Minutes of Proceedings

Session: Session currently unavailable

Date: 17 June 2015

The meeting commenced at 1pm.

1. APOLOGIES

No apologies were received.

2. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST

Members recorded that they are in receipt of Members’ salaries and allowances for agenda item 5.2.

3. CHAIRPERSON’S BUSINESS

The Speaker informed Members that he will be meeting with the Minister of Finance and Personnel to discuss budgetary pressures facing the Commission

Mr Ramsey updated members on changes to vote allocation. Any changes will remain in place until the Commission Office is notified otherwise.

4. MINUTES OF MEETINGS

Minutes for the Commission meetings on the 18 March and the 8 June 2015 were agreed for publication.

Action: Publish minutes.

5. MATTERS ARISING

5.1 Equality Screening Report – Assembly Commission Questions

Ms Bradley requested additional time to consider the options outlined in the paper. Ms Ruane confirmed she was content for the issue to be revisited at the next meeting.

Agreement: Members agreed to revisit this agenda item on 24 June 2015.

5.2 Models for Members’ Salaries, Allowances and Pensions – responses from political parties

Hugh Widdis, Director of Legal and Governance Services, spoke to his paper.

Mrs Cochrane suggested abolition of IFRP as she does not believe they have brought forward any enhanced processes over and above the measures that the Commission themselves were already putting in place.  Indeed some decisions have gone against sensible proposals by the Commission e.g. amendments to the Assembly Childcare Scheme.  She suggested perhaps linking salary scales to a civil service grade as has been done in other jurisdictions so that MLAs do not continually have to look at their own salary.  Approval of claims and associated independent audit of these should continue as per current process.

If a panel is to remain in place, she believes there is still a lack of understanding about the role of an MLA and that the composition of the panel might benefit from parliamentary experience.

Ms Bradley commented on the need to be mindful of reputational risk when considering all the options and cost with any IPSA-type model.

Ms Ruane commented on the need for independent oversight, expressed concern at any possible expansion in the size of the panel, and expressed the view that the cost of establishing an IPSA-type model was unjustifiable.

Mr Ramsey and Mrs Cochrane stated that any mechanism must recognise and understand the full suite of duties undertaken by MLAs.

The Commission agreed that, with the improvements it had put in place in recent months, that the current architecture for determining these matters was sound in terms of independence and affordability and that options 1 and 3 could be discounted. Some other possible reforms are to be explored further.

Action: Mr Widdis to further explore specified aspects of the current arrangements and report back to the Commission.

5.3 Fee Reviews for SARC, IFRP and Commissioner for Standards

Mr Mc Kenna left the meeting for this agenda item.

Mr Stewart spoke to his paper detailing possible options following members’ requesting a benchmarking exercise undertaken after previous discussion. He confirmed that the contracts in question allowed for extension.

Mrs Cochrane and Ms Ruane stated that they did not, as a principle, support the extension of contracts without re-advertising.  Ms Ruane also asked that the Commission observe best practice with regards to gender balance of recruitment panels and appointments.

Agreed: Members agreed Commissioner for Standards’ fees should be increased by 1% annually for September 2013 and September 2014 given that no uprating was applied at that time but with no increase in September 2015.

Agreed: Members agreed to extend the term of appointment of the Chair of SARC for one final year to 30 November 2016; and agreed to extend the term of appointment of the external member for one year to 16 September 2016.

5.4 SP15+ Update

Mr McGrath updated Members on the implementation of SP15+. He informed Members that 82 applications for the Voluntary Exit Scheme were received by the deadline and the selection panel will meet in July.

There had been some reservations expressed about the removal of newspapers and changes to the catering provision.

Members expressed concern in the ensuing conversation about the reduction in catering provision especially when late sittings were on. However, any provision would have to be made with budgetary restraints in mind.  Ms Ruane stated her belief that protecting jobs was more important than reductions in catering.

