Minutes of Proceedings
Date: 04 November 2015
Apologies were received from Mrs Cochrane and Mr Gardiner.
2. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
3. CHAIRPERSON'S BUSINESS
The Speaker advised of a full agenda and asked both Members and Officials to be mindful of time.
The Speaker also took the opportunity to congratulate Mr John Stewart on his new position at Queens University and wished him all the best for his new role.
The Speaker informed the Commission that he had offered Mrs Cochrane the best wishes of the Commission on hearing of her father's illness.
4. MINUTES OF MEETINGS
22 September 2015
The minutes were agreed for publication.
Action: Publish minutes.
20 October 2015
The minutes were agreed for publication.
Action: Publish minutes.
Restricted minutes for the meetings on 22 September 2015, 6 October 2015 and 20 October 2015 were agreed by Members. These are not for publication.
Ms McDonnell, Head of Human Resources joined the meeting for agenda item 5.
5. MATTERS ARISING
5.1 Childcare Scheme Update
The Speaker welcomed Ms McDonnell to the meeting.
Mr R Stewart, Director of Corporate Services, spoke to the paper on the Assembly Childcare Allowance Scheme. He informed Members that Raise had conducted a review of the Section 75 Screening Form. Mitigating measures to assist with people working late and those with children with disabilities were proposed.
Members raised concerns that an EQIA wasn't being considered though they understood that an EQIA would mean additional expense and time.
Ms McDonnell informed Members that a meeting with TUS was scheduled for 5 November and that following this, the Commission could consult with the Equality Commission on the appropriateness or otherwise of an EQIA.
Agreed: Members agreed to consult with TUS and the Equality Commission.
Action: Mr R Stewart to brief TUS on discussions regarding the Childcare Scheme and then seek opinions of the Equality Commission on the revised Screening Report.
Action: Mr R Stewart to update the Commission at its next meeting of the Equality Commission's views.
6.1 The Commission noted correspondence between Mr Trevor Clarke MLA, Chair to the Regional Development Committee and the Speaker regarding the Assembly Cycle to Work Scheme.
The Speaker advised Members that this issue would be discussed at Agenda item 8.
6.2 The Commission noted correspondence from Mr Jimmy Spratt, former Chair of the Committee on Standards and Privileges requesting action on the following 2 recommendations in the Committee's review of the Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members as noted and agreed by the Assembly on 23 June 2015:
1. Review of Staff/Member Protocol to take account of Rule 15 in the new Code of Conduct; and
2. Introduction of a new Code of Conduct for Members' staff at the start of the new mandate.
Agreed: Members were content for Officials to progress the two recommendations.
Action: Mr R Stewart to progress the two recommendations from the Chair of the Committee on Standards and Privileges.
7. CLERK/CE KEY UPDATE REPORT
The Clerk/Chief Executive provided Members with an update on the key issues in his monthly report namely:
7.1 Management Accounts - 2015/16
Members noted Management Accounts for the period April to September 2015 and the Department of Finance and Personnel's request for a return on the November Monitoring Round at short notice.
7.2 Members Survey Action Plan Progress Report
The Clerk/Chief Executive provided Members with the first six-monthly update of the Progress Report.
Ms Ruane expressed concern that not enough had been done to address equality and stated that she would like to see a more pro-active approach by the Assembly, not just the Commission, to dealing with the issues raised in this area. Ms Ruane also felt that something should be added to the Action Plan in relation to 'Flags'.
Action: Mr McGrath, Director of Clerking and Reporting, to add a reference to 'Flags' to the Members Survey Action Plan document including reference to EQIA and revised policy.
7.3 Engagement of Agency Staff post VES
The Clerk/Chief Executive informed members that legal advice had been taken regarding the possibility of former employees returning to work for the Commission shortly after accepting a severance payment under the Voluntary Exit Scheme.
A one year 'standard exclusion period' before former employees who leave under any VES scheme could return as agency staff was suggested.
Agreed: Members agreed to the one year exclusion period.
Action: Mr R Stewart, to instruct Brook Street (UK) Ltd to implement one year standard exclusion period for staff leaving under VES arrangement.
Action: Mr R Stewart to provide Members with written details on the business case for the 10 current agency staff in post.
Mr P Ramsey left the meeting at 1.52pm
7.4 Business Plan Monitoring
The Clerk/Chief Executive highlighted the excellent performance of staff in delivering Business Plans for the six months up to the end of September 2015. However, he advised that this level of performance would be difficult to maintain in the second half of the year due to reducing staff numbers following the Voluntary Exit Scheme and the end of mandate pressures due to the heavy legislative programme. As an example, he referred to difficulties that Raise was experiencing in meeting their usual high service standards due to staffing cuts and that a priority was now being given to research for legislation. He also referred to increased pressure on staff and that he was having to adjust governance activities to maximise resources for service delivery.
