Minutes of Proceedings

Session: Session currently unavailable

Date: 05 March 2018

Meeting Venue: Room 30, Parliament Buildings

Meeting date: Monday 5 March 2018

Meeting Time: 2.00pm

Commission Members:

The Speaker
Mr Jim Wells MLA
Mr Alex Maskey MLA
Mr Alex Attwood
Mr Robin Swann MLA
Mr Stewart Dickson MLA

Officials present:

Mrs Lesley Hogg, Ms Tara Caul, Dr Gareth McGrath, Mr Richard Stewart, Mr Robin Ramsey, Ms Frances Leneghan and Mrs Janet Hughes

Others in attendance:

Mr Derek Martin, Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC) Deputy Chairperson

The meeting commenced at 2.09pm.

1. APOLOGIES

No apologies were received.

2. DECLARATION OF INTERESTS

There were no declarations of interest.

3. MINUTES OF MEETING – 31 JANUARY 2018

The minutes from the last Commission meeting on 31 January 2018 were approved for publication.

4. COMMISSION ACTIONS

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

5. CORRESPONDENCE

5.1 The Commission noted a letter received by the Speaker from Kellie Armstrong MLA on the issue of the use of the term ‘Cross Community’, particularly in relation to the Commission’s Events Policy.

Agreement was sought from Members, that officials prepare advice to inform a more detailed discussion on the issue raised, at the next Commission meeting.

Agreed: Members were content for officials to prepare advice for discussion at the next Commission meeting and for a letter to issue to Ms Armstrong, informing her of the Commission’s course of action in relation to the matter raised.

Action: Gareth McGrath, Director of Parliamentary Services, to prepare a paper for discussion at the next Commission meeting regarding Ms Armstrong’s proposed amendments to the Commission’s Events Policy.

Action: Speaker to issue a reply to Ms Armstrong’s letter of 27 February 2018, informing her of the course of action agreed by the Commission in relation to the matter raised.

5.2 The Commission noted correspondence between Chris Lyttle MLA and the Speaker, regarding a proposed Youth Assembly for Northern Ireland.

The Speaker advised Members that Gareth McGrath, Director of Parliamentary Services, would present a paper on the ‘Development of a Youth Assembly’ later in the meeting.

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:

Commission Approach to Staffing Issues

Mrs Hogg updated Members on the number of staff members continuing to carry out Commission activities and those engaged in work in support of other public sector entities both within and outside Parliament Buildings.

Mrs Hogg reminded Members of the planning assumptions that underpin the approach to the current Retaining Readiness principle which were reaffirmed by the Commission at its meeting in January 2018.

Members were content to maintain these assumptions in light of the ongoing political uncertainty.

Management Accounts

Mrs Hogg referred Members to the Management Accounts for January 2018 which forecast the full year’s under-spend at just under £190k.

Financial Assistance for Political Parties Scheme 2016

Mrs Hogg confirmed that in advance of the audit of expenditure which will be carried out by independent external auditors for 2017/18, parties would again be asked to confirm that all expenditure has been incurred solely for the purpose of assisting members of the Assembly who are connected with that party to perform their Assembly duties.

Members’ Salaries

Mrs Hogg informed Members that in line with the Assembly Members (Salaries and Expenses) Determination (Northern Ireland) 2016, MLAs’ salaries are due to increase by £500 from 1 April 2018.

Members expressed their views on this increase. Mr Wells MLA said that he had not had the opportunity to consult with his party on the matter but noted that the issue was not within the Commission’s discretion. It was agreed that a letter should issue to the Secretary of State (SoS), stating the Commission’s view, that in light of the current political circumstances, it would be appropriate for the SoS to take action to ensure that this increase is not made.

Action: Speaker to write to the SoS expressing the Commission’s view in relation to the £500 pay increase due to MLAs on 1 April 2018.

Draft Corporate Strategy 2018 - 2023

Members noted that officials have continued with the development of a new Corporate Strategy in readiness for a return to normal business. Mrs Hogg advised Members that a draft strategy had been agreed by the Secretariat Management Group (SMG) and that staff consultation sessions were currently taking place.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) Telephony Project

Mrs Hogg provided Members with an update on the status of this project since discussion at the Commission meeting on 22 November 2017.

Artefacts

Mrs Hogg confirmed that an invitation to view items belonging to the Commission which are currently held in storage had issued to MLAs on 23 February. An invitation will issue to the media once the level of interest amongst MLAs is established.