Action: Mr Welsh to explore options for some food to be available when late sittings occur.

5.5 Roof Project

Stephen Welch, Director of Facilities, advised the Commission that this would be the final update on the Roof Project as the project comes to an end after one year. Mr Welch stated that disruption had been very limited considering the scale of the project and highlighted some of the key changes. These include the waterproofing of the roof (with a twenty five year guarantee), an anticipated 30% reduction in energy costs, the fitting out of a new server room and between 30 and 35 new parking spaces to the rear of the building. The return of staff to their offices begins this week and Parties will be able to return to rooms made available for the duration of the project.

Members and the Clerk / Chief executive expressed their thanks to the Project Team, in particular Mr David Lynn and Mr Peter Madine.

Action: The Speaker to write to Mr Welch, David Lynn and Peter Madine expressing the Commission’s gratitude for the delivery of the roof project.    

5.6 Flag Incident Update

Stephen Welch, Director of Facilities informed members that he had been informed that the ongoing PSNI investigation was coming to an end and that the police would liaise with the PPS as appropriate.

Mr Welch also informed members that threat assessments are carried out regularly either because of a change in circumstances or at the request of an organisation. Following discussion at the Commission meeting of 8 June, Mr Welch had looked at options to undertaking a review of security arrangements across Parliament Buildings.

Mrs Cochrane suggested that the review could be undertaken in house with staff from another business area.  Ms Ruane also supported an in-house review and queried the inability of the PSNI to undertake such a review.

The Clerk / Chief Executive stated that if a full review of security were to be undertaken, it would most appropriately be carried out by an external specialist body

Ms Ruane stated that any response to the incident should be proportionate and that potential costs must be considered.

Mr Gardiner praised the work of the roof project team and stated he was content that the Speaker and the Clerk / Chief Executive had the authority to take forward arrangements for a review.

Ms Bradley stated her support for an external review.

Mr Ramsey stated that as the Commission owed a duty of care to all building users, a review was required and that he felt the Speaker and Clerk / Chief Executive could progress this.

Agreed: the Commission agreed to revisit this agenda item on 24 June 2015.

Action: the Director of Facilities to provide options for a security review.

6. Correspondence

6.1 The Commission noted the Speaker’s reply to IFRP

6.2 The Commission noted the IFRP Letter regarding Models for Members’ Salaries, Pensions & Allowances.

6.3 Letter to the Speaker from the Commissioner for Children and Young People

Agreed: Members agreed that the Speaker should write to the Commissioner for Children and Young People to say the Commission does not consider it appropriate for the Commissioner to come under the remit of the Commission.

7. CLERK/CE KEY UPDATE REPORT

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

7.1 End of Mandate pressures

The Clerk / Chief Executive drew Members attention  to the end of mandate pressures expected in this last year of the 2011-16 mandate in the context of the Commission’s responsibilities to provide the Assembly with the staff, property and services that it requires. He emphasised the expected heavy legislative programme and the reduced resources available for 2015/16.

Members were asked to consider what action it may wish to take at this stage to facilitate managing the pressures and what specific initiatives could be introduced from September 2015 to ease the pressures during the year ahead. Work is already underway by the Speaker to look at improved co-ordination between Departments and the Assembly to better facilitate the passage of legislation.

The Commission noted the action currently being progressed and will keep the matter under review.

7.2 Annual Report and Accounts 2014/15

The Director of Corporate Services updated the Commission on the Annual Report and specifically the excess Vote. The excess expenditure is £0.95m or 1.98% above the Spring Supplementary Estimates.

The sole factor contributing to the excess Vote is a non-cash transaction within Annually Managed Expenditure.  Each year, the Commission is required to obtain a valuation of the potential future liabilities in the Assembly Members’ Pension Scheme. This valuation is carried out by the Government Actuary’s Department.  The valuation of the liabilities is then compared to the value of the assets (i.e. the stocks and shares) held by the pension scheme. If the liabilities are greater than the value of the assets, the Commission is required to make provision for that excess in its annual accounts.

