Minutes of Proceedings
Date: 08 November 2011
Venue: Room 106
Meeting began at 4.25pm
1. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
The Speaker sought any declarations of interest from the Commission in relation to items of business being discussed. Judith Cochrane and Barry McElduff declared an interest in relation to Item 7 (Childcare Scheme). All Members in attendance declared an interest in relation to items 10 & 11 relating to Members Consumables and the Members Financial Services Handbook.
2. CHAIRMAN’S BUSINESS
The Speaker provided Members with an update in relation to the work being undertaken in respect of the Portraits of the previous Speaker, Mrs Eileen Bell, the former First Minister, Mr David Trimble and the former Deputy First Minister, Mr Mark Durkan. The Speaker confirmed that Mrs Bell’s portrait would be unveiled at a ceremony in late November 2011 and that an alternative date was to be confirmed for early 2012 for the unveiling of the remaining two portraits.
The minutes of meeting held on the 27 September 2011 were agreed.
4. MATTERS ARISING
There were no matters arising.
5. CLERK/DG REPORT
The Clerk/Director General provided Members with a brief overview of key issues and developments contained within the report. The Clerk/Director General drew Members attention to the following;
5.1 Corporate Strategy
The Clerk/Director General highlighted to Members that work on the Corporate Strategy has progressed and a draft copy would be presented to Members at the next Commission meeting. He highlighted that the draft would address the Purpose, Vision and Values of the Commission and its Secretariat for the next four years. The Clerk/Director/General confirmed that the three strategic aims emerging within the strategic were:
- To provide outstanding Parliamentary Services;
- To influence, enable and deliver change; and
- To be a lean and progressive organisation.
The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that it was intended that the Corporate Strategy would be implemented through annual Directorate Business Plans. He sought Member’s views on the level of consultation that should be undertaken on the draft document beyond the Commission, Secretariat and the Trade Unions. Members expressed the view that Parties should be involved in the consultation process through their respective Commission Member. It was agreed that a further meeting should also be arranged for Commission Members to consider the detail of taking forward the strategy following sign off.
5.2 Corporate Risk Register
The Clerk/Director General due Members attention to a copy of the Corporate Risk Register and provided an overview in relation to the residual risk assessments. He highlighted that the process to date had proved to be thorough and robust and which was considered as a standing item at all meetings of the Senior Management Group and updated as necessary. Mr Cree sought clarification in relation to defining the inherent and residual risks associated with corporate risk 5: failure to protect the reputation of the Assembly. It was agreed that Mr Mckenna would meet with Mr Cree to provide clarification on this matter.
5.3 Budget Monitoring Round – October 2011
The Clerk/Director General provided Members with an update in relation the Commissions contribution to the October monitoring round. He highlighted that a surplus of £567k was surrendered to the NI Block for redistribution. The acting Director of Facilities also provided Members with an update on the disposal of the Ormiston House site and informed the Commission that bids are still being received and a decision on the planning permission is still awaited.
5.4 National Ballots for Industrial Action
The Clerk/Director General sought Members views on contingency planning in light of NIPSA’s decision to call for industrial action on November 30 2011. Following discussion, the Commission agreed that contingency plans should be enacted to ensure as far as possible the continuation of effective services on that day. It was further agreed that all Members would be kept informed of any developments by means of correspondence.
5.5 New Developments
The Clerk/Director General provided Members with an update on new developments introduced within the Secretariat. It was agreed that further meetings would be arranged for Commission Members to view the new Hansard Digital Audio system and the new security room. It was also noted that a brief presentation on the Assembly’s new website would be presented to the Commission at the end of the next meeting.
The Clerk/Director General informed Members that the plans for the introduction of post office facilities were progressing and should be introduced prior to the Christmas Recess. The acting Director of Facilities provided the Commission with a brief overview of the intended services to be introduced within the post office facility and it was agreed that a memo would be issued to Members outlining the range of services to be provided.
6. CHILDCARE SCHEME
The Director of Corporate Services declared an interest in respect of the Childcare Scheme and provided members with an overview of the Assembly’s current childcare scheme. Following consideration, it was agreed that a further options paper would be brought to the next meeting showing the impact on costs arising from a change to the current scheme. The paper is to include reasonable assumptions regarding the impact on specific groups of staff if a childcare voucher scheme was adopted.
7. STANDARDS OF CONDUCT POLICY
The Director of Corporate Services provided Members with the background information in relation to the rules relating to the political activity of Assembly Commission employees. Following consideration, Members agreed that the draft policy should be amended to reflect that an employee of the Commission does not need to request permission from the Head of Human Resources to a ‘passive’ member of a political party.
Mr James Gilsenan joined the meeting
8. INTERNAL GOOD RELATIONS AUDIT – FINAL REPORT
The Head of the Commission and Corporate Support Unit provided an update to Members with regards to the undertaking of the Internal Good Relations Audit. He highlighted that the audit was carried out by Holywell Consultancy during 2011 to help assist the Commission in carrying out one of the statutory duties; namely Section 75 (2) (regard to “the desirability of promoting Good Relations” between persons of different religious belief, political opinion or racial group). Mr Logue further highlighted that the purpose of the audit was to measure the extent to which the Assembly was meeting the Good Relations Duty and to identify any actual or perceived barriers.