Members were advised of a further request from an MLA to view other items owned by the Commission which are on loan or are not publically displayed within Parliament Buildings. Mrs Hogg advised Members that it was not problematic to make those items in Parliament Buildings that are not on public display available for viewing, however, as the other items which are currently out on loan were subject to formal loan agreements, Mrs Hogg did not propose requesting their return.

Members were content that items on loan under a formal loan agreement were not returned to Parliament Buildings for viewing.

Action: Building Services Manager to advise the MLA in question, that the Commission has no plans to request the return of items subject to formal loan agreements to Parliament Buildings for viewing.

7. PAY CLAIM 2017 DECISION

Richard Stewart, Director of Corporate Services, presented this paper seeking the Commission’s decision on the final element of the 2017 pay award in relation to the percentage uplift for staff salaries.

Alex Maskey MLA proposed a 2% uplift. Jim Wells MLA suggested a maximum uplift on salaries of 1%. Alex Attwood highlighted various options to increase the uplift above 2% and encouraged a multi-year award. Other Members supported an uplift of 2%.

Members were asked to vote on the proposal from Mr Maskey MLA of a 2% uplift on staff salaries.

For:

Alex Maskey MLA 27 votes

Alex Attwood 12 votes

Robin Swann MLA 10 votes

Stewart Dickson MLA 8 votes

Total: 57 votes

Against:

Jim Wells MLA 27 votes

Total: 27 votes

The proposal was carried.

Action: Richard Stewart to inform TUS of the Commission’s agreed position on the percentage uplift for staff salaries with effect from 1 August 2017.

Alex Attwood suggested that the Commission needed to think about staff retention and that it should consider reintroduction of an Assembly allowance.

Members requested that officials prepare a paper on the introduction of an Assembly allowance for consideration at the next Commission meeting.

Action: Richard Stewart to prepare a paper for the next Commission meeting on the possible reintroduction of an Assembly allowance.

8. PORTRAITS UPDATE

Robin Ramsey, Adviser to the Speaker/Head of Corporate Support, provided Members with an update on the progress made regarding portraits of former office holders since the last Commission meeting on 31 January 2018.

Mr Ramsey advised Members that the portrait of the former deputy First Minister would be unveiled at an event hosted by the Speaker on 22 March 2018, with invitations issuing shortly.

Members noted that the competition launched in conjunction with the Ulster University School of Photography and Video to commission a student or recent graduate to photograph former Speakers Hay and McLaughlin was progressing, with a launch date to be agreed with the subjects at a future date.

Mr Ramsey also advised Members that initial discussions had taken place regarding the portrait of the former First Minister Peter Robinson but that this would not be progressed until a later date.

The location of portraits currently displayed and those yet to be displayed in Parliament Buildings was discussed. Mr Ramsey proposed displaying all portraits in one area, i.e. in the corridor at the top of the Great Hall staircase and the left and right balcony corridors. Mr Ramsey stated that this area would provide an effective gallery space to display the portraits, with suitable panels and good light from the Great Hall. Mr Ramsey also highlighted that since the introduction of public dining in the Members’ Dining Room there is greater public footfall in this area and that the public tours could be extended to incorporate a visit to the first floor to view this artwork as part of the visitor experience.

Members were content with the progress made in relation to the portraits of former office holders and with the proposed new display location.

9. DEVELOPMENT OF A YOUTH ASSEMBLY

Gareth McGrath presented this paper advising Members that the development of a youth assembly had been a matter under consideration by various Commissions since at least 2009, with a number of challenges being encountered.

Dr McGrath informed Members that, in recognition of the difficulties and disappointment in not introducing the youth assembly over this time, the Commission had pursued a range of other activities in order to engage young people with the business of the Assembly.

Whilst it had been intended to make progress to resolve the issue of a youth assembly this had been impacted by the difficult political environment.

In light of recent interest from MLAs and youth organisations, regarding the development of a youth assembly, Dr McGrath sought agreement from Members to allow officials to work on preparing an options paper regarding the development of a youth assembly, for consideration by the new Commission.

The Commission was content for officials to prepare an options paper for consideration by the new Commission.

Action: Gareth McGrath to prepare an options paper for consideration by the new Commission in due course.

Action: Speaker to issue a further response to Mr Lyttle MLA, updating him on the Commission’s position regarding the development of a youth assembly.

10. CLEARED BY CORRESPONDENCE

Assembly Commission consideration of consultancy expenditure for a comprehensive pay review.

11. DATE OF NEXT MEETING

The next meeting is planned for 30 May 2018.

The meeting concluded at 3.03pm.

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