Minutes of Proceedings
Date: 01 December 2014
Venue: Room 106, Parliament Buildings
1. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
The acting Chairperson sought any declarations of interest from the Commission in relation to items of business being discussed. All Members declared an interest in Members’ Expenditure.
2. CHAIRPERSON’S BUSINESS
The acting Chairperson thanked Mrs Cochrane for responding on behalf of the Commission to the urgent question for oral answer tabled by Mr Jim Allister MLA.
The acting Chairperson further thanked Members for their attendance at short notice and highlighted that the business of the meeting related to the BBC Spotlight programme and the draft Budget for 2015/16.
3. CLERK/CE KEY UPDATE REPORT
The Clerk/Chief Executive (Clerk/CE) provided Members with an update on the key issues arising in his monthly report namely:
3.1 BBC Spotlight Programme
The Clerk/CE reviewed the issues highlighted in the second BBC Spotlight programme. He informed Members that officials had been liaising with other relevant bodies on the issues raised and in respect of areas where governance and administration of Members expenses could be improved. Members agreed that a measured and systematic approach needed to be adopted in considering all options for enhancing the management of MLA expenses. The Clerk/CE suggested that the Commission may wish to ask the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) (as the only authority that retains full independence in the administration of elected Members’ expenses) to assist in any review of the systems in place at the Assembly
The Clerk/CE highlighted that as agreed at the Commission meeting on 25 November 2014, officials were working on a number of themes to identify:
1. Issues which may require further review arising from the BBC Spotlight
2. Issues which may assist in improving the current administration of Members’ expenses within the existing Determinations issued by the Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP);
3. Models for the most robust, effective and efficient means to determine
and administer financial support for Members; and
4. Issues which the Commission may wish to ask IFRP to address in its
The Clerk/CE drew Members attention to correspondence from the Committee on Standards and Privileges relating to an on-line petition established on Change.org.. The Clerk/CE highlighted a factual inaccuracy relating to the salary levels provided for Members and it was agreed that the error would be highlighted to Change.org and also drawn to the attention of the Chairperson of the Committee on Standards and Privileges. The Commission further agreed that the correspondence to the Committee should highlight the Commission’s consideration and approach to addressing the alleged allegations contained within the Spotlight programmes.
The Clerk/CE also informed Members that he had received correspondence from Mr Allister MLA relating to his communication with the PSNI as highlighted within the second Spotlight programme. Following consideration it was agreed that the Clerk/CE would respond to Mr Allister MLA advising him that in his capacity as Accounting Officer he had informed the PSNI that no evidence of a criminal nature had been brought to his attention nor had any evidence of criminality been identified through the annual programme of internal audits carried out across the Assembly.
Members considered the timeline for a paper to be brought forward and agreed that a full analysis would be required of the transcript of the programme to aid officials in investigating the allegations made. It was agreed that a substantive paper would be presented to the Commission in January 2015 detailing the response to the programme and providing costed options in relation to any improvements which could be made for enhancing the governance and administration of Members’ allowances schemes. Members further agreed that this paper would also include details on comparative models of financial review within the other UK Legislatures and the Houses of the Oireachtas and the costs relating to the operation of the Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP). Members also agreed that it would be important to respond to the BBC on the alleged allegations raised following analysis and consideration. The Clerk/CE suggested and Members agreed that should any matters require attention and/or action prior to the meeting in January 2015, that he would raise them by correspondence.
- Factual inaccuracy regarding MLA salary increases on the Change.org petition to be corrected by correspondence with the organization. The Chair of the Committee on Standards and Privileges should also be informed of the error;
- Correspondence to the Standards & Privileges Committee to include detail of the Commission’s approach to addressing the alleged allegations contained within the Spotlight programmes;
- Letter to be drafted in response to correspondence received by Mr Allister MLA advising him that the Clerk/CE in his capacity as Accounting Officer informed the PSNI that no evidence of a criminal nature had been brought to his attention nor had any evidence of criminality been identified through the annual programme of internal audits carried out across the Assembly;
- A further paper to be drafted for consideration by the Commission at their January 2015 meeting detailing costed options in relation to any improvements which could be made for enhancing the governance and administration of Members’ allowances schemes following an analysis of the issues raised in the Spotlight Programme; the paper to also include details on comparative models within the other UK Legislatures and the Houses of the Oireachtas and the costs of IFRP.
