Minutes of Proceedings

Session: Session currently unavailable

Date: 11 April 2019

Meeting Venue: Room 106, Parliament Buildings

Meeting date: Thursday 11 April 2019

Meeting Time: 11.00am

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 Sebastien Mingout, Support Services Manager
Mr Jonathan McMillen, Head of Legal Services
Mr Simon Burrowes, Head of Public Engagement

The meeting commenced at 11.08am.



No apologies were received.



There were no declarations of interest.



The Speaker reminded Members of the meeting scheduled for Monday 15 April with the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO). The briefing paper on the Assembly Commission’s relationship with the NIPSO discussed at the last meeting was re-distributed to Members for reference.

Robin Ramsey, Adviser to the Speaker/Head of Corporate Support, provided Members with an outline of arrangements in relation to a visit by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi and a Congressional delegation in Parliament Buildings on Friday 19 April.

Members were provided with a copy of a letter from the Speaker received from the Secretary of State (SoS) the previous afternoon seeking the assistance of Assembly Commission officials to provide procedural information to parties during the Northern Ireland Office’s continuing contacts with them.

The Speaker was content that the request was consistent with the normal procedural advice provided to Members and parties but wanted to take the opportunity to consult Assembly Commission Members.  Members were content for Assembly Commission officials to provide procedural information as required by Members and parties but were clear that it was not the role of those officials to be involved in the detail of any negotiations.



Draft minutes from the Assembly Commission meeting on 5 February 2019 were issued to Members on 13 March 2019 for consideration. These were agreed.



There were no matters arising.



Members noted the completed actions.

Lesley Hogg, Clerk/Chief Executive, provided an update on two outstanding actions, informing Members of new estimated completion dates of June 2019 for both actions in relation to Inappropriate Behaviours.

In relation to the action regarding ‘options for the development of a Youth Assembly’, Alex Attwood asked Mrs Hogg if these would be presented for consideration before June. Mrs Hogg confirmed that an options paper would be brought to the next Assembly Commission meeting and that a subsequent paper would then be prepared setting out in detail the option preferred by Members.



7.1 Members noted correspondence from Carla Lockhart MLA and the Speaker’s reply. Members were content that officials progress this request subject to any substantive issues being raised or significant expenditure being incurred.

7.2 Members noted the Speaker’s response to Jim Allister MLA following consideration of his letter regarding sundry expenses at the last Assembly Commission meeting.

7.3   & 7.4 Members also noted two items of correspondence from the SoS outlining her intention to apply a technical fix to address an issue relating to MLA expenses which arises as a result of EU Exit. Mrs Hogg confirmed that officials would consider options to deal with the fact that such a fix would cease to apply at the point at which an Executive is formed.

Action: Options paper to be prepared to deal with the fact that a technical fix to address an issue relating to MLA expenses, which arises as a result of EU Exit, would cease to apply at the point at which an Executive is formed.



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

Staffing Update

Mrs Hogg advised Members that the Staff in Post (SiP) figure at 1 April was

308.7 Full Time Equivalents (FTE) against a staff complement of 349.4 FTE. She advised Members that staff numbers were falling by an average of 1-2 per month but confirmed that work has been undertaken to ensure that recruitment activity to fill vacant posts can commence as soon as a return to normal Assembly Commission operations is envisaged.

Mrs Hogg also advised Members of the temporary closure of the Procurement Office due to staffing resource pressures, which in turn has led to two projects being paused. Members noted that arrangements are being progressed to source a temporary AG 5 Procurement Manager.

Update on Pay and Grading Review

Mrs Hogg informed Members that officials had identified a number of key activities that needed to be undertaken as part of the job evaluation, grading and salary benchmarking exercise. She advised Members that the Head of HR was currently carrying out a comprehensive review of the Assembly Commission’s Recruitment and Selection and Induction policies and processes and it was anticipated that the Pay and Grading Review would commence in the latter part of 2019, once this work was completed.

