Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2014/2015

Date: 17 September 2014

Venue: Room 106

The meeting commenced at 2.00pm

1. The Clerk/Chief Executive informed Members that the Speaker would not be present for the meeting due to ill health. In his absence and in accordance with the Commission Handbook sought the nomination of an acting Chairperson. Mr Weir proposed the nomination for Mr Ramsey to act as Chair for the meeting. Members further agreed that should other Commission meetings occur in the absence of a Speaker, then the temporary chairperson role would be taken on a rotational basis between Commission Members, as far as reasonably practical in the order of party strength.

2. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST

The acting Chairperson sought any declarations of interest from the Commission in relation to items of business being discussed.

Ms Ruane declared an interest in Item 8 as a member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board.

3. ACTING CHAIRPERSON’S BUSINESS

Mr Ramsey welcomed Mr Gardiner to his first Commission meeting and wished him success in his new position. Mr Ramsey further reminded Members that the World War One Interactive Exhibit, which Members had viewed prior to Recess, would be placed in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings from the 22 September 2014.  Mr Ramsey highlighted that it would coincide with a World War One commemorative event as part of the “Perspectives on…” series.  Mr Ramsey highlighted that the Speaker had planned to introduce and close the event and in his absence, sought a proposal for a Commission member to perform the duty. Mr Weir agreed to introduce and close the event on behalf of the Commission.

Actions:

  • Arrangements to be forwarded to Mr Weir for hosting WW1 Event on Monday 22 September 2014

4. MINUTES OF MEETINGS

Minutes of the meeting of the 18 June 2014 agreed subject to an amendment to Item 13. Minutes of the meeting of the 1 July 2014 were agreed.

Action: Insert “not” to 2 nd paragraph, Item 13, AC332014.

Ms Ruane also sought an update in relation to the draft PSNI Search Memorandum of Understanding and the equality screening on the Commission’s policy on answering Assembly Questions. The Clerk/Chief Executive advised Ms Ruane that work was progressing and that both matters would be brought for consideration to the Commission as soon as possible.

5. MATTERS ARISING

5.1 Roof Project – Update

The Director of Facilities /Keeper of the House provided Members with an update in relation to progress achieved on the roof project. Mr Welch highlighted details of progress achieved and works completed both internally and externally to the building. Mr Welch further suggested that Members may wish to view the completed works and he would liaise with a suitable date.

Actions:

  • Arrangements to be made for Commission Members to view current work on roof project.

5.2 Ormiston House Disposal

Ms Ruane withdrew from the meeting at 2.15pm. The meeting was inquorate. The Director of Facilities /Keeper of the House provided Members with a brief update on several outstanding matters in relation to the sale of the Ormiston House site. A further Commission meeting would be convened at the earliest opportunity to advance the matters raised. Mr Weir suggested that the Director of Facilities provide Ms Cochrane with a verbal update in advance of that meeting.

Ms Ruane returned to the meeting at 2.21pm

Actions:

  • Further Mtg to be organised for Commission to consider outstanding items in relation to the sale of Ormiston House.
  • Briefing to be convened between S Welch and J Cochrane to provide update on items discussed.

6. CLERK/CE KEY UPDATE REPORT

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

6.1 Commission Business

The Clerk/Chief Executive informed Members that the agenda for the September Commission meeting had been kept to a minimum to provide an opportunity for a full discussion on budget issues in advance of the DFP deadline for October Monitoring Round returns and any deferred matters would be brought to the October 2014 meeting.

6.2 Corporate Strategy 2012/14 – Business Plan Performance

The Commission noted performance against Business Plans for the first quarter of 2014/15.

6.2 Corporate Strategy 2012-16 – Review

The Clerk/Chief Executive informed Members that the Assembly Future staff working group was undertaking a review of the Corporate Strategy to provide an update in light of developments, including increased financial pressures, since the Strategy was agreed and to cover the extension of the Assembly term to 2016. He highlighted that a revised draft Strategy for the period 2015-17 would be brought to the Commission for consideration at the end of 2014.

6.3 Management Accounts

The Commission noted the Management Accounts for the 5 month period April – August 2014. Members sought clarification in relation to the current spending levels under Members Office Cost Expenditure (OCE) and it was agreed that Mr Stewart would be available to provide any further guidance and advice on the matter.

Action:

  • Mr Stewart to make himself available to meet with Commission Members to provide advice on current spending levels in relation to Members OCE.

6.4 Members Survey – Interim ‘Top Line’ Results

The Clerk/Chief Executive informed Members that a survey was undertaken prior to summer recess to assess the views of MLAs, and their staff, on the services provided by the Commission and the Secretariat. The Clerk/CE informed that a full report was being prepared but as an interim measure, he had sought from Research and Information, an initial indication of the views of MLAs. The Commission considered the statistics provided and Ms Ruane highlighted that she would have wished to see a further analysis on the views received. The Clerk/CE highlighted that this level of analysis would be included within the full report.

