Minutes of Proceedings

Session: Session currently unavailable

Date: 05 July 2018

Meeting Venue: Room 106, Parliament Buildings

Meeting date: Thursday 05 July 2018

Meeting Time: 11.00am

Commission Members:

Mr Jim Wells MLA

Mr Alex Maskey MLA (Acting Chairperson) Mr Alex Attwood

Mr Robin Swann MLA Mr Stewart Dickson MLA

Officials present:

Mrs Lesley Hogg, Mr Richard Stewart, Mr Robin Ramsey, Ms Frances Leneghan and Ms Rose Morwood

Others in attendance:

Mr Derek Martin, Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC) Independent Member

The meeting commenced at 11.03am.

 

APPOINTMENT OF A COMMISSION MEMBER TO PRESIDE OVER MEETING.

The Clerk/Chief Executive informed Members that the Speaker would not be present for the meeting due to ill health. In his absence and in accordance with Section 3.6 of the Assembly Commission Handbook, nominations were sought for the appointment of a temporary Chairperson. Mr Attwood proposed the nomination of Mr Maskey to act as Chair for the meeting, no other nominations were made and Mr Maskey was appointed as the Chair.

1. APOLOGIES

An apology was received from the Speaker.

2. DECLARATION OF INTERESTS

There were no declarations of interest.

3. MINUTES OF MEETING – 30 MAY 2018

The minutes from the last Commission meeting on 30 May 2018 were approved for publication.

4. COMMISSION ACTIONS

Lesley Hogg, Clerk/Chief Executive provided Members with an update on actions from the previous Commission meeting.

5. CORRESPONDENCE

The Commission noted two pieces of correspondence relating to artefacts from Alleycats TV and the Siege Museum Ltd.

As this issue is dealt with as a substantive agenda item, the Chair proposed, and Members were content to discuss both pieces of correspondence under that agenda item.

6. CLERK/CHIEF EXECUTIVE KEY UPDATE REPORT

Mrs Hogg provided Members with an update on the key issues which had arisen since the last Commission meeting, namely:

Staffing Update

Mrs Hogg advised Members that the Staff in Post (SiP) figure on 20 June 2018 was 318.6 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) against a complement of 349.4 FTE which was substantially the same as the position reported at the May Commission meeting. Mrs Hogg highlighted that of the 318.6 FTE staff, 162.25 staff are retained on behalf of the Commission to carry out continuing activities,

73.7 FTE staff are physically deployed to another organisation and 61.3 FTE are carrying out work for other organisations while based in Parliament Buildings. Additionally, 13.1 FTE are on maternity or long term sick absence and a further 4.25 FTE are still to be deployed. Mrs Hogg stated and Members noted, that the staff who are still to be deployed are generally covering posts that are vacant due to short term sick absence.

Management Accounts

Mrs Hogg referred Members to the Management Accounts for May 2018 and advised that, since the last Commission meeting, £739k had been surrendered from the opening full year budget in June Monitoring. She explained that in relation to the reduced continuing activities budget which the Commission was internally working to; the full year forecast was £278k below the anticipated expenditure.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) Telephony Project

Mrs Hogg advised Members that due to the recent Cyber security attack and the demands on Legal Services that the timetable of a mid-March competition start date had been delayed. Mrs Hogg stated that it is anticipated that the procurement competition will commence late summer.

General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) Update

Mrs Hogg updated Members on the progress made in relation to GDPR and advised Members that the GDPR Project Team, Project Board and Secretariat had worked hard to ensure compliance with GDPR which came into effect on 25 May 2018.

Mr Wells raised the issue of monthly expenditure reports issued by the Finance Office which he had received by recorded delivery since the introduction of GDPR, expressing the view that this was a waste of money.

Mr Swann confirmed that he had also received monthly expenditure reports by recorded delivery and had contacted the Finance Office directly requesting that the reports not be issued by recorded delivery.

Mrs Hogg said that she was not aware of this and agreed to follow up and report back to the next meeting.

Action: Richard Stewart, Director of Corporate Services, to consider the use of recorded delivery for correspondence with Members.

Pre-Action Protocol

Mrs Hogg advised Members that a Judicial Review Pre-Action Protocol letter had been received from a now former MLA alleging that Commission staff have interpreted the Assembly Members’ (Salaries and Expenses) Determination (Northern Ireland) 2016 in an unlawful manner and that a response had been submitted.

Mr Dickson stated that this was a serious issue that involved a former Member of his Party, that the interpretation applied by officials in this specific case had wide ranging ramifications for all MLAs and could result in a significant cost to the former Member, that the Clerk/Chief Executive should not solely be able to make decisions of the financial magnitude involved and that the former Member had proposed a compromise.