Mr Attwood expressed his disappointment at the lack of progress on the Pay and Grading Review, since agreement for this to be undertaken was granted back in October last year as part of the 2018 pay settlement. He stated that the review of the Recruitment and Selection and Induction policies and processes had not been highlighted as having to be completed before work commenced on the Pay and Grading Review. He was of the opinion that the Pay and Grading Review should commence as a matter of urgency.

Mrs Hogg apologised for not informing Members of the other priority HR work that was being undertaken but stated that completion of the review of the Recruitment and Selection and Induction policies and processes was crucial in readiness for the extensive recruitment that will be required when the Assembly Commission resumes normal business.

Stewart Dickson MLA noted that early engagement with Trade Union Side (TUS) would be key to a successful Pay and Grading Review and sought assurance that TUS would be fully involved. Richard Stewart, Director of Corporate Services highlighted that the 2010 Pay and Grading Review involved a range of forums where consultation and negotiation with TUS took place and that this engagement would be replicated. Mr Stewart also highlighted that the forthcoming review was already part of the regular discussions with TUS. Mrs Hogg also provided assurance that officials would work closely with TUS on this matter.

Mr Attwood asked that an update be provided at the next meeting on Pay and Grading Review discussions with TUS and also on the revised approach being considered for Recruitment and Selection and Induction processes.

Action: Mr Stewart to provide an update on Pay and Grading Review discussions with TUS and also on the revised approach being considered for Recruitment and Selection and Induction processes at the next meeting.

Mr Attwood also enquired if there were any other elements of the 2018 pay package that were still to be dealt with. Mr Stewart advised that proposals had been put to TUS in relation to overtime rates and he was awaiting a reply. Mr Attwood stated that he would like to see this matter resolved as soon as possible.

Management Accounts

Mrs Hogg referred Members to the Management Accounts summary as at 28 February 2019. Members noted the full year Resource DEL and Capital expenditure forecasts.

Insurance Update

Members noted that there are currently no outstanding or on-going cases.

Litigation Update

Members noted that there is no current litigation to which the Assembly Commission is a party.

The meeting went into closed session from 11.50am until 12 noon.

Discussions on Display of Assembly Commission Artefacts

Mrs Hogg advised that following the constructive discussion regarding balance in any display of Assembly Commission artefacts at the previous meeting, officials were exploring ways to achieve this. Ideas included the use of themes similar to the Assembly Commission’s approach to centenaries, and making contact with other institutions, such as the Houses of the Oireachtas, to see what other artefacts may be available. Members were content that officials bring a paper with options for consideration to a future meeting, once the necessary research and engagement had been carried out.

Sale of Alcohol in Parliament Buildings on Good Friday

Mrs Hogg advised Members that licensing laws in relation to the selling of alcohol on Good Friday were not applicable to the Assembly Commission. She asked Members to consider whether the Assembly Commission should voluntarily align with the licensing laws and restrict the sale of alcohol in Parliament Buildings on Good Friday.

In light of the low level of alcohol sales recorded on Good Friday last year, all Members, with the exception of Jim Wells MLA agreed that the Assembly Commission should continue to sell alcohol on Good Friday in Parliament Buildings.

Extension of Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC) Appointments

Mrs Hogg sought approval from Members to exercise a one-year extension option until 30 November 2020, to the appointments of the SARC Chairperson and Independent Member.  Members were content.

Health and Safety Report

Mrs Hogg advised Members that 12 incidents had occurred in 2018, none of which required a report to be made to the NI Health and Safety Executive under RIDDOR (the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations).

Mrs Hogg also informed Members that Fire Officers from the Department of Finance had carried out a Fire Risk Assessment of Parliament Buildings and that the Fire Officer had reviewed the number of guests that can be safely accommodated in the function rooms in Parliament Buildings. She also advised that a number of Health and Safety related training events had been delivered during the year.

International Women’s Day Event

Mrs Hogg informed Members that the International Women’s Day Event hosted by the Speaker in conjunction with the Women’s Caucus was a great success and had received extremely positive feedback.

Assembly Bees

Mrs Hogg informed Members that, as part of the Assembly Commission’s ongoing sustainable development initiatives, four bee hives had been placed on the grass bank of the Upper West Car Park. She explained that Infinity Farms, a social enterprise, would care for the bees and that five staff were also being trained to look after them. The aim is to establish a ‘bee line’ between Parliament Buildings, the Cyprus Avenue restaurant in Ballyhackamore and the Skainos Centre on the Lower Newtownards Road.


