Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2014/2015

Date: 18 February 2015

1. APOLOGIES

No apologies were received

2. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST

All Members recorded that they are in receipt of Members’ salaries and allowances for agenda item 5.3.

3. CHAIRPERSON’S BUSINESS     

The Speaker noted an issue with the delivery of the electronic pack.

4. MINUTES OF MEETINGS

21 January 2015

The Minutes were agreed for publication.

Action:           Publish Minutes.

5. MATTERS ARISING

5.1 Analysis of BBC Spotlight Programmes

Richard Stewart, Director of Corporate Services, summarised the key issues from his paper to the previous Commission meeting of 21 January 2015 for further discussion.

Members agreed that the Commission takes the issues raised by the Spotlight programme very seriously. In addition to new measures put in place since the alleged incidents including the formation of the Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP), the Commission will continue to review processes in the interests of transparency and value for money.

The Clerk/CE highlighted the fact that the Assembly Finance Office will be rolling out a programme of checking and verification of claims from Members. The Speaker noted MLAs should be aware of any changes to process.

The issue of criminal damage to MLA offices was also raised in the light of historic and recent vandalism and criminal damage.

Decisions:    The Commission agreed that a retrospective review of OCE payments would be costly and time consuming and unlikely to produce any beneficial outcome.

Proxies should not to be appointed to sign claim forms on behalf of Members. This maintains the existing policy.

The Commission supports officials increasing the number of random checks on claims and payments.

Actions:        Commission to write to the IFRP reiterating the need for precision in the requirements placed on Members in Determinations.

Commission to undertake additional checks on services commissioned by MLAs.

Mr Stewart to investigate adding statement to travel claim forms regarding car insurance for business use.

The Commission to provide written consultation response to IFRP regarding Members Support Staff and issue by correspondence prior to 18 March meeting.

The Commission to write to IFRP to again ask the Panel to implement a system of funding for repairs to MLAs’ offices in the event of criminal damage.

Mr Sebastien Mingout, Support Services Manager, joined the meeting at 3.40pm.

5.2 IFRP Remit – Permissible stationery and analysis of spend to date

Mr Mingout spoke to his paper regarding the 2012 IFRP Determination on Office Resources and the items of stationery that may be purchased by MLAs under the scheme. Internal Audit had requested that the Commission clarify the items Members can avail of from the stationery catalogue under the Determination. 

Members discussed the options set out in the paper and option D was approved: Provide Standard, Crested Items and other ink only.

Decision:      Members agreed to Option D.

Actions:        To provide information on Party spend on stationery.

Write to IFRP regarding the Commission’s decision to support option D.

Mr Mingout left the meeting at 4.00pm.

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

Hugh Widdis, Director of Legal and Governance, reminded Members of the consultation document he circulated in order for Members to gauge responses from their parties on the proposed Models for salaries, allowances and pensions brought to the Commission meeting of 21 January 2015.

Mr Widdis indicated he would welcome an early decision on this matter as if a new model is chosen then legislation will be required. It was also noted IFRP will be drafting a Determination for the next Mandate (May 2016) in the coming months. Members discussed the proposed options and agreed that more time was needed to discuss the issue with their parties.

Decision: Members to consult with Parties in advance of discussion at the March Commission meeting.

Action: Reissue consultation document and Paper from meeting on 21 January 2015.

5.4  Strategic Planning 2015 and Beyond (SP15+) - update and workshop.

Gareth McGrath, Director of Clerking and Reporting, updated Members on the progress of SP15+ and reminded Members of the workshop that is scheduled for Friday 6 March 2015. Mr McGrath highlighted the importance of the decisions the Commission would be making at the workshop.

Members discussed the need for consultation on decisions in principle made at the workshop with Party colleagues.

Decision: An additional Commission meeting to be arranged to follow the workshop.

Actions: Circulate letter to all MLAs updating them on SP15+ process.

Distribute workshop papers and timetable for decisions in advance of 6 March workshop.

Arrange meeting to facilitate final SP15+ decisions to take place after the Business Committee on Tuesday 10 March 2015.        

5.5 Event to Recognise the Contribution of Former Speaker Hay       

The Speaker informed Members that Lord Hay of Ballyore is visiting Parliament Buildings on Tuesday 24 February 2015.

Robin Ramsey, Adviser to the Speaker, informed Members that an event to mark Lord Hay’s contribution as former Speaker of the NI Assembly will commence at 1pm in the Great Hall followed by lunch in The Members Dining Room. The Speaker also noted that in accordance with Commission policy, arrangements will be made for a portrait of Lord Hay to be displayed in Parliament Buildings.

5.6 Recognition of Seamus Heaney and CS Lewis      

The Clerk/Chief Executive (Clerk/CE) advised that further to his communication to Members on 10 February 2015, two portraits would be commissioned for display in Parliament Buildings in tribute to Seamus Heaney and CS Lewis.

Ms Ruane noted her disappointment that time had not been spent considering alternatives to portraits. Mr Pat Ramsey enquired about a prior Commission decision to host an event commemorating the Irish Famine. Mr Robin Ramsey explained that an exhibition to mark the Famine is currently under consideration.

6. CORRESPONDENCE:

6.1 Correspondence with DFP Minister

The Speaker drew Members attention to his correspondence with the Minister of Finance and Personnel proposing a meeting to discuss the 2015/16 budget.