Mr McElduff highlighted that there were some difficult issues to be addressed in relation to Good Relations but there was also a requirement for the Commission as the corporate body to take forward. He highlighted that certain emblems and symbols within the environs of Parliament Buildings presented a particular challenge to the Commission. Following further consideration it was agreed that Members would consult with their Parties on the draft Internal Good Relations Audit and feedback any comments to the next meeting. Mr Logue also informed Members that he would provide an update in relation to monitoring against the Commission’s Good Relations action plan at the next meeting.
Mr James Gilsenan left the meeting
9. MEMBERS CONSUMABLES
The acting Director of Facilities provided Members with an update on the current system for providing Members with office consumables and outlined possible options for improving governance around the issue. Members noted comments and recommendations put forward by the NIAO in respect of its audit on the 2010/11 Annual Accounts.
Following discussion in which Mr McKenna highlighted the risks associated with the matter, it was agreed that a further options paper should be drafted and brought to the next meeting detailing the impact of applying a range of capped figures to improve the governance arrangements and reduce potential expenditure. Mr Cree also highlighted that he had experienced several anomalies in his application of the current system and further suggested that the Commission consider the transfer of the system within the boundaries of OCE. Following further discussion it was also agreed that the paper would consider the matter of publishing information on expenditure by Members in relation to office consumables.
10. MEMBERS FINANCIAL SERVICES HANDBOOK
The Director of Corporate Services spoke to a paper in relation to the issues that have been raised regarding the Financial Support for Members’ handbook and the implementation of the new provisions. Mr Stewart highlighted that he had held individual meetings with Commission Members to ascertain their views on a number of matters within the Members Financial Services Handbook and that there had been a consensus view that a number of issues required further consideration, namely;
Mr Stewart explained how at present the current guidance, which limits advertising to strictly factual information only, is somewhat restrictive. Members agreed that the section on advertising should be re-worded to permit Members to produce an annual ‘Assembly Report’ which would inform constituents of the specific work carried out by a Member both at the Assembly and within their constituency. It was further agreed that guidance would contain detail on the range of admissible and inadmissible information including the use of Party logos.
Members discussed the issues that have arisen in the area of the guidance of office signage. The Commission agreed that the section on signage should be expanded and included as a separate section in the Handbook. It was further agreed that the new section would include provision that the predominant Party name or Party logo should be admissible on permanent office signage.
Members discussed the issue of the use of straplines in the context that they were currently prohibited in the Members Handbook. Members agreed that the related section needs to be reworded to allow for certain straplines, for example, non-party political, non-offensive and bland to be permissible. Members requested that clear guidance would need to be devised and issued to this effect to clarify the matter for Members.
10.4 Capital Works
Members discussed the issues that have arisen in respect of the need for the submission of two quotations required for all capital expenditure. It was agreed that minor re-drafting of the related section was required and should include a ceiling value above which two quotations would be required.
The Director of Corporate Services also highlighted that there were a number of outstanding party support contracts and that he would highlight the details of the relevant personnel by means of an email to Members. It was also agreed that this correspondence would emphasise the legal requirement to ensure that all contracts are in place and that Commission Members would draw this to their Parties attention.
The Commission also considered the matter of ensuring that all party staff were paid in line with the minimum wage level and it was agreed that Finance Office in their capacity as payroll administrator for Members and Parties would automatically update pay rates to ensure that all MLAs adhere to their statutory obligations in relation to the minimum wage.
10.5 The Director of Corporate Services agreed to write to Commission Members in advance of the next Commission meeting to summarise what was discussed.
11. UPPER CAR PARK POLICY
The acting Director of Facilities spoke to a paper on upper car parking access in Parliament Buildings. The Commission considered the issue of MP’s, MEP’s and former Members access to the Upper Car Park. Following discussion, the Commission agreed that MP’s and MEP’s would continue to be granted access the Upper Car Parks on an ad hoc basis but would not be issued with an Assembly car parking permit. In relation to Former Assembly Members, the Commission agreed that they would not be entitled to automatic access to the Upper Car Park but could contact Assembly security management prior to their visit to ascertain availability on any given day.
The Commission also considered access to the upper car park by individuals in receipt of a ‘blue badge’ and agreed that they would retain their entitlement to automatic access to the upper car parks at all times. Commission Members also discussed the proposals for access to the upper car parks on medical grounds for those staff not in receipt of a ‘blue badge’. Following consideration, it was agreed that this issue needed further clarification and discussion and to this end Members agreed to consult with party colleagues and staff with a view to considering at the next Commission meeting.
The acting Director of Facilities also proposed several changes to the security policy in relation to upper car park access to enhance the security of Parliament Buildings. The Commission agreed that further meetings with Mr Martin would be required to discuss the detail of the proposed measures to improve security access to the upper car parks.
Mr McElduff also requested that Commission Members receive a formal briefing in relation to wider security matters. Members also sought clarification in relation to security access to the Stormont Estate and the Clerk/Director General informed Members of the Commission’s jurisdiction within the estate and that estate security staff and arrangements for access to the estate were retained under the responsibility of the Department of Finance and Personnel.
12. INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS MATTERS
The Clerk/Director General apologised to Members for the lateness of the paper provided due to ongoing contact with the Trade Union prior to the meeting. The issue related to disagreements regarding the application of the Assembly Secretariat’s Probationary Policy and Procedures and Assembly Commission employee’s right of appeal to the Civil Service Appeal Board, which had not been resolved at the Employee Relations Board. Due to the limited time given for consideration, it was agreed that Members would consider the detail of the matter and revisit at their next meeting.
13. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
No matters were considered under AOB.
14. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
Tuesday 29 November 2011 at 4.00pm
Meeting ended at 6.55pm
Head of the Commission and Corporate Support Unit