9. BUDGET 2019/20

Mr Stewart presented a paper on the budget for 2019/20 and informed Members that the amounts allocated by the Secretary of State only cover the “reduced continuing activities” scenario. Mr Stewart stated that sufficient funds to meet the cost of a fully functioning Assembly Commission had not been allocated and that when the Assembly Commission returned to normal business, the budget would have to be updated to accurately reflect the resources required. Members agreed to adopt the budget of £33m for Non Ring-fenced DEL and £1m for Capital DEL.



Mrs Hogg presented a paper focusing on the overarching issue of how Member development is approached in the future.

Mrs Hogg outlined five guiding principles that had been developed to guide future investment and delivery structures for Member development and support for the Assembly Women’s Caucus, which might assist the Assembly Commission in any engagement with the Board of Politics Plus and agreeing a way forward.

Following discussion Members agreed the following principles:

  • Delivering High-Quality Member development;
  • Providing support for the Northern Ireland Assembly Women’s Caucus;
  • Maintaining Investment;
  • Maximising Value for Money; and
  • Ensuring Member Direction.

Members also agreed that a letter be sent to Politics Plus inviting them to meet with the Assembly Commission, following which a further paper for should be prepared for consideration.

Action: Correspondence to issue to Politics Plus and a meeting between the Assembly Commission and Politics Plus to be arranged.



Mr Stewart presented a paper in relation to a salary matter relevant to the NIPSO. Following discussion, Members agreed to return to the matter at a future meeting.



Mr Stewart presented a paper in relation to the proposed reimbursement of incidental costs associated with Parliamentary travel by Members.

Following discussion, Members asked that estimated costs be provided for the next meeting.

Action: Mr Stewart to estimate the cost of the proposed reimbursement of incidental costs of parliamentary travel by Members.

The meeting suspended at 1.07pm and resumed at 1.15pm

Sebastien Mingout, Support Services Manager and Jonathan McMillen, Head of Legal Services joined the meeting at 1.15pm for agenda item 13.



Sebastien Mingout presented a paper in relation to the Support Services Contract, which provided information on the financial performance of the contract and set out a range of options that could be considered with the contractor to reduce the cost of the contract. Members were advised that these options could only be implemented through agreement of the contractor to vary the contract.

Members discussed the proposed catering-related cost reduction options as recommended in the paper. There were differing views regarding the merits of recommendation 1 and the potential lead-in time. It was agreed that the recommendations should be discussed with the contractor.

Sebastien Mingout and Jonathan McMillen left the meeting at 1.37pm. Change to agenda running order.



Mr Stewart presented a Closure Report for the 2016-18 Gender Action Plan and sought approval for a proposed Continuing Gender Action Plan for 2019-23.

Robin Swann MLA enquired about the delay in progressing the development of a Transgender Policy and training for staff. Mr Stewart advised that this was due to identifying an appropriate solution and that joining the Stonewall Diversity Champions Programme would assist with the development of these.

Agreed: Members approved the proposed Continuing Gender Action Plan for 2019-23.



Mr Stewart provided Members with an update on the continuing progress regarding actions in the Good Relations Action Plan 2016-21 and sought approval to publish the update on the Assembly website.

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

Simon Burrowes, Head of Public Engagement, joined the meeting at 1.42pm for agenda item 14.



Simon Burrowes provided an update on the development of a public engagement strategy for the Assembly Commission.

Mr Burrowes also outlined the proposed planned steps to progress the draft Strategy and sought Members approval to proceed.

Members noted the progress in respect of the draft strategy and were content to agree the next steps as outlined.

Simon Burrowes left the meeting at 1.48pm.


17. AOB

Mr Dickson proposed that the issue of future arrangements for the Independent Financial Review Panel should be returned to. Following discussion, it was agreed that previous papers would be recirculated to Members.

Action: Mr Stewart to recirculate papers.



To be agreed.


The meeting concluded at 1.52pm.

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