Action:

  • Results from Members Survey to be brought to an early Commission Meeting.

6.5 Internet Connection – Parliament Buildings

The Clerk/CE requested that the Commission note that in July 2014 the Assembly awarded a contract to B.T. Ltd to provide two independent internet connections into Parliament Buildings. He highlighted that BT are currently configuring new circuits in the Dundonald and Belmont telephone exchanges and are installing the necessary fibre-optic cabling up to Parliament Buildings. In concluding, he stated that the new service was expected to go live in mid-October and once installed, would effectively double the internet capacity and provide improved resilience in the internet service available to all building users.

6.6 Laptop Replacement Programme

The Clerk/CE provided Members with an update in relation to the Laptop Replacement Programme, with the award of the contract expected at the end of September 2014.

6.7 Great Famine

The Clerk/CE reminded Members that at the last Commission meeting, Mr Pat Ramsey had requested consideration on how the Great Famine might be marked in Parliament Buildings next year.  He highlighted that officials were currently looking at whether an appropriate exhibition on the Great Famine within the terms of the policy could be sourced for inclusion in the 2015 annual schedule of exhibitions for the Great Hall and that an update would be provided at the Commission meeting in January 2015.

6.8 Commission / Chief Executive’s Office - Staffing

The Clerk/CE highlighted that he had been reviewing the staffing arrangements in the Commission/Chief Executive’s office as Mr Logue had agreed, following the retirement of Ms G Campbell, to provide support to the Independent Financial Review Panel and on other governance matters. The Commission acknowledged the support provided by Mr Logue during his tenure as Clerk to the Commission and wished him success in his new post.

7. PUBLIC HEALTH AGENCY – BREASTFEEDING SCHEME

The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House informed the Commission that the Speaker had received correspondence from Ms Janet Calvert, the Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement Manager (Public Health Agency PHA) on 13 May 2014 requesting Parliament Buildings join the PHA ‘Breastfeeding welcome here’ scheme (the scheme). He highlighted that further correspondence was also received from the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride in support of the scheme.

Mr Welch also informed Members that in July 2014, the Speaker responded to Ms Calvert highlighting his personal support of the Scheme and his intention to pursue it positively in the context of the first criteria for membership of the scheme i.e. that breastfeeding would be acceptable in all areas of Parliament Buildings that are open to the general public. Mr Welch further highlighted that the letter to Ms Calvert made reference to the Speaker’s procedural responsibilities and highlighted that the Assembly Chamber, whilst in session, would not be considered as a public area within the context of the scheme given the restrictions around access to it, however, it did support the operation of the scheme within the context of the public gallery under the current rules. Ms Ruane highlighted that she was not in agreement with excluding the Assembly Chamber as part of the Scheme.

The Clerk/CE highlighted that the Commission’s responsibilities did not extend to the Assembly Chamber and following further discussion the Commission agreed to join the scheme in the proposed detail and in addition write to the Speaker to highlight Members discussion and in particular Ms Ruane’s request to extend the provision of the scheme.

Decision: The Commission agreed to join the Public Health Agency’s ‘Breastfeeding welcome here’ scheme.

Actions:

  • Arrangements to proceed for Parliament Buildings to join the Public Health Agency’s ‘Breastfeeding welcome here’ scheme as outlined within AC3507.
  • Correspondence to be drafted for the Speaker to highlight Members discussion and in particular Ms Ruane’s request to extend the provision of the scheme.

8. FUTURE PROVISION OF POLICE SERVICES AT PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House drew Members attention to a number of options relating to the future provision of policing at Parliament Buildings. Mr Welch informed the Commission that the matter had been considered by the Senior Management Group at their last meeting and highlighted the detail of their preferred option in terms of level of service and potential savings. Members also considered the timings for the introduction of any changes to the current provision of service.

Ms Ruane stated that she would not be in a position to consider the preferred option and requested further detail in relation to:

  1. the responsibility for the payment of Garda presence in Oireachtas and police presence in other UK legislatures;
  2. the responsibility for setting the payment rates for the police presence in Parliament Buildings; and
  3. the role and cost of ushering staff in Parliament Buildings.

Ms Ruane also requested written detail on the current threat assessment and security risks within Parliament Buildings.

In conclusion, Members agreed that the information should be provided for consideration at a separate meeting to be convened in conjunction with considering the outstanding matters in relation to the sale of Ormiston House.