Commission Members noted that this transaction has no impact on the budget allocation that is made to the Commission in respect of the running costs for the Assembly.

The reasons for the excess vote have been fully reported to the Comptroller and Auditor General as part of the preparation of the Annual Report and Accounts for 2014-15. It is likely that the excess Vote will result in a technical qualification of the Accounts.

Mr McKenna reiterated that this is a technical issue.

7.3 Election Guidance

The Clerk / Chief Executive informed members that he has been advised of three potential breaches of the guidelines issued to Members in advance of the General Election 2015. The guidance includes paragraphs relating to the use of Parliament Buildings and constituency offices.

1. An election manifesto was launched in a Committee Room on 14 April 2015.

2.Video footage taken within the Great Hall and immediately outside the front of Parliament Buildings was included in a web site election video.

3. A General Election poster for an election candidate was placed in the window of a Member's constituency office.

Incident 3 has been dealt with and the poster was removed.

Mrs Cochrane said she was aware of a further potential breach involving the use of Assembly letter headed paper for a General Election canvassing letter.

The Clerk / Chief Executive advised that the Election Guidance would be revised in advance of the Assembly Elections in 2016.

Agreed: Members asked that a letter is to be issued to the relevant Parties in respect of the four potential breaches above and a reminder letter of the guidelines will be sent to all MLAs.

7.4 Insurance Claims

The Director of Corporate Services provided his regular update.

7.5 Policing Costs – Parliament Buildings

The Director of Facilities informed Members that, following the Commission meeting of 10 March 2015, he wrote to the PSNI to seek details of their method and rationale in charging the Assembly for the police presence.

Mr Welch informed Members that a reply has now been received which outlining the PSNI position.

Ms Ruane said that she did not believe the PSNI response contained sufficient detail and sought further information.

Agreed: Members asked officials to provide additional information.

Mr McKenna left the meeting at 3pm

8. Childcare Scheme

The Director of Corporate Services updated Members on the current position on the move to a salary sacrifice scheme. Members were advised of the current position of NIPSA and its request to meet the Commission.

Following discussion, members requested additional information for its meeting on 24 June.

Action: Director of Corporate Services to provide additional modelling for consideration on 24 June.

9. Assembly Commission Budget 2016-17

The SP15+ Programme Director spoke to his paper outlining considerations for planning the Assembly Commission Budget for 2016-17.

Agreed: The Assembly Commission’s proposed draft budget for 2016-17, which will see the Commission’s budget reduce by 0.75% (2.7% on the Commission’s controllable costs), from £38.665m in 2015-16 to £38.375 in 2016-17.

Noted:

The proposal to introduce a new budget setting mechanism for the Commission in time for the 2016-17 budget cycle

The need for the Commission to engage urgently with the Minister of Finance and Personnel to discuss the budget setting mechanism for the Commission;

The need for the Commission to engage with Chair of the Audit Committee in order to seek agreement for, and to implement, the new budget setting mechanism for the Commission; and

The need for longer term financial and human resource planning for the subsequent five years from 2017-18 through to 2021-22, which will be undertaken following the outcome of the next UK Spending Review.

10. Equality Annual Report 2014-15

The Clerk / Chief Executive asked members to approve the Equality Annual Report for forwarding to the Equality Commission. This annual report is a factual summary of actions and events undertaken by the Commission during the reporting period and represented a significant programme of work.

Agreed: The Commission agreed that the Equality Annual Report be forwarded to the Equality Commission.

11. Revenue Generation

The Director of Facilities outlined to Members a proposal to start generating additional revenues, initially during “off-peak “business times. He recommended the following two initiatives be implemented for Summer Recess 2015 with a review in September 2015.

