Minutes of Proceedings
Date: 18 June 2014
Venue: Room 106, Parliament Buildings
Mr Peter Weir MLA
Ms Caitríona Ruane MLA
Mr Pat Ramsey MLA
Mr Leslie Cree MBE MLA
Mrs Judith Cochrane MLA
Mr T Reaney
Mr R Stewart
Mr S Welch
Mr J Stewart
Dr G McGrath
Mr H Widdis
Mr T Logue
Mr R Ramsey
Mrs C McGowan
Ms C Dodson
Others in attendance:
Mr C McKenna, Chairperson of SARC, was present for all Items, with the exception of Item 11.
1. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
The Speaker sought any declarations of interest from the Commission in relation to items of business being discussed. None were declared.
2. CHAIRPERSON’S BUSINESS
The Speaker reminded Members that they would be holding a private meeting with the Chairperson of the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee at the end of the meeting. The Speaker further informed Members that he had had lunch with Mrs Heaney in relation to progressing a form of recognition for her late husband, Mr Seamus Heaney. The Speaker highlighted that Mrs Heaney was very appreciative of the consideration and Mr Logue would remain in contact in taking the matter forward along with proposals for Mr C S Lewis.
4. MINUTES OF MEETINGS
Minutes of the meeting of 13 May 2014 were agreed subject to an amendment to Item 15.
Action: Replace final sentence with “Subject to the Commission’s final approval, begin negotiations on a without prejudice basis and explore comparative data within the NICS.”
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.
5.2 Ormiston House Disposal
The Director of Facilities /Keeper of the House provided Members with an update in relation to the disposal of the Ormiston House site. Members considered the current status of bids received to date and agreed that the agent should be instructed to seek Best and Final Offers (BFOs) by 5.00pm on 27 June 2014 to allow for final consideration by the Commission at a meeting on 1 July 2014. Members requested further advice on all factors which would need to be considered and any legal and governance implications.
- Mr Welch, in conjunction with the agent, to seek confirmation of final offers by Friday 27 June 2014 and confirm funding criteria has been met; and
- Mr Welch to draft a paper for the Commission’s consideration at a meeting on 1 July 2014, following confirmation of Best and Final Offers and incorporating existing best practice on the disposal of a public asset; and
- Mr Widdis to provide advice on the legal and governance implications.
5.3 BEP Report on Outreach and Education- reduced weekend opening hours
The Director of Facilities /Keeper of the House sought Members consideration and decision on the remaining Business Efficiency Programme (BEP) Report recommendation regarding week-end opening of Parliament Buildings. The Clerk/Chief Executive highlighted the impact of further pressures on the Commission’s budget for the coming years and following further discussion, it was agreed that the Clerk/Chief Executive would consider the financial impact of introducing a proposed weekend opening schedule of Parliament Buildings as a discretionary efficiency measure within the wider budget planning exercise for the Commission’s deliberation in September 2014.
- The Clerk/Chief Executive to include the financial implications of the proposals for reduced weekend opening hours within a future budget planning paper for the Commission’s consideration in September 2014.
5.4 Employer’s and Public Liability Insurance
The Director of Corporate Services provided Members with an update in relation to the costs and constraints of seeking advance agreement from a Member to meet the cost of the excess for any future insurance cases involving defamation. Mr R Stewart also highlighted that he had been advised that the insurance company had accepted a further case. Members discussed the issues relating to the enforceability of applying an excess and following discussion, the Commission agreed that future defamation cases should be managed on a 50% recovery basis of the cost of any excess payment.
Decision: The Commission agreed that future defamation cases should be managed on a 50% recovery basis of the cost of any excess payment.
- Mr Stewart to take forward the Commission’s decision relating to the management of future defamation cases on a 50% recovery basis of the cost of the excess payment.
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 Corporate Strategy - End of Year Performance Review 2013/14
The Clerk/Chief Executive reported that he had undertaken an annual assessment of performance for 2013/14 along with the Secretariat Management Group (SMG) to assess Measures of Success, Directorate Business Plans and Budget as the key elements. The Clerk/CE informed the Commission that following amendment of the Measures of Success in year 2, overall performance indicated that 10 measures had been achieved and one partially achieved. He further reported that Directorate Business Plans specified an overall achievement rate of 94%. The Clerk/CE also informed the Commission that the management accounts for the 2013/14 year showed an underspend of 1.8% which is within the agreed 2% threshold.
