handbook
The Clerk/Director General highlighted that he had recently met with an MLA in relation to a query regarding the application of provisions for shared constituency offices within the Members Financial Services Handbook. It was agreed that the Director of Corporate Services would consider if flexibility could be applied within existing provisions and that a further update would be provided to a future Commission meeting.
4.11 Security: postal threat at Parliament Buildings
The Clerk/Director General and Commission Members paid tribute to the diligence and professionalism of security staff when dealing with the recent postal security threat prior to the Christmas Recess.
5. MONITORING OF CORPORATE STRATEGY
The Director of Corporate Services, Mr R Stewart spoke to a paper which provided a summary of progress of each Directorate against their 2012/13 Business Plans. Mr Stewart highlighted that overall the Senior Management Group (SMG) were content with the progress Directorates have made to 30 September 2012 in meeting the objectives/targets within their Business Plans. It was noted that 96% of some 457 business objectives were either met or on target. Mr Stewart informed the Commission that a further report would be produced for quarter ending 31 December 2012 for consideration at the next Commission meeting in February 2013.
6. WORKPLACE PENSION REFORM - AUTO ENROLMENT
The Director of Corporate Services, Mr R Stewart spoke to a paper which provided further information on impending pension changes which affect Members in their role as employers. Mr Stewart highlighted that the changes required that all employers (MLAs) must enrol their staff in a qualifying pension scheme and make contributions to that pension.
The Commission considered the implications of the legislation and noted that the responsibility for compliance with the legislation rested solely with the Member as the employer. Members explored a range of options in relation to implementation of the legislation including a level of central administrative support.
Following consideration in relation to the timescales involved, Mr Cree proposed and the Commission agreed that the Director of Corporate Services in consultation with the Independent Financial Review Panel would write to all Members highlighting the impending pension changes and seek their views on the level of support they would require in the implementation of their statutory duty. The Commission agreed that they would consider the matter further following the results of the consultation.
7. REVIEW OF FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE TO POLITICAL PARTIES (FAPP) SCHEME 2007-GOVERNANCE ARRANGEMENTS
The Director of Corporate Services, Mr R Stewart reminded the Commission that in February 2012, they had agreed in principle to amend the Financial Assistance for Political Parties (FAPP) Scheme 2007 to further enhance the governance of the Scheme. Mr Stewart highlighted the changes to the revised Financial Assistance for Political Parties (FAPP) Scheme and the revised Guidance to Parties.
Following consideration, the Commission agreed that following minor administrative changes that arrangements should be made to bring the revised Scheme to the House for approval.
8. ASSEMBLY BUSINESS TRAVEL
The Director of Corporate Services, Mr R Stewart spoke to a paper relating to the governance of Assembly Business Travel. The Commission considered the appropriateness of the current support afforded to Committees for travel and subsistence, and the implications of the Business Efficiency Programme (BEP) report on Reputational Risk and Quick Wins and agreed the levels of financial support provided for Committee travel in relation to subsistence and accommodation rates. The Commission further agreed that the BEP recommendations on Members' travel are applied and all travel is to be sourced and booked on an economy basis only except for non-transatlantic flights greater than 7 hours or where there is no other option.
9. THE USE OF ART/ARTEFACTS
The Head of the Commission and Corporate Support Unit, Mr T Logue provided the Commission with an update in relation to the use of Art and/or Artefacts at Parliament Buildings. Following consideration, the Commission agreed that a meeting should be set up with the Community Arts Partnership to explore the possibility of working in collaboration to develop a piece of art which reflects the diverse nature of society in Northern Ireland.
10. EXHIBITIONS PROGRAMME OF EVENTS 2013
The Commission considered and agreed the schedule proposed by the Speaker's Art Advisory Group for exhibitions in the Great Hall for 2013.
11. INTERIM COMMISSIONER FOR STANDARDS:RESPONSE TO RECOMMENDATIONS
The Director of Information and Outreach, Mr J Stewart provided an update in relation to the progress achieved by the Secretariat working group in implementing the recommendations from the Interim Commissioner for Standards investigation into the unauthorised disclosure of a Public Accounts Committee Report. Following reflection of the responses proposed by the Secretariat working group, the Commission agreed that the current Information Assurance policy should be updated and that a response should issue to the Chair of the Committee of Standards and Privileges highlighting their consideration of the matter.
12. NI ASSEMBLY BUSINESS TRUST:MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING
The Director of Information and Outreach, Mr J Stewart informed the Commission that the Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust (NIABT) had grown in size and required additional resources beyond those agreed at its inception in 2002. Mr Stewart provided the detail of the required level of resource and a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the NIABT Board and the Assembly Commission. Following consideration, the Commission approved the MoU and agreed that it be signed on behalf of the Commission by the Clerk/Director General as Accounting Officer.