  • Opening of the Members’ Dining Room at lunchtime (12 noon to 2.30pm) to the public in July & August 2015
  • Opening of Room 115 to the public for Afternoon Teas in July and August 2015 between 2.00pm and 4.00pm to coincide with hourly public tours

Agreed: Members agreed to the two pilot schemes for Summer Recess 2015.

12. AOB  

12.1 A request to light Parliament Buildings

Members declined a request to light Parliament Buildings as the request did not meet the criteria as laid out in the policy.     

12.2 Loan of Commission Artefacts to External Organisations

The Adviser to the Speaker / Head of Corporate Support outlined some draft principles regarding the possible loan of artefacts currently owned by the Commission which had been suggested by the Speaker following some of his engagements with external organisations.

Agreed: That loans of Commission assets not currently on display in Parliament Buildings to appropriate community, voluntary and historical organisations be actively explored.

12.3 Ms Ruane requested an update on the phone lines into Parliament Buildings. The Director of Facilities responded that Parliament Buildings is dependent on lines provided by DFP and that he had been informed that any problems would be resolved by next week.

12.4 Ms Ruane requested a review of the allocation of parking spaces for pregnant staff members following the completion of building work.

12.5 Ms Ruane voiced her concern at the volume of printing generated by Bills.

13. DATE OF NEXT MEETING

The next meeting will take place on Wednesday 24 June 2015 at 1pm in Room 106.      

14. FLAGS EQIA FINAL DECISION REPORT

The Speaker welcomed Mr John Kremer from Policy Arc to the meeting and asked him to summarise the Final Decision Report.

Mr Kremer talked through the EQIA process and the consultation and that the consultation process did not equate to a referendum. He also talked through mitigating measures that the report suggested.

Ms Ruane stated her belief that the EQIA process in this case was flawed and that any decision on the flying of flags on Parliament Buildings should be considered by the whole Assembly. She added that it was her party’s belief that Parliament Buildings should either fly both or neither national flag and that 1,512 respondees to the consultation have requested the flying of both flags.  Ms Ruane went on to state that it was her view that EQIA did not make sufficient mitigating measures for the Nationalist/Republican community.

Mr Kremer said that the review of flags needed to be seen as part of the process of ensuring a good and harmonious working place.

Mr Ramsey asked if the view the report put forward was in line with the responses Policy Arc had received.

Mr Kremer pointed out that any consideration was a compromise between two polarized positions, though evidence such as the Life and Time survey suggested a significant number of people are not really interested in the subject.

Mr Ramsey stated that he felt there might be merit in flying a flag or symbol to show that the Assembly was sitting, but that this was a matter for another day.

The Speaker thanked Mr Kremer for his presentation.

Mr Kremer left the meeting at 4.10 pm

There followed a discussion and the Speaker stated his belief that reaching a decision today was preferable to any delay.

Mrs Cochrane put forward a proposal to fly the Union flag on designated days as defined by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) as recommended in the EQIA Report.

Ms Bradley put forward an amendment that the Union flag be flown 365 days a year. The amendment was voted on and the results were as follows

For:

Paula Bradley MLA 40 votes

Sam Gardiner MLA 13 votes

Total: 53 votes

Against:

Caitríona Ruane MLA 28 votes

Pat Ramsey MLA 14 votes

Judith Cochrane MLA 11 votes

Total: 53 votes

The Speaker exercised his casting vote against so the amendment was not accepted.

The proposal was then voted on (i.e. designated days as defined by DCMS).

For:

Judith Cochrane MLA 11 votes

Sam Gardiner MLA 13 votes

Paula Bradley MLA 40 votes

Total: 64 votes

Against:

Caitríona Ruane MLA 28 votes

Pat Ramsey MLA 14 votes

Total: 42 votes

Ms Ruane repeated her belief that Sinn Féin hold 29 votes rather than 28.

Agreed: The Northern Ireland Assembly will now follow the arrangements for the flying of the Union flag from government buildings as defined in DCMS.

The meeting ended at 4.40pm

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