In conclusion, the Clerk/Chief Executive paid tribute to all staff. He highlighted that in the context of another year of reducing budgets, organisational change, new projects and increasing demands, overall performance had been excellent and a credit to the Commission and its staff.
6.2 Corporate Strategy 2012-16 – Review
The Clerk/Chief Executive informed the Commission that a review of Strategic Work Strands (SWSs) was undertaken at the mid-point of the four year Corporate Strategy with revised SWSs now being put in place for the remainder of the Strategy period, namely:
- Assembly Future
- Organisational Development
- Resource Planning
The Clerk/CE requested Members note that the Assembly Future SWS project team will undertake a review of the Corporate Strategy with a view to bringing forward proposals to include a Strategy update to address the extension of mandate until 2016.
6.3 Budget Planning 2014/15 and 2015/16
The Clerk/Chief Executive informed the Commission that in anticipation of further pressures on public sector expenditure, preliminary work had commenced to assess the implications of a further 4% cut in 2015/16. The Clerk/CE advised that no further work was being undertaken to consider additional budget cuts in 2014/15 as existing cuts were being implemented.
The Clerk/Chief Executive further highlighted that year on year budget pressures impacting on service delivery as efficiency savings become exhausted, providing the example of the Youth Assembly as a project for which funding was no longer available.
The Speaker informed Members that he had held several meetings in relation to the Youth Assembly to explore its sustainability and that the Commissioner for Children and Young People had agreed to revisit the original proposal to see if costs could be reduced. Members confirmed their commitment to the establishment of a Youth Assembly and welcomed a further update when available.
6.4 Members Professional Development
The Director of Clerking and Reporting informed the Commission that a draft Member Development Programme had been prepared and would be presented to the Commission meeting in September 2014. This proposal would require the continued support of both the Legislative Strengthening Trust and the Assembly Commission, and an associated proposal for Commission support would also be presented to the Commission meeting in September 2014.
The Clerk/Chief Executive highlighted that the scope of Member development activities would be dependent on both the support of the Legislative Strengthening Trust and the outcome of the Commission’s budget planning exercise for 2015/16 and beyond.
6.5 Corporate Risk Register
The Commission noted the updated version of the Corporate Risk Register for June 2014.
6.6 Information point in Great Hall
The Clerk/Chief Executive informed the Commission that a ‘Microsoft Surface Touch Table’ had been acquired to facilitate an interactive information point for visitors and users of Parliament Building. It was suggested that it could also be used for a display on the Centenary of World War 1 (WW1) It was agreed that Commission Members would view the proposed WW1 presentation on the equipment following their meeting on 1 July 2014.
6.7 Freedom of Information
The Clerk/Chief Executive informed the Commission that there had been a number of Freedom of Information requests relating to the use of Office Cost Expenditure.
6.8 Events policy
The Clerk/Chief Executive informed Members that staff had been experiencing some difficulties relating to the rules governing the hosting of events. The Commission agreed that all MLAs should be informed that a 3 signature rule was required prior to any future event taking place and further suggested that a copy of the existing policy issue as a reminder of current procedures.
Ms Ruane noted that she found the current policy was restrictive. The Clerk/Chief Executive confirmed that Mr Welch was currently reviewing the policy for consideration at a future Commission meeting.
Mr Ramsey also requested that consideration be given to an exhibition on the ‘Irish Famine’ as raised by his party colleague Mr Dallat and it was agreed that a paper would be brought to a future meeting for consideration.
- Dr McGrath to forward correspondence from Atlantic Philanthropies on receipt;
- Dr McGrath to present the draft Member Development Programme to the Commission Meeting in September 2014;
- Arrangements to be made for Commission Members to view the WW1 presentation on the ‘Microsoft Surface Touch Table’ following their meeting on 1 July 2014;
- Mr Welch to correspond with all MLAs to ensure that they are aware of the 3 signature rule in advance of all future events; correspondence to also append current Events Policy;
- Mr Welch to present a review of the Events Policy to a future Commission Meeting; and
- Mr R Ramsey to provide a future paper relating to the ‘Irish Famine’ for the Commission’s consideration.