Ms Ruane expressed disappointment that a meeting has yet to take place and Members supported the Speaker’s request for a meeting.

Members noted the correspondence.

7. CLERK/CE KEY UPDATE REPORT   

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

7.1 Business Plan Performance – April to December 2014

The Clerk/CE stated that 94% of the 511 Directorate Business Plan objectives had been met.

7.2 Management Accounts

The Clerk/CE updated Members on the Management Accounts for the 10 month period April 2014 to January 2015 and noted that the 2014-15 budget remains on target.

7.3 Response to DFP – Projections for Paybill Reductions 2015-19

The Clerk/CE asked Members to note his response to the Permanent Secretary of DFP.

7.4 Notice of Ballot on Industrial action

The Clerk / CE informed members that NIPSA have issued a general notice to all public sector bodies on possible industrial action.

7.5 Members’ Survey Action Plan

The Clerk / CE informed Members of the implementation of an action plan in response to the survey findings. The status report will be updated at six-monthly intervals.

8. EQUALITY SCREENING REPORT – ASSEMBLY COMMISSION QUESTIONS

Members agreed more time was needed to reflect on this issue.

Decision: Members agreed to return to this item at the March meeting.                  

Mrs Sinead McDonnell, Head of Human Resources, joined the meeting at 4.40pm.

9. NORTHERN IRELAND PUBLIC SERVICE OMBUDSPERSON (NIPSO)

Sinead McDonnell, Head of Human Resources, provided Members with an overview of her paper on The Assembly Commission’s role in setting the salary for the new post of NIPSO and the timing of the recruitment process.

Mr Weir sought confirmation that the NIPSO salary will come from the Consolidated Fund. Members discussed the salary appropriate for the role.  The Clerk/CE noted that the NI Assembly will carry out the recruitment for the post and the Commission will decide who sits on the panel. Members were content for the NIPSO recruitment process to commence in parallel with the Bill’s passage through the Assembly.

Decisions:    The Assembly Commission agreed that the NIPSO salary will be set at a level of £92,000 and that it will be changed in line with any formally agreed revalorisation of Assembly Commission staff salary scales on an annual basis.

The NIPSO recruitment process will commence concurrently to the Bill’s passage through the Assembly.

Action:           Commence preparations for NIPSO recruitment in expectation of legislative process.

10. PAYMENT OF ALLOWANCES TO ASSEMBLY COMMISSION STAFF

Sinead McDonnell presented her restricted paper to The Commission. 

Mr Pat Ramsey offered his apologies and left the meeting at 5.16pm

Mrs McDonnell left the meeting at 5.20pm.

Mr Sebastien Mingout, Support Services Manager, rejoined the meeting at 5.20pm.

11. REVIEW OF CATERING TARIFF

Mr Mingout presented his paper on options for the Catering Tariff Setting Mechanism. Mr Welch, Director of Facilities, stated that the Catering Tariff Mechanism set in February 2012 had worked very well. Members were content to approve option 4 as a price mechanism applied by the contractor and agreed to utilise this option for the next 3 years.

Decisions:      Retainalignment of the NIA prices with the latest CPI rate of 0.5% (December 2014) + 1% as well as rounding prices up or down.

Catering Tariff Setting Mechanism approved for a minimum period of 3 years.

12. REVIEW OF SUPPORT SERVICES CONTRACT

Mr Mingout spoke to his paper on the review of the Support Services Contract which The Commission approved for 24 month extension in their meeting of 10 December 2014.

Mr Mingout drew Members’ attention to the Blue Flax breakfast service analysis and pointed out it would increase cost if this profitable service was terminated. Mr Welch, Director of Facilities, reassured Members that the Support Services Contract was designed to be flexible and achieve savings. Mr Welch also stated the paper outlined the minimum low impact savings. Any medium to high impact measures would be discussed at the SP15+ Workshop on 6 March 2015. 

Decision:      Members were content to accept the low impact savings measures outlined in Appendix A of the paper subject to further discussions at the SP15+ Workshop.     

Mr Mingout left the meeting at 5.36pm.        

13. DIGITAL FIRST

John Stewart, Director of Information and Outreach, provided an overview of the Digital First Strategy. Mr Stewart explained the strategy can be described by the term “Create Once, Publish Everywhere” and its aim was to reduce the costs of printing/publishing.

Decision:      Digital First Strategy approved.     

Commission agreed to undertake an EQIA.      

Action:           Commence EQIA.

14. ANY OTHER BUSINESS

14.1 North South Inter Parliamentary Association (NSIPA) Meeting- May 2015         

The Speaker notified Members that the next meeting of NSIPA is scheduled for Thursday 21 and Friday 22 May 2015 at Parliament Buildings and that he proposed to hold a meeting of the Executive after the Committee meeting on 18 March 2015. 

14.2 Oral Questions To The Commission.        

The Speaker informed Members that the next plenary date for questions to the Commission is 16 March 2015 and the deadline for the submission of questions is 1pm on 5 March 2015.

14.3    Red Bull Crashed Ice Event

Stephen Welch, Director of Facilities, provided Members with an update on the upcoming Crashed Ice Event on the Stormont Estate.

15. DATE OF NEXT MEETING      

The Speaker reminded Members of the SP15+ Workshop on Friday 6 March 2015 at 11am in Room 115.

The next Commission meeting will take place on Wednesday 18 March 2015 at 2.00pm in Room 106.

The meeting concluded at 5.47pm.

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