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Minutes of Proceedings

Session: Session currently unavailable

Date: 16 December 2019

Meeting Venue: Room 106, Parliament Buildings

Meeting date: Monday 16 December 2019

Meeting Time: 1.00pm

Assembly Commission Members:

The Speaker
Mr Jim Wells MLA
Mr Alex Maskey MLA
Mr Robin Swann MLA

Apologies:    

Mr Stewart Dickson MLA

Officials present:

Mrs Lesley Hogg, Clerk/Chief Executive
Ms Tara Caul, Director of Legal Governance and Research Services
Dr Gareth McGrath, Director of Parliamentary Services
Mr Richard Stewart, Director of Corporate Services
Mr Robin Ramsey, Adviser to the Speaker/Head of Corporate Support
Ms Frances Leneghan, Private Secretary to the Speaker
Mrs Janet Hughes, Clerical Supervisor

Others in attendance:

Mr Colin McGrath MLA
Mr Jim Brooks, Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC) Chairperson
Mr Jonathan McMillen, Head of Legal Services (Items 12 and 13)
Mr Ken Eccles, Head of Security (Item 14)
Mr Simon Burrowes, Head of Official Report and Public Engagement (Item 17)

 

The meeting commenced at 1.07pm.

1. APOLOGIES

Apologies were received from Stewart Dickson MLA. The Speaker informed Members that he would contact Stewart and pass on the Assembly Commission’s best wishes.

 

2. DECLARATION OF INTERESTS

Jim Wells MLA declared an interest as a Trustee of the Northern Ireland Assembly Members Pension Scheme in relation to item 13.

 

3. CHAIRPERSON’S BUSINESS

3.1 Members noted that negotiations had recommenced in relation to an agreement being reached to allow the Assembly to resume normal business.

3.2 Members agreed that it remained a priority for the Assembly Commission to be ready to facilitate a return of the Assembly whenever it occurred and expressed support for officials to deal with the challenges that would arise.

3.3 Members asked the Clerk/Chief Executive to pass on their thanks to all staff for their efforts and patience throughout the year.

 

4. MINUTES OF PREVIOUS MEETING

Draft minutes from the Assembly Commission meeting on 5 November 2019 were issued to Members on 3 December 2019 for consideration. These were agreed.

 

5. MATTERS ARISING

There were no matters arising.

 

6. ASSEMBLY COMMISSION ACTIONS

Members noted the status of actions.

 

7. CORRESPONDENCE

7.1 Members noted the Speaker’s response to the Chair of Politics Plus acknowledging receipt of its Annual Report for 2018.

7.2 Members noted the Speaker’s response to the Chair of the Northern Ireland Assembly Women’s Caucus in relation to carrying out a Gender Survey.

7.3 Members noted the Speaker’s response to the Chair of the Northern Ireland Public Services Office Audit and Risk Committee in relation to the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman vacancy

7.4 Members noted the Speaker’s response to the Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Local Government Association in relation to the Code of Conduct for Councillors.

7.5 Members noted the Speaker’s response to Ms Kellie Armstrong MLA in relation to a complaint about broadband speeds in the Long Gallery and Committee Rooms.

7.6 Members noted the Speaker’s response to Chair of the Northern Ireland

Assembly Women’s Caucus in relation to the Independent Financial Review Panel Determination and media coverage.

 

8. CLERK/CHIEF EXECUTIVE UDPATE REPORT

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

Staffing Update

Mrs Hogg advised Members that the Staff in Post (SiP) figure on 1 December 2019 was 305.5 Full Time Equivalents (FTE) against a complement of 353.4 FTE. Due to the level of FTE vacancies that now exist and the anticipated departure of further staff as a result of the recent NICS recruitment competitions, Mrs Hogg informed Members that this was likely to have a significant impact on the Assembly Commission’s readiness to return to normal Assembly business.

Mrs Hogg advised that a number of recruitment competitions were underway and that a meeting had been arranged to look at vacancies and consider the options for filling parliamentary posts. She explained that this would include the temporary redeployment of staff within the organisation to cover vacancies in the Parliamentary Services Directorate.

Members noted that should the Assembly resume normal business, arrangements were in place to contact all host organisations in relation to the recall of redeployed staff.

Mrs Hogg informed Members that she had hosted a series of biannual staff briefings for all staff, including those temporarily redeployed as part of maintaining regular engagement and communication.