Mr Dickson asked when Commission Members would be advised if a complaint about a decision made relating to the Determination was received, when the Commission would be notified about legal proceedings, and the process for issuing responses in the Commission’s name. He stated that the response to the Pre-Action Protocol letter should have come to the Commission for approval.

Mrs Hogg explained that, the implementation and administration of Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP) Determinations is delegated to officials as set out in the Administrative Guide to Claiming Financial Support, that Commission Members are advised of legal proceedings with updates provided at Commission meetings and that Commission Members have not previously sought to input into legal responses or to make decisions on Determinations.

Mrs Hogg explained that this was a Judicial Review Pre-Action Protocol letter and that legal proceedings had not been issued and may not be issued. She also highlighted that proceedings and responses were issued in the name of the Commission as the corporate body and that reference to the Commission was to the corporate body rather than individual Commission Members. Mrs Hogg said that the Determination carries the weight of secondary legislation and that if an MLA did not comply with the provisions of the Determination, a compromise settlement was not appropriate.

Mr Wells stated that an MLA can appeal a decision taken by officials relating to a Determination through the appeal process and that this happened all the time. Mr Wells advised that when the Assembly passed the legislation establishing the IFRP it specifically made it independent so that MLAs had no involvement in setting Members’ salary and expenses and the Commission would need to be very careful about becoming involved in Determination issues. The Commission could not affect the Determination where the Determination said that rent will be withheld if signage is not compliant.

Mr Maskey stated that Commission Members did not need a formal input into a legal case as the case would be taken against the Commission as a corporate entity but asked whether Commission Members could be held personally liable for something they had no control over and at what point did the Commission need to be informed.

Mr Attwood stated that there appeared to be three issues. Firstly, was the appeal process conducted in accordance with the established procedures? Secondly, is there or should there be a threshold, in policy terms rather than financial limits, for advising the Commission of the potential for legal action, for example, on receipt of a Pre-Action Protocol letter?  Lastly, whether there should be a role for Commission Members when legal proceedings are initiated. Mr Attwood stated that the process in place was the one that was followed and that Commission Members needed to be cautious about becoming involved in decisions regarding the Determination.

Mr Swann stated that he was concerned that the Key Update Report stated that “The Commission has received a pre-action protocol letter…” when Commission Members had not had sight of anything until now and a response had already been submitted.

Mr Dickson said that he was not disputing the Determination, that his issue was over the interpretation of the Determination and that when it goes to court the claim will be upheld. He said he genuinely believed that Commission Members needed to be fully and urgently appraised of the circumstances, that there was still time to pursue an agreement in this specific case and that all steps should be taken to reach a resolution.

The Chair asked if a report could be provided. It was agreed that a paper outlining the role of Commission Members in interpreting a Determination, the appeal process as it currently stands and whether (or when) Commission Members should be notified of possible legal action would be prepared for circulation to Commission Members before the next meeting.

Agreed: A paper setting out the role of Commission Members in interpreting a Determination, the appeal process as it currently stands and whether (or when) Commission Members should be notified of possible legal action to be circulated prior to the next Commission meeting.

Action: Mrs Hogg to arrange for a paper to be drafted and circulated.

Request for Increase in Email Accounts for MLAs

Mrs Hogg advised Members that as a result of a request to increase the number of Assembly email addresses supplied to MLAs to a maximum of 5, the Head of the Information Systems Office had reviewed the provision in other legislatures and costed the proposal. Given the minimal cost involved the Secretariat Management Group (SMG) had approved a recommendation from the Head of IS for the provision of two additional accounts to each MLA which would result in a maximum of 5 email accounts and that IS was in the process of informing MLAs of this new facility.

Corporate Risk Register

Mrs Hogg updated Members on the significant revision of the contents of the Corporate Risk Register, with headline risks now more closely aligned to an “event or uncertainty”.

Members noted the changes to the Corporate Risk Register.

Broadcasting and Related Services Contract Variation

Mrs Hogg advised Members that legal and procurement advice was still being sought in relation to options to further vary the Broadcasting and Related Services Contract and that options would be presented to the Commission once this advice had been obtained and duly considered.

Tax Liability in Relation to Sundry Expenses

Mrs Hogg informed Members that HMRC had undertaken a tax inspection and correspondence had now been received in relation to a tax liability arising from payments to MLAs for sundry constituency office operating expenses. At this stage a liability of £41,000 has been identified and talks have commenced with HMRC in order to reduce the liability. Future claims for sundry constituency office operating expenses will need to be accompanied by receipts or invoices if MLAs wish to avoid tax and National Insurance deductions on these payments.

Mr Wells stated that depending on the service provided it was often very difficult to obtain a receipt from the provider.

Mr Swann stated that there was a need to provide guidance to MLAs in relation to production of receipts for sundry expenses.

