Minutes of Proceedings
Date: 04 July 2011
Venue: Room 106
Meeting began at 12.05pm
1. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
The Speaker sought any declarations of interest from the Commission in relation to items of business being discussed. All Members declared an interest in relation to Item 3 relating to OCE matters. Mrs Cochrane also declared that she had a family member who rents premises to an MLA.
The minutes of the 28 June 2011 were agreed without amendment.
The Clerk/Director General drew Members attention to Item 10.1 of the minutes of 28 June 2011 in relation to the appointments to the Independent Financial Review Panel. He confirmed that Mr A McQuillan had resigned from the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC) effective from 10 July 2011. Mr Reaney also informed Members that it was anticipated that the details of the Panel membership would be announced on the 5 July 2011. The Commission agreed to appoint Mr Colm McKenna as acting chair of SARC pending a permanent appointment.
3. IMPLEMENTATION OF REVISED FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR MEMBERS HANDBOOK.
The Director of Corporate Services provided Commission Members with an update in relation to the issues arising out of the implementation of the recommendations in the Commission Report on Financial Support and Pensions for MLAs which was agreed by the Assembly in December 2010 and in particular matters which had been highlighted regarding the process of obtaining independent valuations of constituency offices.
The Commission noted the rationale for the recommendation adopted by the Assembly in December 2010 that an independent valuation should be sought for constituency office rentals and that the independent valuation should form the basis for the amount to be claimed under OCE.
Mr Weir confirmed that he was content that valuations for all premises should continue and upon completion that all findings from the independent valuers should be presented to the Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP) to inform their work on the quantum and qualifying criteria for Office Cost Expenditure (OCE).
Mr McElduff confirmed that he was content with the original recommendation and proposed its full implementation as outlined within the Commission’s Report on Financial Support and Pensions for MLAs.
Mrs Cochrane also confirmed that she was content with the original recommendation but highlighted that a mechanism needed to be sought to ensure that Members are not prevented from obtaining suitable constituency accommodation.
Mr Ramsey highlighted the conflicts of interest which all Commission Members had declared and the need to create clear lines of independence on matters which had already been agreed by the Assembly. Mr Ramsey also noted the need to deal with new Members requiring valuations in a prompt manner.
Mr Cree highlighted that the recommendation had the potential to affect all Members of the Assembly and that the IFRP should consider the issues raised as part of their future work on OCE.
The Commission also noted the issues relating to the practical implementation of the Commission Report’s recommendation, including the possible variation in professional opinion on office rentals and the potential for increasing the cost to the public purse should a Member be forced to vacate their existing premises as a result of the implementation of the recommendation.
Following discussion, the Commission agreed that in order to seek to alleviate these implementation issues and in recognition of the Commission’s role in ensuring that all Members are provided with the range of services required to carry out their functions, a further paper should be drafted to outline the practical aspects of the implementation matters and issued by correspondence for consideration. Mr Cree also suggested the concept of a “business case” to include the cost of relocating to assist in determining a practical level of rental that could be funded from OCE and it was agreed that this would also be considered within the body of the paper.
It was agreed that Members would consider the next paper as a matter of urgency and return their comments for collation to the Commission and Corporate Support Unit to allow for an early resolution.
Mr McElduff requested it to be noted that he felt there was no requirement for further discussions and would be reluctant to arrange a further meeting.
4. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
Clerk/Director General End of year Review
All officials left the meeting, the Clerk/Director General’s End of Year Review was considered. (See attached confidential minute)
5. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The next Commission meeting will take place on Tuesday 27 September 2011 at 4.00pm in Room 106.
Meeting ended at 1.20pm
Head of Commission and Corporate Support Unit