The Clerk/Chief Executive drew comparison with the impact of public sector expenditure cuts on other devolved legislatures. Over the past 5 years the Commission's budget had been reduced by 14.2% in cash terms compared with a reduction of 9.5% and an increase of 11.6% respectively in Scotland and Wales. The Commission's staffing levels had been reduced over this period by 17% as compared to a reduction of 5.7% and an increase of 30.7% in Scotland and Wales respectively. It was noted that the increase in Wales was partly due to previously contracted out IT services being taken back in-house.
Ms Caul, Acting Director of Legal and Governance, left the meeting for agenda item 7.5.
7.5 Recruitment of Director of Legal and Governance Services
The Clerk/Chief Executive advised Members that the process to recruit a new Acting Director of Legal and Governance Services is planned to commence before the end of November 2015 and that a Commission Member was required for the panel. The Clerk/Chief Executive referred to the nature and frequency of advice which the Speaker received from the Director. Ms Ruane's interest in serving on the panel was noted.
Action: The Clerk/Chief Executive, to take forward the appointment of a Commission Member to the recruitment panel for Director of Legal and Governance Services.
Ms Caul re-joined the meeting for agenda item 7.6.
7.6 List of all Events sponsored by Assembly Officials
Mr P Ramsey re-joined the meeting at 1.58pm
The Clerk/Chief Executive asked Members to note the list of all events sponsored by Assembly Officials and if they still wished to continue to receive such lists in the future.
Agreed: Members were content to no longer receive the list of events on a monthly basis but for them to be available if required.
Action: Mr Welch, to end the provision of monthly list of events sponsored by Assembly Officials.
8. ASSEMBLY CYCLE TO WORK SCHEME
The Speaker referred Members to the Regional Development Committee under item 6.1. The Committee asked the Commission to consider opening their Scheme to new entrants all year round.
Mr Welch, Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House, provided Members with background on the current scheme; research undertaken in relation to schemes adopted by other public bodies and four HMRC approved options.
Action: Mr Welch to provide additional detail to inform the Commission's decision. Option Three which passes administration of the scheme to a third party at no cost to the Commission with possible year round entry was approved subject to receipt of the additional information.
Mr Sebastien Mingout, Support Services Manager, joined the meeting for item 9.
Ms Ruane left the meeting at 2.06pm
9. REVIEW OF SUMMER INITIATIVE – PUBLIC DINING
The Speaker welcomed Mr Mingout to the meeting.
Mr Mingout advised Members on the success of the Summer Initiative and sought agreement to continue providing Public Dining facilities during the recess periods and during the period of dissolution in the run-up to the Assembly elections.
Ms Bradley praised the initiative and suggested offering gift vouchers for afternoon tea.
Members noted and congratulated Mr Mingout on a very successful initiative.
This item was agreed when Ms Ruane returned to the meeting at 2.13pm.
Agreed: Members agreed to the extension of the Public Dining facilities during recess periods and during the dissolution period in the run-up to the Assembly elections.
Action: Mr Welch, to consider a gift voucher scheme for dining in recess periods.
Action: Mr Welch, to provide public dining facilities during recess and dissolution periods prior to elections in May 2016.
Action: Mr Welch, to prepare a paper on additional revenue generation proposals for December 2015 Commission meeting.
10. DISABILITY ACCESS WITHIN PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS
Mr Welch outlined some of the work undertaken to date and indicated that a paper would be brought to the December Commission meeting on proposed longer term building improvements to facilitate greater disability access.
Mr P Ramsey felt that we should take advantage of the next monitoring round and if possible accelerate changes.
Ms Ruane re-joined the meeting at 2.13pm.
The Speaker agreed that we should proceed with urgency on this request.
Action: Mr Welch, to bring a paper to the next Commission meeting on proposed longer term building improvements to facilitate greater disability access.
Action: Mr Welch and Mr R Stewart to consider the possibility of bidding for substantive building alteration costs in the next monitoring round.
Ms Martin, Deputy Head of Human Resources, joined the meeting for agenda item 11.
11. GENDER ACTION PLAN 2016-18
The Speaker welcomed Ms Martin, Deputy Head of Human Resources to the meeting.
Ms Martin spoke to her paper on the Draft Gender Action Plan 2016-18.