Following discussion Members agreed that guidance was required and Mrs Hogg advised that the Finance Office will be writing to all MLAs.

Action: Finance Office to write to all MLAs regarding sundry constituency office operating expenses.

7. CORPORATE STRATEGY 2018 - 2023

Mrs Hogg, introduced a paper on a new Corporate Strategy for 2018 - 2023 confirming that an extensive process of staff engagement had taken place. Mrs Hogg outlined that while full approval would be sought from the newly appointed Assembly Commission as the Strategy is designed for a return to normal business, the Commission was being consulted on the draft to ensure that there were no objections to its content to allow it to be used to guide business planning for 2018-2019. Using the draft Strategy as a framework for business planning before it can be fully approved would give assurance for business planning in the interim period. Mrs Hogg asked Robin Ramsey, Adviser to the Speaker/Head of Corporate Support, to provide Members with a summary on the development of the Strategy.

Mr Ramsey spoke to the paper outlining that the Strategy had been driven by staff consultation and that four key elements of people, service, public engagement and parliamentary culture had emerged along with the values of professionalism, respect, impartiality and integrity which were now incorporated into the draft Strategy.

Mr Wells asked if there was any legal impediment from stopping the Commission taking decisions.

Mr Attwood stated that the longer the current Commission was in place the more likely it was that decisions would have to be taken.

Following discussion, Members having noted the background to the development of the Strategy, had no objections to the draft strategy and agreed:

(a) That formal Assembly Commission approval for the draft strategy will not be sought until the Assembly resumes normal business and a new Commission is appointed;

(b) That the five-year period of operation will not commence until formal approval is obtained; and

(c) That the Secretariat produce a 2018 – 2019 Corporate Plan reflecting the key elements of the draft Corporate Strategy.

8. SALARY BENCHMARKING REPORT

Mr Stewart presented a paper on the findings of the recently completed benchmarking report on the review of Secretariat salaries which also included the re-submitted Commission paper AC0709 (Assembly Allowance) in light of the benchmarking report and details of the Commission’s earlier discussions on pay recovery.

Mr Stewart referred Members to the report and accompanying papers and noted that these were matters of pay policy where guidance from Members was sought.

Following discussion Members agreed to consider further a strategic approach to pay policy and deal with this at a later date to enable adequate time for due consideration.

Action: Specific agenda item on pay policy to be included in future Commission Agenda.

9. PROPOSED AMENDMENTS TO THE EVENTS POLICY

Mrs Hogg referred Members to the May 2018 Commission meeting when it was agreed that officials would prepare an expanded paper in order to give due consideration to a request received from an MLA regarding the “use of the term ‘Cross Community’ in relation to the Assembly Commission’s Events Policy.”

Mrs Hogg explained that there were now at least five options open to the Assembly Commission which were set out in the paper to aid discussion.

Option 1 continue with the current policy requiring the sponsoring Member to secure the support of at least one MLA designating as ‘nationalist’

AND  one MLA designating as ‘unionist’ in addition to the sponsoring Member (three signatures in total).

Option 2 Amend the current policy to require the sponsoring Member to secure the support of two other MLAs from two different designations to the sponsoring Member so that the event will be sponsored by one MLA designating as ‘nationalist’ AND one MLA designating as ‘unionist’ AND one designating as ‘other’. (Three signatures in total).

Option 3 Amend the current policy to require the sponsoring Member to secure the support of one other MLA who must be of a different designation to the sponsoring MLA. (Two signatures in total).

Option 4 Amend the current policy to require the sponsoring Member to secure the support of at least one MLA designating as ‘nationalist’ AND one MLA designating as ‘unionist’ AND one other MLA, but encourage the sponsoring MLA to seek the signature of an MLA designated as ‘other’. (Three signatures in total).

Option 5 Remove the requirement for cross-designation support entirely, meaning that an MLA can sponsor an event in Parliament Buildings and its grounds on the basis of his or her support alone. (One signature in total).

Mr Wells and Mr Swann initially expressed their preference for Option 1 while Mr Dickson stated his preference for Option 2.

Following consideration, Members agreed to Option 4, they further agreed that the change to the policy should take effect immediately.

Agreed: Members agreed to amend the Events Policy with immediate effect in relation to the sponsorship of events which would now require the sponsoring Member to secure the support of at least one Member designating as ‘nationalist’ and one Member designating as ‘unionist’ and one other Member, but encourage the sponsoring Member to seek the signature of an MLA designated as ‘other’. (Three signatures in total.)

Action: Mrs Hogg to arrange for MLAs and Events Office staff to be advised of revision to the policy.

10. PROPOSAL FOR AN EXHIBITION AND REQUESTS FOR LOANS OF ASSEMBLY ARTEFACTS

Mr Stewart presented a paper on a proposal for an exhibition of Assembly Artefacts in Parliament Buildings for a limited period and requests for the loan of artefacts to a number of organisations.