Actions:

  • Further paper to be provided to the next Commission Mtg providing further detail on:
    • Who pays for the provision of Garda presence in Oireachtas and police presence in other UK legislatures;
    • Who sets the rates for PSNI in Parliament Buildings;
    • Role and cost of ushering staff in Parliament Buildings;
    • Written details on current threat level as opposed to security risks within Parliament Buildings.
  • Further Mtg to be organised for Commission to consider updated paper on the future provision of police services at Parliament Buildings.

9. FLAGS EQIA CONSULTATION STRATEGY

Mr Logue provided Members with an update in relation to the Flags EQIA consultation strategy. Mr Logue highlighted a proposed approach to pre-consultation and formal consultation on the EQIA for the review of the policy on the Flying of the Union Flag at Parliament Buildings. He further informed Members that the consultation process, including pre-consultation, would target three main groups of stakeholders, namely: Equality Scheme consultees, the general public and users of Parliament Buildings including Members, Secretariat staff, party support staff, contract staff and visitors.

Ms Ruane stated that she and her party were opposed to addressing the matter at the Commission and highlighted her criticism for the spending of public money in that regard.

Following consideration, the Commission approved the pre-consultation plan to allow pre-consultation to take place from 1 October 2014 to 14 October 2014 and approved the consultation strategy to allow the commencement of formal consultation on 27 October 2014.

Decision: The Commission approved the pre-consultation plan and consultation strategy.

Actions:

  • Arrangements for pre-consultation and formal consultation to proceed.

10. IFRP Annual Report 2013-2014

The Commission noted the Annual Report of the Independent Financial Review Panel for 2013/2014. The Commission agreed that as IFRP concluded their first mandate, a review should then be undertaken on progress achieved to inform and support the operation of a new Panel on appointment. The Commission further suggested that the IFRP Annual Report for 14/15 should include a breakdown on panel member’s attendance at meetings.

Decision: The Commission noted the Annual Report of the Independent Financial Review Panel for 2013/2014.

Actions:

  • Further paper to be prepared for a future Commission meeting relating to a review of IFRP during the Mandate (a lessons learned report); and
  • That IFRP be advised of the Commission’s suggestion that future Annual Reports include a breakdown on Panel Member’s attendance at meetings.

11. BUDGET PLANNING 2014/15 and 2015/16

The Clerk/CE provided Members with an update on the financial management developments over the summer recess including the reported June Monitoring cut to the Commission’s budget for 2014/15. The Clerk/CE also provided further detail on correspondence and discussions with the Minister for Finance & Personnel and DFP officials.

The Director of Corporate Services provided a financial analysis in terms of the budget for 2014/15 and sought the Commission’s view on an approach to budget-setting for the 2015/16 financial year in advance of the development of a draft budget for that year.

Following consideration, the Commission agreed that budget planning for 2014/15 and 2015/16 should be considered again at their meeting in October 2014 and requested that the paper should be updated to include a detailed cost analysis of the options proposed for potential savings and include distinctions between Members costs and Other Costs as detailed within the paper.

Ms Ruane also requested that the paper be amended as it inferred that the Youth Assembly was not being taken forward. The Director of Information and Outreach provided an update on discussions with the British Council NI and an Erasmus+ application in relation to taking forward the Youth Assembly proposal.

Actions:

  • Further cost analysis to be provided in relation to paragraph 21 of AC3511;
  • Further distinctions in relation to costs under the control of the Commission to be made between Members Costs and Other Costs;
  • Paragraph 12 to be amended to demonstrate other funding streams in the creation of a Youth Assembly; and
  • Updated paper to be considered at the Commission Mtg in Oct 14.

14. Any Other Business

14.1 Temperature Control in Parliament Buildings

The acting Chairperson informed the Commission that he had received several complaints from fellow Members in relation to increased temperatures within the Assembly Chamber. It was agreed that Mr Welch would review temperature levels throughout buildings and adjust accordingly.

14.2 SARC Membership

The acting Chairperson highlighted a membership vacancy on the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee as Mr Cree MLA had now left the Commission. Following consideration Mr Weir MLA agreed to take up the position.

14.3 Correspondence

The Clerk/CE informed the Commission that the Speaker was in receipt of correspondence from Mr J McCallister MLA which would be brought to the next meeting.

14.4 BBC Spotlight Programme

The Clerk/CE provided the Commission with an update in relation to the expected screening of a BBC Spotlight programme relating to MLA expenses. Members agreed that a statement from the Commission should be drafted highlighting the governance improvement measures the Commission had implemented in the administration of Members’ expenses.

15. DATE OF NEXT MEETING

The next meeting will take place on Wednesday, 22 October 2014 at 2.00pm in Room 106.

The meeting concluded at 4.27pm

Mr Tony Logue
Head of the Commission and Chief Executive’s Office

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