Management Accounts

Mrs Hogg referred Members to the Management Accounts for November 2019. She advised that based on the assumption that there would be no return to normal Assembly business before the end of the financial year, £349k was returned as part of the December Monitoring round for DEL Resource and

£250k for DEL Capital. Mrs Hogg advised that should there be a return to normal Assembly business, the budget would have to be reforecast and the Department of Finance informed of the required additional resources.

Update on Inappropriate Behaviours

Mrs Hogg advised Members that, as a result of the General Election, the planned visit by Human Resources and Parliamentary Services to the House of Commons and House of Lords had been postponed until the New Year.

Mrs Hogg explained that the Human Resources Office had developed a draft Behaviour Code and policy to support Assembly Commission employees subjected to inappropriate behaviours by external visitors or stakeholders. She advised that the draft documents would be considered by the Secretariat Management Group in January and then brought to a subsequent Assembly Commission meeting for consideration.

Following a question from Alex Maskey MLA in relation to whether any further complaints had been received, Mrs Hogg advised that she was not aware of any but that complaints would be sent directly to the office of the Commissioner for Standards and held until a new Commissioner is appointed.

Pay and Grading Review

Mrs Hogg informed Members that a Project Team had been established to take forward the Pay and Grading Review for the Assembly Secretariat. She explained that the project team was currently reviewing the documentation from the previous pay and grading exercise to ensure that any lessons learned were incorporated into the planning for this Review. Mrs Hogg advised that the project team was drawing up a Communications Strategy to identify the communications that would be necessary during the Review.

 

9. DRAFT CORPORATE PLAN 2019-23, DRAFT ANNUAL PLAN 2019-20 AND IN-YEAR PROGRESS REPORT

Robin Ramsey noted that in July 2018, the Assembly Commission agreed that the draft Corporate Strategy 2018-23 could be used to guide corporate planning until the Assembly recommenced normal business.

Mr Ramsey explained that a comprehensive process had been undertaken to develop an accompanying corporate plan for 2019-23 which included four steering groups comprising staff from different business areas and grades. He stated that the resulting draft Corporate Plan 2019-23 contained 43 proposed outcomes to deliver the four aims of the draft Corporate Strategy of staff, services, public engagement and parliamentary culture.

Mr Ramsey asked the Assembly Commission to note a number of points:

  • The draft Corporate Plan 2019-23 had a strategic focus rather than business as usual activities.
  • Projects in the draft Corporate Plan 2019-23 would still be subject to normal project management and approval processes.
  • While additional funding would be required to deliver a number of them, the plan would help guide the Assembly Commission’s budget priorities.
  • While the draft Corporate Plan 2019-23 was based on the resumption of normal Assembly business, each Annual Plan would take account of the current political circumstances and what projects and activities could be progressed.

Mr Ramsey then introduced the Annual Plan for 2019/20 which included 36 activities for the year.

Mr Ramsey outlined that as the Annual Plan was coming forward at a late stage in the year, an in-year status report was also included.

Mr Ramsey confirmed that formal approval of the draft Corporate Strategy 2018-23 would not be sought until the Assembly resumed normal business and appointed a new Assembly Commission and that changes could be incorporated if required.

Members approved the Corporate Plan 2019-23 and the Annual Plan 2019-20 and noted progress against the 2019-23 targets.

Ken Eccles joined the meeting at 1.31pm for agenda item 10.

 

10. PROPOSED PARTIAL ELECTRONIC ACCESS CONTROL (EAC) SYSTEM – PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Ken Eccles highlighted the salient points in his paper that was presented to the Assembly Commission’s meeting on 5 November 2019. At that meeting, Members agreed that they would return to this matter in December after consulting with their Parties. He proposed the installation of a partial Electronic Access Control (EAC) system following a number of security reviews, a Business Efficiency Review and a review by Internal Audit. He advised that there had been a marked increase in the number of persons entering unauthorised areas of Parliament Buildings, due to a steady increase in the number of visitors, the access afforded to visitors to view portraits and avail of public dining facilities and the automation of doors in certain corridors.

Mr Eccles advised that visitor access in other legislatures was significantly more restricted than in Parliament Buildings and that all of the comparators considered either had a full or partial EAC system. Mr Eccles pointed out the risks with current access arrangements and stated that the introduction of a partial EAC system would go a significant way to reducing these.

