Minutes of Proceedings
Date: 10 March 2015
No apologies were received
2. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
Members declared an interest as recipients of remuneration and allowances as MLAs.
The Speaker welcomed Members to the meeting and reminded them that unlike the workshop held on 6 March 2015, they were in a formal meeting and that minutes would be taken accordingly.
The Speaker recapped the work undertaken by the Commission to date in its consideration of SP15+ culminating in a revised paper being distributed to Members on Monday 9 March 2015.
Members were reminded that they were present to consider the issues at a strategic level and that the implementation of any policy direction would be undertaken by the Secretariat Management Group (SMG).
As an overview of the proposed budget reductions, the Clerk / Chief Executive (Clerk / CE) provided members with a copy of the revised draft budget figures for 2015/16 following the workshop on 6 March 2015.
There followed some discussion to clarify key details within the proposed budget reductions:
- Childcare costs are included in the staff salary figures.
- Broadening any voluntary exit scheme would lead to delays in processing applicants due to the added bureaucracy and staffing pressures according to Civil Service Pensions advice.
Members were reminded that as Accounting Officer, the Clerk / CE had to ensure a balanced budget for 2015-16.
The Clerk / CE provided members with details of staffing trends since 2007 and noted that there had been a slight increase in staffing numbers in 2015-16 to facilitate new initiatives and specific projects. He also noted that due to vacancies and long term absences, some agency workers will always be required to meet service levels. He emphasised that, while efforts will continue to be as efficient as possible, any reduction in staffing will reduce service levels.
6. FURTHER SUBMISSION ON BUDGET PLANNING
The Speaker invited the Director of Clerking and Reporting, Gareth McGrath to talk Members through the revised paper he had produced following the SP15+ workshop on Friday 6 March 2015.
Mr McGrath informed members that he had revisited the balance in reductions between Staffing Costs and Administrative Costs. He also presented models for different percentage reductions in the Financial Assistance for Political Parties (FAPP). There followed discussions on the paper.
6.1 Members first discussed the possible reduction in FAPP for 2015-16. A range of issues were raised including the fact that a cut in FAPP would most probably lead to redundancies amongst Party Support staff who have less favourable terms of employment that permanent members of staff employed by the Commission. Mrs Cochrane observed that she believed that reductions in FAPP would hit some parties harder than others due to the mechanism and that reductions in consumables would affect MLAs more evenly. She also felt a review of the FAPP system is required. Ms Ruane believed that a ten per cent reduction in FAPP was preferable to give greater protection to service levels across the Assembly. Mr Weir supported a review of FAPP but in the interests of the 2015-16 Budget, he believed a three per cent reduction was appropriate.
The Clerk / CE reminded Members that any alterations to FAPP would require a motion in the Assembly.
The meeting adjourned at 1.30pm.
The meeting reconvened at 2.00pm
Mr Ramsey agreed with a reduction of 3% to FAPP and expressed concern that the Assembly had some agency staff who had worked in Parliament Buildings for a number of years.
Decision: Members agreed that in the medium term, the FAPP system should be reviewed.
6.2 There followed a discussion on reducing administrative costs. Mr Weir accepted the need for a reduction in office consumables and felt a 25% reduction would be appropriate. The Director of Facilities, Mr Stephen Welch clarified the areas covered in this topic.
6.3 The reduction in Permanent Assembly Staff was considered next. It was confirmed that the revised staff reduction target of twelve meant that the Voluntary Exit Scheme would be open to all Secretariat staff. Civil Service Pensions have confirmed that there would be some delay in processing this amount of applications (should they come in) due to the high volume of work already with them with more anticipated. Ms Ruane stated her belief that five was a preferable target figure to protect services.
6.4 Members then discussed the proposed reduction in the number of agency workers working for the Commission. Ms Ruane stated her belief that the revised modelled figure of twenty fewer agency staff represented too great a reduction and that jobs must be protected. There followed some discussion on the ramifications, including for staff of contractors, of transferring this budget reduction to other areas of the business.
Ms Ruane expressed her belief that there were further cost savings to be realised from reviewing the charging arrangements and the extent of PSNI presence at Stormont, even if these could not be realised for the 2015-16 budget.
Decision: Members agreed to a further review of the cost of the PSNI presence at Parliament Buildings.
6.5 The next issue to be discussed was the Members and Secretariat Staff Childcare Schemes. Members were advised that the staff scheme was unique to the Commission.. The Commission is obliged to provide a scheme, but the terms of the scheme are for the Commission to decide. Mr Ramsey observed that any change to the scheme would impact disproportionately on the lower paid. Mr Weir added that it is important that the Members Childcare scheme is no more generous than that offered to Secretariat staff.
Decision: The current Members and Secretariat Childcare schemes should be replaced. Staff should be able to avail of the current government salary sacrifice scheme or the incoming government backed scheme.
Actions: The Commission to write to the Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP) to state its backing for the ending of the Current Members Childcare Scheme and the move to the same schemes that are to be offered to Secretariat staff.
6.6 Members agreed to the proposed measures to reduce the costs of Secretariat staff overtime.
6.7 Members then voted on the following three proposals:
Mrs Cochrane proposed a vote to maintain the current funding for FAPP.
Members voted as follows:
0% reduction Mrs Cochrane 8 votes
3% reduction Mr Weir, Mr Gardiner and Mr Ramsey 68 votes
10% reduction Ms Ruane 28 votes
Decision: FAPP for 2015-16 to be reduced by 3%.
Action: Officials to prepare motion for revised FAPP scheme reflecting 3% reduction
Mr Weir proposed a 25% reduction in the MLAs’ consumables budget.
Members voted as follows:
25% reduction Mr Gardiner, Mr Ramsey and Mr Weir 68 votes
50% reduction Mrs Cochrane and Ms Ruane 36 votes
Decision: To reduce the consumables budget by 25%.
Mrs Cochrane proposed to accept the proposed staffing options for 2015-16.
Members voted as follows:
To accept Mrs Cochrane, Mr Gardiner, Mr Ramsey and Mr Weir 78 votes
To reject Ms Ruane 28 votes
Decision: To impose the staffing reduction modelled in the revised paper
Dr McGrath informed Commission Members that he would prepare a summary paper based on the decisions above for the next meeting to allow a final decision on the 2015-16 budget.
7. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
7.1 The Clerk /CE reminded Members of upcoming strike action by members of NIPSA on Friday 13 March.
7.2 The Clerk / CE reminded Members of the item regarding the renewal of the Commission’s insurance which was issued by correspondence. All responses should be sent to the Commission Office by close of play on Wednesday 11 March.
7.3 The Clerk / CE informed Members of the need to agree a panel for the recruitment of the proposed Northern Ireland Public Service Ombudsperson and that he would speak to Members prior to the next meeting.
The meeting concluded at 3.05pm.