7. ASSEMBLY COMMISSION CORPORATE GOVERNANCE ARRANGEMENTS:
7.1 Revised draft Assembly Commission Handbook, including draft Code of Conduct
The Clerk/Chief Executive tabled the revised draft Commission Handbook and took Members through the proposed changes relating to the operation and governance of Commission meetings and the introduction of a draft code of conduct. Following consideration, Members agreed that a further opportunity should be arranged in Autumn 2014, for Members to discuss governance matters including the draft Handbook and the introduction of a draft Code of Conduct.
- CCEO to arrange a workshop in Autumn 2014 for the Commission to consider governance arrangements including the revised draft Commission Handbook and draft Code of Conduct.
7.2 Delegated Authority Arrangements
Mr Logue took Members through his paper relating to the review if the Clerk/Chief Executive’s current level of delegation. Following discussion in relation to the limits for financial approval thresholds, it was agreed that the limit of £1m would be applied for expenditure on both capital projects and service contracts (whole of life).
Decision: The Commission agreed the Clerk/Chief Executives revised delegated authority arrangements.
- CCEO to revise letter as instructed for signature by the Speaker and issue copy to all Commission Members.
Mr Ramsey MLA left the meeting at 3.55pm
7.3 Information Management Processes
The Clerk/Chief Executive drew Members attention to his paper proposing the development of a dedicated shared web space Commission Members and on the introduction of a revised template for the submission of all future papers to the Assembly Commission.
Decision: The Commission approved the development of a shared web space for Commission Members and their staff and approved the reformatted submission template for the submission of all future papers presented to the Assembly Commission.
- CCEO to liaise with IS Office on the construction of shared web space; and
- CCEO to update and issue guidance on revised submission templates.
8. DRAFT PSNI SEARCH MoU
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House reminded the Commission that at its last meeting on 13 May 2014, Members had requested further clarification on a number of points in relation to the draft Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Northern Ireland Assembly (NIA) and Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), on the execution of searches in premises of Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Parliament Buildings.
The Commission noted the progress made regarding the points upon which they sought clarification and following consideration it was agreed that further advice on the different constitutional arrangements between Westminster and the Assembly would be provided to the Commission to include advice on the role of the Speaker and any data protection implications in relation to the confiscation of materials from Party offices. It was further agreed that a final draft MOU would be brought to a future Commission meeting for approval.
- Mr Widdis to provide written legal advice on the different constitutional arrangements between Westminster and the Northern Ireland Assembly and in relation to the role of the Speaker. Advice to include any data protection implications in relation to the confiscation of materials from Party offices; and
- Mr Welch to present a revised MoU to a future Commission Meeting.
9. Review of Parliament Buildings External Lighting
The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House drew Members consideration to the upgrading of external lighting of Parliament Buildings. The Commission agreed that a further paper should be brought for their consideration in September 2014 detailing the costs involved in the installation of an LED system providing not only standard white light but also an extensive range of colours. Members further agreed that a draft policy paper should be developed relating to the governance for the use of colour on designated dates to celebrate special occasions and/or charitable initiatives. In conclusion, the Commission agreed that they would consider all ad hoc requests for external lighting on special occasions until a policy had been approved.
- Mr Welch to prepare a further paper for consideration at the Commission meeting in September 2014. Paper to include detail on costs and policy arrangements on the governance of lighting the building; and
- Mr Welch to facilitate all future ad-hoc requests to light Parliament Buildings for decision by the Assembly Commission.
10. SARC Annual Report 2013-2014
Mr McKenna, Chairperson for the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC) presented the SARC Annual Report providing an account of activities during 2013/2014 and setting out the Committee’s objectives for 2014/15.
Ms Ruane highlighted that she would like to see further improvements in relation to the governance arrangements of the Assembly Commission, including benchmarking against each of the other legislatures. Mr McKenna confirmed that the role of SARC was to provide support and advice to the Assembly Commission and the Clerk/Chief Executive in order to ensure sound financial and governance arrangements and that SARC would continue to oversee the handling of key risk areas by the Secretariat to ensure that risk is being appropriately managed and value for money secured.
