Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2014/2015

Date: 10 December 2014

 Officials present:                 

Mr T Reaney
Mr R Stewart
Dr G McGrath
Mr S Welch
Mr J Stewart
Mr H Widdis
Mr J Beatty
Mr C Blayney
Mr R Ramsey.

Others in attendance:         

Mr C McKenna (SARC Representative)

1.         APOLOGIES

None.

2.         DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST

The acting Chairperson sought any declarations of interest from the Commission in relation to items of business being discussed.  No items were declared by Members. The Clerk/Chief Executive (Clerk/CE) declared an interest on behalf of staff in respect of the item relating to the annual staff pay award.

3.         CHAIRPERSON’S BUSINESS         

Ms Ruane asked that her concern at the continuing failure to appoint a Speaker be noted.

4.         MINUTES OF MEETINGS

4.1       22 October 2014

Ms Ruane asked for an update on the Breastfeeding Welcome Here scheme. The Clerk/CE told the Commission that the Principal Deputy Speaker had written to the Commission on 13 November 2014 and that the correspondence had been circulated to Members. As regards the Assembly Chamber, the deputy Speakers would look favourably on a Member who may wish to breastfeed during Assembly proceedings, subject to the preservation of good order.

Decision:       The Minutes were agreed.      

4.2       11 November 2014

Ms Ruane asked about her request for a further paper detailing the process followed by staff undertaking the equality screening process. The Clerk/CE told the Commission that a paper on the issue had been sent to Members on 8 December 2014.

Decision:       The Minutes were agreed.

4.3       25 November 2014

4.3.1   Ms Ruane sought an update on the provision of information relating to employees of external companies working in Parliament Buildings, including agency staff. Mr J Stewart said that advice was being sought from the Equality Commission.

4.3.2   The Commission agreed to the Clerk/CE’s proposal to obtain and record three updated sample signatures from each Member as soon as possible.

4.3.3   The Clerk/CE provided Members with an update on Strategic Planning 2015 and Beyond (SP15+). He advised that a Steering Group would be established comprising the Commission Portfolio Member for Corporate Services (Judith Cochrane), the Chair of SARC and possibly an independent member. He also advised that Gareth McGrath would be taking the lead as Programme Director.

Decision:       The Minutes were agreed.

Actions:        

  • To provide information on the fair employment practices of all companies with contracts where employees work in Parliament Buildings. This will include the community backgrounds of these employees, including agency staff.
  • To obtain three updated sample signatures from all MLAs.
  • To progress SP15+ as outlined

4.4       1 DECEMBER 2014

Decision:       The Minutes were agreed.

5.         Matters Arising

5.1       Roof Project – Update

Stephen Welch, Keeper of the House, told the Commission that there had been excellent progress on the roof project and it was on course for completion in May 2015. The work was of a high standard and within budget.

5.2       Draft Letter to the Finance Minister

The acting Chairperson introduced the draft letter and proposed that the Commission should agree to send it. After considering a number of options on the best way forward and their potential implications, the contents of the letter were agreed. Mrs Cochrane specified some areas where she believed immediate savings could be made. The acting Chairperson will sign on behalf of the Commission. If the Finance Minister agreed to the proposed meeting, it was agreed that all Members would attend.  

Decisions:     To send response to Finance Minister.  

All Commission Members to meet Finance Minister if meeting agreed.

5.3       Draft letter to the Chairperson of the Standards and Privileges Committee.

Subject to minor amendments, the Commission agreed to send the proposed letter.

Decision:       To send letter to Chairperson, Standard and Privileges Committee subject to agreed changes.

6.         GENDER ACTION PLAN

The Commission was told that a Gender Action Plan Steering Group had been established following a meeting with the Clerk/Chief Executive on 12 June 2013. The Group conducted research to establish whether there was a prevalence of perceived or actual barriers in relation to gender within the Northern Ireland Assembly Secretariat. Based on the research findings before the Commission today, the Steering Group has recommended that a Gender Action Plan is established for the Assembly Secretariat in order to implement the recommendations identified within the report. The Commission discussed the recommendations and agreed some changes and identified some areas where further information was required. A further paper will be brought to the next meeting.

Actions:       

  • To amend research findings as discussed
  • To provide information on ‘elementary’ occupations and breakdown on basis of grade and Directorate       

7.         CLERK/CE KEY UPDATE REPORT

The Clerk/CE provided Members with an update on the key issues arising in his monthly report namely:

7.1       Management Accounts

Richard Stewart, Director of Corporate Services, provided background to the paper before Members and advised that it was likely that final 2014/15 budgets would be within targets.

7.2       NI Public Services Ombudsperson (NIPSO) Bill

The Clerk/CE drew the Commission’s attention to the correspondence received from the Chairperson from the OFMdFM Committee regarding the proposals for a NI Public Services Ombudsperson (NIPSO) Bill which the Committee hopes to introduce in the Assembly early 2015. The Commission will have a significant role in recruiting the new Ombudsperson.

7.3       Revised Retention and Disposal Schedule

The Clerk/CE told the Assembly Commission that it had previously approved a retention and disposal schedule for records which was laid before the Assembly in December 2011. The Commission also has a Records Management Policy and crucial to the success of the policy is the maintenance of a retention and disposal schedule.  A revised schedule has been prepared to include new records held by the Secretariat and to revise retention rules of existing records as necessary. The revised schedule will be laid before the Assembly following official signature by Permanent Secretary of DCAL, PRONI officials and Clerk/Chief Executive and Secretariat staff.