Mr Stewart advised Members that the cost for transporting the artefacts and for cleaning would be in the region of £2k and that the exhibition could take place in the Members’ Coffee Lounge. A small card would be placed beside each artefact for identification purposes and Ushering staff could be delegated to oversee the exhibition.

Mr Stewart also advised Members that a number of requests had been received for the loan of a number of artefacts and a further request had been received for the loan of the painting by William Conor of the State Opening of Parliament for a week in September.

Mr Dickson proposed that in addition to the artefacts held in storage artefacts located in the First Minister’s Office and the book containing the names of the civilian war dead held in the Speaker’s Office should also be included in the exhibition.

Mr Dickson further proposed that following the conclusion of the exhibition the artefacts from the First Minister’s Office should be retained in storage until a First Minister was in place.

Mr Wells stated that he did not support the removal of artefacts from the First Minister’s Office on a permanent basis.

Mr Swann stated that the proposal was for the retention of the artefacts in storage until a First Minister was in place.

Mr Maskey stated that he was not in favour of an exhibition but was happy to accede to the requests for the loan of artefacts.

Following discussion Mr Wells formally proposed that an exhibition be held in the building for a period of four weeks and that it be advertised by way of a press release, Members with the exception of Mr Maskey agreed to this proposal.

In relation to requests for the long term loan of artefacts, Members agreed that requests should be deferred until after the exhibition had taken place but that the loan of the small painting of the State Opening of Parliament by William Conor for one week in September be approved.

Agreed: That an exhibition of artefacts should be permitted for a period of 4 weeks and should include the artefacts in the First Minister’s Office and the book containing the names of the civilian war dead held in the Speaker’s Office;

That the exhibition should be publicised by way of a press release;

That requests for the loan of artefacts should be deferred until after the exhibition has taken place; and

The loan of the small painting of the State Opening of Parliament by William Conor for a week in September be approved.

Action: Mr Stewart to liaise with Building Services in relation to implementation of the Commission’s decisions.

Buildings Services to liaise with the Executive Office in relation to the exhibition of the artefacts in the First Minister’s Office.

Building Services to liaise with the Communications Office regarding advertising the exhibition and the Events Office in relation to updating the tour transcript.

11. COMMISSION APPROACH TO DECADE OF CENTENARY EVENTS DURING THE POLITICAL IMPASSE: AGREED REVIEW OF CURRENT POSITION

Mr Ramsey presented this paper. He sought approval from the Commission, in light of the current political situation, to agree to continue with the Commission decision taken in November 2017, namely that the historic anniversaries policy not be initiated for this mandate until the Assembly appoints a successor Commission.

The Commission noted that previous centenary commemorations at the Assembly had been handled in a sensitive manner, that a number of centenary commemorations would arise in the near future and that an approach to centenaries would need to be considered if the political situation remains unchanged.

Mr Ramsey noted that while the nature of the few centenaries which had occurred so far had enabled the Commission to take a position of not initiating the process, this would be more difficult as time proceeds. Therefore, if the situation had not changed in October, it was likely that he would return with initial proposal on how future centenaries could be managed.

Agreed: Members agreed to continue with the decision that the process of agreeing centenary events to be marked in this mandate not be initiated until the Assembly appoints a successor Commission, but that this approach be reviewed if the political situation has not changed by October 2018.

Action: Mr Ramsey to re-visit the historic anniversaries policy in the new mandate with a successor Commission or October 2018 whichever is earlier.

12. ANNUAL EQUALITY PROGRESS REPORT TO THE EQUALITY COMMISSION 2017-2018

Mr Stewart presented the annual Equality Progress Report for 2017-2018 and sought Members’ approval of the report to be submitted to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI).

Agreed: Members approved the report for submission to the ECNI.

13. GENDER ACTION PLAN – ANNUAL UPDATE: JUNE 2018

Mr Stewart provided Members with an update on the continuing progress on actions in the Gender Action Plan and sought approval to publish the update on the Assembly website.

Agreed: Members approved the update for publication on the Assembly website.

14. ISSUED VIA CORRESPONDENCE

NIPSA letter of 8 March 2018 re Pay Offer 2017.

Request from the NI Confederation for Health & Social Services requesting that Parliament Buildings be lit on 5 July 2018 to mark the 70th anniversary of the NHS.

15. AOB

Mr Swann asked for clarification in relation to an e-mail received during the meeting by a Member in relation to the previous discussion relating to sundry constituency office operating expenses.

Mr Stewart confirmed that the Finance Office would be writing to all MLAs on the matter.

16. DATE OF NEXT MEETING

The next meeting is planned for Wednesday, 3 October 2018.

The meeting concluded at 1.40pm.

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