Following discussion, Members agreed not to take forward the recommendation to install an EAC system at this time but agreed that the issue could be re- visited when the Assembly resumed business.

Mrs Hogg stated that it was her firm recommendation that at least a partial EAC system should be installed in Parliament Buildings as this represented an optimum security and visitor access solution.

Ken Eccles left the meeting at 1.46pm.

Simon Burrowes joined the meeting at 1.46pm for agenda item 11.

 

11. EXTERNAL LIGHTING POLICY FOR PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Simon Burrowes presented a paper on a Special Lighting Policy for Parliament Buildings. He explained that the proposed new policy was clearer than the current policy and reflected Members’ expressed desire that the policy be made more permissive.

Following discussion, the proposed new policy was agreed, with the proviso that, for the next 12 months, Members are informed about each request and the view of officials as to whether it meets the requirements of the policy and whether it should be approved. In addition, officials will advise whether they consider the request to be of a novel, contentious or politically sensitive nature.

Members will have 48 hours to confirm or object to the view of officials (a non- response will be taken as confirmation). Assembly Commission approvals for special lighting requests must be based on consensus.

It was also agreed that officials would keep the Special Lighting Policy under review and prepare a report for consideration by the Assembly Commission at the end of the 12-month period, when the Assembly Commission would decide whether decision making would revert solely to officials, other than when the request was of a novel, contentious or politically sensitive nature.

Action: For the next 12 months, officials to inform Assembly Commission Members of each special lighting application, that they will have 48 hours to confirm or object to the view of officials, that approval must be by consensus and if no response is received by the required timeframe that this is taken as consent.

Action: Officials to keep the Special Lighting Policy under review and prepare a report for consideration by the Assembly Commission at the end of the 12-month period, when the Assembly Commission would decide whether decision making would revert solely to officials, other than when the request was of a novel, contentious or politically sensitive nature.

Simon Burrowes left the meeting at 2.08pm.

 

12. PAY CLAIM 2019

Richard Stewart presented a paper on the pay claim received from NIPSA for 2019 in order to facilitate the Assembly Commission’s consideration and determination of the negotiating parameters with TUS.

Following extensive discussion, the Assembly Commission agreed the following as its negotiating position with TUS:

  1. A consolidated increase to all pay points of 3%;
  2. No re-introduction of an Assembly Allowance;
  3. No re-introduction of specialist allowances for I CT staff, Accountants or Auditors;
  4. Pay Progression for all relevant staff who meet the performance eligibility criteria of satisfactory or better;
  5. No change in the annual leave entitlement or the closure of Parliament Buildings for the Christmas/New Year fortnight with leave covered exclusively by the Assembly Commission;
  6. Negotiations on overtime rates to continue; and
  7. No increase in the Occupational Pay element of Maternity Pay.

 

13. REVIEW OF THE ADMINISTRATION AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY COMMISSION AND THE NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY MEMBERS PENSION SCHEME IN LINE WITH THE GENERAL DATA PROTECTION REGULATION

Mr Stewart presented a paper on the review of the administration agreement between the Assembly Commission and the Assembly Members Pension Scheme in line with the General Data Protection Regulations.

Following consideration, Members approved the revised Administration Agreement.

 

14. ISSUED VIA CORRESPONDENCE

Independent Financial Review Plan (IFRP) Reform Consultation Document

At its September 2019 meeting, Members agreed that the paper presented on Independent Financial Review Panel: Appointment and Legislative Reform, be developed into a consultation document encompassing a range of issues and options, so that Assembly Commission Members could seek the views of their respective parties. This would enable officials to focus on developing those proposals which would have broad political support.

It was also agreed that a wider consultation with MLAs would take place once the Assembly Commission was able to identify areas of agreement and narrow down the available options.

Members noted that the IFRP Reform Consultation Document was issued on 21 November 2019 and that responses were due by 17 January 2020.

 

15. AOB

Mr Wells MLA stated that should the Assembly be restored he would no longer be a member of the Assembly Commission. He said that during his tenure the Assembly Commission had dealt with some very difficult issues which had been resolved through consensus and wished everyone well for the future.

 

16. DATE OF NEXT MEETING

The next meeting was proposed for early February 2020 subject to any political developments. Officials will confirm with Members in the New Year.

The Speaker expressed his thanks to officials for their support throughout the year and concluded by wishing everyone a very Happy Christmas.

The meeting concluded at 2.47pm.

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