8.         REVIEW OF SUPPORT SERVICES CONTRACT

8.1       Sebastian Mingout, Support Services Manager joined the meeting at 1.57pm and briefed the Commission on the proposals to renew the Support Services Contract with Eurest. The Commission reviewed suggested changes to the service in order to deliver efficiencies and lower costs. It was agreed to provide details on potential savings identified by Members. Ms Ruane criticised the timing of bringing this issue before the Commission as it would be difficult to retender within the remaining period which was her preferred option. Mr Welch confirmed that the matter had been brought to the Commission in sufficient time to retender the contract, if that was the decision of the Commission. Mr McKenna said that within the private sector it would be normal practice to extend a contract where the performance and delivery had been satisfactory as shorter contracts generally resulted in higher costs.

Mr Weir proposed that

The Commission agrees to Option 2 as outlined within the paper.

The Commission voted as follows:

For:                 Mr Ramsey, Mr Weir, Mr Gardner and Mrs Cochrane = 76 votes

Against:         Ms Ruane = 29 votes

The proposal was agreed

Ms Ruane proposed

‘The Commission agrees to the retendering of the Support Services Contract’

The Commission voted as follows:

For:                 Ms Ruane = 29 votes

Against:         Mr Ramsey, Mr Weir, Mr Gardner and Mrs Cochrane = 76 votes.

The proposal was lost.

Ms Ruane asked the Commission to obtain further information on fair employment practices within Eurest and should involve the Equality Commission, if necessary. The Clerk/CE agreed to bring a paper on this issue to a future meeting.

Decisions:     To extend contract with Eurest for further 24 months implementing cost savings measures to meet 2014/15 revised budget outturn To discuss fair employment practices with Eurest

Actions:

  • To provide further figures on potential savings suggested by Members.
  • To consider how best to review fair employment practices with Eurest pending receipt of Equality Commission response regarding data collection.

8.2       Request from Red Bull to use front steps of Parliament Buildings

Sebastian Mingout said that the Department of Finance and Personnel (DFP) had agreed to a request from Red Bull for use of Stormont grounds for a skating competition. However, this would entail the use of the front steps of Parliament Buildings. The Commission agreed to the request but expressed concern at DFP’s decision without consultation and the perceived commercialisation of the building. Mr Mingout left the meeting at 14.40.      

Decision:       To allow use of Parliament Building’s steps.      

Action:          

  • To discuss decision with DFP.

9.         MEMBERS’ SURVEY

Gareth McGrath, Director of Clerking and Reporting, told the Commission that this paper had been before them previously on 22 October 2014 and it was now back with the recommended changes. The Commission agreed to set 80% as the threshold for preparing an action plan.

Decision:       To set a threshold of 80%.

Action:          

  • To take forward preparation of an action plan based on this threshold.

10.       ENGAGEMENT STRATEGY EQIA

John Stewart presented the paper and advised the Commission that if the Commission agreed the paper, it would go out for consultation. One minor change was identified and the paper was agreed.

Decision:       To begin the consultation process.

Action:                   

  • To amend paper as discussed and begin consultation.

11.       EQUALITY SCREENING REPORT – ASSEMBLY COMMISSION QUESTIONS

The Clerk/CE introduced the paper and said a number of options were before the Commission. In light of the findings, the preferred option was to allow bi-lingual responses in order to mitigate against an adverse impact. Mr Weir expressed some concerns at this approach and said that the full range of mitigating circumstances had not been considered. In particular, he was concerned that as a member of a Body Corporate, how an individual should represent that Body and the position if someone did not wish to receive a bi-lingual response. After a discussion on the issue the Acting Chairperson put the recommendation to the meeting that

‘The Commission agrees to Members providing bi-lingual responses to Assembly Commission Written questions.’                                              

The Commission voted as follows:

For:                 Ms Ruane, Mr Ramsey and Mrs Cochrane = 51 votes

Against:         Mr Weir and Mr Gardner = 54 votes.

The proposal was lost.

Mr Weir requested a paper for the January meeting on the points that he had raised. Ms Ruane expressed her disappointment at this approach.

Decision:       To maintain the current policy on providing responses to Assembly Commission Written questions subject to further discussion at the next meeting of the Commission.

Action:          

  • To provide paper on issues raised by Mr Weir.

12.       PAYMENT OF ALLOWANCES TO ASSEMBLY COMMISSION STAFF

Sinead McDonnell, Head of HR, joined the meeting at 3.05pm and spoke to this paper. Legal advice had been sought and four options were before the Commission to decide on how to proceed. The Commission had concerns at how allowances have continued to be paid following a pay and grading exercise in 2010. It was agreed that a decision could not be made until further information was provided.

Decision:       To defer decision until further information is provided

Action:            To provide further options on way forward, including relevant extracts from contracts of employment of staff, costs of buyout option and TUS response to proposals                 

13.       ANY OTHER BUSINESS

13.1    Correspondence from Ó Muirigh, Solicitors

The Commission considered a letter from Ó Muirigh Solicitors representing Sinn Fein Assembly Members regarding answering written questions bi-lingually. It was agreed that a response would be sent to advise of the decision taken at today’s meeting and that further discussions were planned.

Decision:       To advise solicitor of Commission’s decision and ongoing discussions.

Action:            To draft letter and clear by correspondence.

14.       PAY AWARD 2014

Assembly staff who were not required left the meeting at 3.50pm and the Commission discussedproposals to agree the staff pay award for 2014.

15.       DATE OF NEXT MEETING

The next meeting will take place on Wednesday, 21 January 2015 at 2.00pm in Room 106.

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