- Letter to be drafted for BBC in response the Spotlight Programme following further analysis of the programmes content.
3.2 Draft Budget 2015/16
The Clerk/Chief Executive drew Members attention to several matters relating to the draft budget for 2015/16, namely:
- Correspondence from Finance Minister
The Clerk/CE informed the Commission that he had received correspondence from the Finance Minister on 27 November 2014 in relation to the Executive’s Draft Budget 2015/16 proposals and asking the Commission to advise on what level of savings could reasonably be expected from them in 2015/16 given the wider financial context.
The Clerk/CE reminded Members of their prior consideration of the Draft Budget 2015/16 and the detail of the Minister’s Statement to the Assembly on 3 November 2014. The Clerk/CE advised Members that the statement had also included a table showing that the overall cut to the Block Grant for 2015/16 for Non Ring-Fenced Resource DEL was 2.1% with a wide range of reductions applied to most Executive entities apart from DHSSPS and DETI.
Members discussed the challenges and difficulties faced within the current financial situation and as agreed by them on 25 November 2014, work should progress in line with the development of the ‘Strategic Planning 2015/16 and Beyond’ (SP15+) project, to provide considerations of any further efficiencies that could be achieved. Members again highlighted the substantive efficiencies already achieved as part of the Assembly’s Business Efficiency Programme and agreed that a response should be provided to the Finance Minister highlighting work to date and providing detail of the Commission’s approach in line with the development of the SP15+ project.
- Draft qualitative response to the Finance Minister to be considered at the next Commission meeting highlighting the efficiencies already achieved and detailing proposals for a SP15+ project;
- Strategic analysis of saving options to be explored as part of the development of a "Strategic Planning 2015/16 and Beyond" (SP15+) project.
- Voluntary Exit Scheme
The Clerk/CE reminded the Commission that at its meeting held on 25 November 2014, initial consideration had been given to the potential of indicating an interest, without commitment, in participating in the voluntary exit scheme currently being developed by the NI Civil Service. The Clerk/CE also advised that the Commission’s position may be of interest to the Finance Minister and drew Members attention to the correspondence received from Civil Service Pensions on 14 November 2014. Following consideration, Members agreed that an expression of interest should be declared, without commitment to Civil Service Pensions.
- Letter to be drafted for the Civil Service Pensions highlighting an expression of interest in the scheme without commitment.
- Assembly Secretariat Staff Pay Award 2014
The Clerk/CE informed the Commission that the annual pay award for Secretariat staff was due to be considered at the Commission’s November 2014 meeting but had been deferred and rescheduled for consideration at the Commission Meeting on 10 December 2014. He highlighted that the reason for highlighting today was two-fold in that it has a direct impact on the 2015/16 budget and a desire on the part of staff and NIPSA for an early decision. The Clerk/CE provided information on the current pay offer within the NICS and advised that the offer would be implemented within the NICS without further negotiation. Following consideration, Members requested a paper for their next meeting outlining further detail on the NICS pay award, including consideration by the Executive and detail of any further negotiation process with NIPSA by NICS.
- Further paper to be brought to the next Commission meeting relating to the annual pay award for secretariat staff. Paper to detail any response from the Executive in relation to NICS pay award and an outline of the negotiations with TUS.
4. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
4.1 Timings relating to the next Commission Meeting
Members agreed to convene the next meeting of the Assembly Commission at the earlier time of 1.30pm on 10 December 2014.
5. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The next meeting to take place on Wednesday, 10 December 2014 at 1.30pm in Room 106, chaired by Mr Pat Ramsey MLA
The meeting concluded at 4.55pm