Ms Ruane thanked Ms Martin for all her work on this issue.
Agreed: Members agreed that the Draft Gender Action Plan should be issued to staff for consultation.
Action: Mr J Stewart, Director on Information and Outreach, to issue the Draft Gender Action Plan for staff consultation.
12. EXTERNAL RELATIONS STRATEGY 2013-2016
Mr J Stewart spoke to his paper on the 'External Relations Strategy' seeking approval from the Commission on the revisions to the strategy.
Agreed: Members approved the revised External Relations Strategy.
Action: Mr J Stewart to implement the revised External Relations Strategy.
13. PROTOCOL FOR ANSWERS TO ASSEMBLY QUESTIONS
The Speaker referred Members to a letter and paper on the Protocol for Answer to Assembly Questions that he issued to Members last month. He stated that if the protocol was approved at today's meeting then agenda items 14 and 15 would not be necessary.
The Speaker also stated that as the Protocol deals with the issue of translation of Assembly written questions, then approval would also mean an EQIA on this issue would not be necessary.
Ms Bradley stated that there was no change to her previous stance on this issue.
Ms Ruane stated that she was happy to continue with her proposal to answer questions in both English and Irish.
Ms Ruane's proposal together with an opt-out option for MLAs was put to a vote:
Caitríona Ruane MLA 28 votes
Pat Ramsey MLA 14 votes
Total: 42 votes
Paula Bradley MLA 40 votes
Total: 40 votes
Action: Mr R Ramsey, Adviser to the Speaker / Head of Corporate Support, to implement the Protocol for Answers to Assembly Questions with opt-out option for MLAs.
14. EQUALITY SCREENING REPORT – ASSEMBLY COMMISSION QUESTIONS
This item was not discussed due to agreement being reached at agenda item 13.
15. INFORMATION ON CONDUCTING AN EQUALITY IMPACT ASSESSMENT
This item was not discussed due to agreement being reached at agenda item 13.
16. UPDATE ON CORPORATE LITIGATION AND INSURANCE CLAIMS
Mr R Stewart referred Members to his paper on the Corporate Litigation and Insurance Claims within their packs and asked if they had any comments.
Members, noted the update report.
17. IPSA PEER REVIEW OF THE ADMINISTRATION ON MEMBERS' EXPENSES
The Speaker suggested that Members take more time to consider this issue due to the considerable detail within the review.
Agreed: Members agreed to provide Party input within the next two weeks.
Action: Mr R Stewart to collate Party input by 18 November 2015.
Action: Mr R Stewart to provide IFRP with a copy of the IPSA Review after Commission input received.
18. NORTHERN IRELAND OMBUDSPERSON BILL (NIPSO) – CORRESPONDENCE FROM THE OFMDFM COMMITTEE
The Speaker asked Members to note the correspondence from the OFMdFM committee on the NIPSO Bill.
Mr R Ramsey provided an update on the passage of the NIPSO Bill and the Commission's responsibilities.
Mr P Ramsey was content with the recommendations.
Ms Ruane had issues around the democratic deficit and asked to be kept updated.
Action: Mr R Ramsey to bring a paper to the December meeting to update Members on Commission responsibilities under the NIPSO Bill.
Action: Speaker to issue a letter to OFMdFM Committee reflecting Commission's concerns regarding proposed Commission role in judicial appointments.
19.1 Request to light Parliament Buildings from CO3 for February 2016
Members declined a request to light Parliament Buildings.
Action: Mr Welch to decline the lighting request from CO3.
19.2 The Speaker advised Members that the next Assembly Questions to the Commission would be on Tuesday 24 November and stated that Officials would circulate questions on Thursday 19 November.
19.3 The Speaker also advised Members that the portraits of Seamus Heaney and C S Lewis by Ross Wilson were now complete and it was hoped that there would be an unveiling event on Tuesday 24 November.
19.4 Ms Bradley referred to the AERC 'Review of Women in Public Life' and the recommendation to set up a Women's Caucus.
Mr R Ramsey stated that he had had discussions with Clerking and Reporting and that he would provide and update report for the December meeting.
Action: Mr R Ramsey to update the Commission on the progress of the Women's Caucus and other AERC report recommendations on Women in Public Life.
19.5 Ms Bradley raised the issue of photocopiers around the building left unattended while printing.
Action: Mr Welch to update Ms Bradley regarding unattended photocopying and issue/re-issue guidance to Members/Staff.
20. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The next meeting will take place on Wednesday 2 December 2015 at 1pm in Room 106.
The meeting ended at 2.45pm