Decision: The Commission noted the Annual Report of the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee for 2013/2014.
11. SARC Chairperson’s Terms of Appointment
Mr McKenna left the meeting.
Decision: The Commission agreed to the extension of the SARC Chairperson’s term of appointment to 30 November 2015 and uplift SARC fees by 1%, with effect from 1 April 2014.
- Mr Widdis to progress administrative arrangements for the extension of SARC Chairperson’s terms of appointment.
12. Implementation of the Charities Policy
Mr McKenna re-joined the meeting.
The Director of Information and Outreach provided background to the matter, informing Members that they had originally approved the Northern Ireland Assembly Charity Policy in March 2010 and in January 2012 had approved the implementation process of the policy. He highlighted that screening had identified some matters which were considered by the Commission in April 2013. Mr J Stewart highlighted the feedback received to the consultation exercise and mitigating factors involved in taking the policy forward.
Decision: The Commission approved amendments to the Implementation Policy for the selection of the Charity of the Year following equality screening.
- Mr J Stewart to proceed with the implementation policy for the selection of the Charity of the Year.
13. Annual Equality Progress Report
Mr Logue informed the Commission that they are required to submit an annual report to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland on the actions undertaken during the reporting period 2013-2014 in relation to the Assembly Commission’s obligations under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act and the DDA. Members considered the progress report.
Ms Ruane drew Members attention to Section 2, relating to examples of Section 75 outcomes and impacts and stated that she felt that the answer did not fully reflect changes to policies or practices using screening or equality impact assessment. Mr Logue confirmed that equality had become more mainstreamed across all directorates and that Section 75 obligations were now being considered from the point of policy development. Ms Ruane further highlighted her opposition to the policy for answering written questions in English only and enquired if the Commission’s decision had been screened under Section 75. The Clerk/Chief Executive advised that this had not been undertaken but that it would now be subject to an equality screening exercise.
Mr Weir informed the Commission that he was content with the report and proposed that the report be submitted to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland. Mr Cree seconded.
The Commission voted as follows:
For: Mr Weir and Mr Cree = 52 votes.
Against: Ms Ruane = 29 votes
Ms Cochrane abstained from the vote
The proposal was agreed.
Decision: The Commission agreed that the Annual Progress Report be submitted to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.
- CCEO to undertake a screening exercise on the Commission’s policy on answering Assembly Questions;
- CCEO to note inclusion of CAJ Correspondence within Annual Report to Equality Commission for 2014-15; and
- CCEO to issue Annual Report and Cover Letter to the Equality Commission.
14. Any Other Business
14.1Provision of Welfare Related Services to Members/ Member’s Staff
The Director of Corporate Services took Members through his paper which related to the provision of a range of welfare related services to Members and their staff. Mr Weir requested that consideration also be given to those staff paid from the Financial Assistance to Political Parties Scheme.
Decision: The Commission agreed to avail of the NICS Framework Contract for the provision of a range of welfare related services to Members their staff and Party staff paid through the Assembly payroll, extending the service to MLA’s staff for a period of 6 months after employment to deal with issues of redundancy if an MLA is not returned following Assembly elections.
- Mr R Stewart to implement the provision of welfare related services to Members, Member’s staff and Party staff paid through the Assembly payroll system.
14.2 Correspondence from the Committee on the Administration of Justice.
The Commission noted correspondence from the Committee on the Administration of Justice and agreed that a draft response should be prepared for Members consideration.
- Mr Widdis to provide a draft response to CAJ for consideration by Members in advance of issue.
15. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The next meeting will take place on Wednesday, 24 September 2014 at 2.00pm in Room 106.
The meeting concluded at 4.55pm to commence in closed session. The Clerk/ Chief Executive was present for Item 16.
16. Organisational Redesign Project - Update
The Clerk/Chief Executive provided Members with an update on the Organisational Redesign Project
Mr Reaney left the meeting.
A private meeting between Commission Members and the Chairperson of SARC followed the Commission Meeting.
Mr Tony Logue
Head of the Commission and Chief Executive’s Office