13. STREAMING ALL PARTY GROUP EVENTS ON THE ASSEMBLY WEBSITE
The Director of Information and Outreach, Mr J Stewart informed the Commission that the Standards and Privileges Committee had received a request to ask the Commission to review the level of Secretariat services and resources it permits All Party Groups to use.
Following consideration of the issues involved, including resources and editorial judgment, the Commission agreed that a response should issue to the Chairman for the Committee on Standards and Privileges highlighting their rationale for not supporting the provision of broadcasting or streaming services to All Party Groups and their events.
14. YOUTH ASSEMBLY
The Commission agreed that this matter be deferred for consideration until the next Commission meeting scheduled for February 2013.
15. HISTORIC ANNIVERSARIES
The Commission agreed that Mr R Ramsey would consult with the Commission Members not present at the meeting and if content would progress the arrangements to mark the two upcoming centenaries to commemorate in 2013 the women's suffrage movement and the Dublin lock-out and rise of the labour movement.
16. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
16.1 Contingency Fund for Constituency Offices
Mrs Cochrane raised the issue of a contingency fund for Members unable to access constituency offices due to emergency situations. It was agreed that the Director of Corporate Services would explore the matter in discussion with the Independent Financial Review Panel and provide an update at a future meeting.
16.2 Exchange programme for OKI Printer Cartridges
The Commission agreed that the Director of Facilities would meet with Mrs Cochrane to discuss her query in relation to OKI printer cartridges.
The Commission offered their condolences in relation to the recent passing of a Secretariat staff member and agreed that a letter of sympathy should issue from the Clerk/Director General.
16.4 Proposal/Motion from Peter Weir- Flying of the Union Flag
The Speaker informed Members that he had received a copy of a revised Motion from Mr Weir prior to the meeting in relation to the flying of the Union Flag, namely
"That the Assembly Commission tasks officers to bring back a report, within 3 months, following consultation with Assembly parties, reviewing the number of days upon which the Union Flag flies from Parliament Buildings and detailing a range of options and how a process of public consultation could be carried out and arrangements for carrying out an EQIA"
In view of its late submission, the Speaker proposed that the Commission adjourn the meeting to allow Members, including those not present, the necessary time to consider it. The Speaker proposed that the meeting would adjourn to reconvene on the 5 February 2013.
Mr Weir agreed to adjourn and highlighted that he had agreed to revise the wording to gather consensus and specify a timescale for the consultation process.
Mrs Cochrane raised her concerns in relation to the Commission's jurisdiction relating to the flying of the Union Flag on Parliament Buildings and drew Members attention to the decision taken by the Commission on the matter in June 2000. She highlighted that the role of each Member of the Commission was to serve the Assembly and not to represent individual Party views. She informed Members that she would have been unable to support the original motion through a forced vote and through consultation with Mr Weir had been able to suggest amended wording which she could support. Mrs Cochrane concluded by welcoming the Speaker's decision not to progress the matter at the meeting but adjourn to allow those Members not present an opportunity to consider. Mrs Cochrane also welcomed Mr Weir's inclusive comments and agreed that involvement of Party Leaders was also required to progress the matter.
Mr Cree endorsed the role of the Commission in addressing this matter in consultation with Parties and felt that the Commission would be devalued should they decide to transfer the decision making responsibility to the Assembly.
The meeting was adjourned at 3pm to be convened on Tuesday 5 February 2013 at 5.00pm.
Meeting reconvened at 5.05pm on Tuesday 5 February 2013. The following Members/Officials were present:
Present: The Speaker
Mr Peter Weir
Mr Leslie Cree MBE
Mrs Judith Cochrane
In Attendance: Mr T Reaney, Mr R Stewart, Mr T Logue, Mr R Ramsey and Ms C Dodson.
16.4 Proposal/Motion from Peter Weir- Flying of the Union Flag (cont.)
Following consideration, the Commission agreed to progress the revised motion proposed by Mr Weir, namely
"That the Assembly Commission tasks officers to bring back a report, within 3 months, following consultation with Assembly parties, reviewing the number of days upon which the Union Flag flies from Parliament Buildings and detailing a range of options and how a process of public consultation could be carried out and arrangements for carrying out an EQIA."
The Clerk/Director General asked Members to note that the consultation process would potentially raise issues not only in relation to the topic matter but also wider Good Relations issues. Members acknowledged this point and that wider issues were likely to be included in the report.
It was further agreed that in response to the Assembly Written Question by Mr Allister MLA, that a letter would issue highlighting the Motion agreed by the Commission.
The Commission also noted correspondence that the Speaker had received from Mr Ramsey MLA and Ms Ruane MLA in relation to taking forward the matter of 'flags' through the Business Committee and the Assembly. The Speaker informed the Commission that he had written to both Members highlighting the procedural requirements of the proposal.
Meeting concluded 5.20pm
17 DATE OF NEXT MEETING
27 February 2013 at 1pm in Room 106
Head of the Commission and Corporate Support Unit