Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2014/2015

Date: 18 March 2015

The meeting commenced at 2.04pm

1. Declarations of Interest

All Members recorded that they are in receipt of Members’ salaries and allowances for agenda item 5.1.

3. Chairperson's Business

The Speaker informed Members that he will be meeting with the Minister for Finance and Personnel to discuss engagement with the Commission regarding the budget process and he will update Members accordingly.

The Speaker also informed Members of a slight change to the running order for today’s meeting.

4. Minutes of Meetings

18 February 2015

The Minutes were agreed for publication.

Action: Publish Minutes.

10 March 2015

The Minutes were approved subject to amendment to the recording of item 6.7.

Action: Distribute revised Minutes by correspondence for approval.

Following agreement of the minutes, there followed further discussion on the 2015-16 budget reductions discussed at the previous meeting. Ms Ruane reiterated her concern regarding the number of agency staff who will cease working at the Assembly and her belief that Members should endure more reductions in their direct budgets to mitigate this. Members recorded their collective discomfort at letting staff go.

The police service at Parliament Buildings was also discussed. Ms Ruane stated her belief that the PSNI should not be charging the Commission for policing Parliament Buildings. Stephen Welch, Director of Facilities, updated Members on discussions with the PSNI and cost reductions already implemented. Members agreed it was an issue that needed further investigation for future years.

5. Matters Arising

5.1 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 to gauge parties’ opinions on possible future models for determining and administering  salaries, allowances and pensions for MLAs.

Mr Widdis indicated if an alternative model is chosen, then legislation will be required and therefore time for a decision is limited. It was also noted the Independent Financial Review Panel (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.

Action: Reissue consultation documents and paper by correspondence.

5.2 Strategic Planning 2015 and Beyond (SP15+) – Post Workshop Update

Gareth McGrath spoke to his summary paper that had been amended to include the 3% reduction in Financial Assistance to Political Parties (FAPP) Scheme and the 25% reduction in consumables spending outside the Office Cost Allowance for Members for 2015-16.  A discussion on changes to the Assembly Childcare Scheme for Secretariat staff followed. The proposal to replace this scheme with a salary sacrifice voucher (Employers for Childcare) scheme is the subject of continued discussion between management and TUS. Members will be keep informed of the progress of these discussions.

Decisions: Lay the FAPP 2015 Scheme and accompanying motion in the Business Office.

Inform MLAs of 2015-16 budget reductions.

Consider at a future date actions to highlight the impacts of cuts on the 2015-16 Commission budget.

Actions: Lay FAPP 2015 scheme and motion with the Business Office.

Write to all MLAs and Party Whips with an update on the Commission’s 2015-16 budget.          

Write to Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP) regarding the Members’ Childcare Scheme.

5.3 Payment of Allowances to Assembly Commission Staff - Update

Richard Stewart, Director of Corporate Services, updated Members on discussions with Trade Union Side (TUS) in relation to the Payment of Allowances to Assembly Commission staff. Mr Stewart explained that he will be writing to NIPSA regarding the two options the Commission agreed to keep on the table in regards to the allowances at its February meeting in order to meet the Commission’s objective of bringing the payment of allowances to an end.

5.4 Roof Project

Stephen Welch, Director of Facilities, advised the Commission that the Parliament Buildings roof project remains on schedule and on target for completion within budget. Room 401 is now complete and the sustainable development improvements will be put in place from next week. Mr Gardiner suggested the Commission visit the 4th floor again once all staff members have been moved back so Members can view the benefits of the roof project.

Action: Arrange Commission visit to 4th floor of Parliament Buildings when all staff have returned.

6. Clerk/CE Key Updae Report

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

6.1 Independent Financial Review Panel – Consultation on Prior Disclosure of Interests

The Clerk/Chief Executive (Clerk/CE) advised Members that the IFRP consultation deadline is 27 March 2015 and stressed it is important that Members and Parties make their views known to the Panel.  

6.2 Management Accounts

The Clerk/CE updated Members on the Management Accounts for the 11 month period April 2014 to February 2015 and noted that the current OCE underspend would reduce significantly with  March commitments. The budget for 2014-15 remains on target. Ms Ruane stated her belief that any underspend will reflect negatively on the Commission at a time when budgets are being reduced. She asked that officials investigate the possibility of effectively using any underspend from the 2014-15 budget.

Action: Explore options for reallocating any 2014-15 underspend.

6.3 OECD – Public Governance Review

The Clerk/CE asked Members to note that he and Hugh Widdis, Director of Legal and Governance, met with a team from the Office for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as part of the Public Governance Review (PGR) which was commissioned by the Finance Minister. The meeting was on 25 February 2015 and the Clerk/CE briefed attendees on the role and work of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

6.4 Litigation update

The Clerk/CE informed Members that two litigation cases recently taken against the Commission on the grounds of sex discrimination have both been withdrawn.

7. Quarterly Gender Update

The Clerk/CE asked Members to note the ongoing progress of the Gender Action Plan Working Group and gave a brief summary of the recommendations in the European Commission Working Paper ‘How to engage senior men to promote women to senior decision-making positions in their organisations’. Ms Ruane welcomed the upcoming Gender workshops.

8. Equality Screening Report – Assembly Commission Questions

Members agreed more time was needed to reflect on this issue but anticipated making a decision at the next Commission meeting.

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

9. Fee Reviews for SARC, IFRP and Commissioner for Standards

Hugh Widdis, Director of Legal and Governance, presented his paper to the Commission and asked the Members to consider a number of issues regarding fee reviews.

Members felt that any extension of contracts and fees reviews required additional consideration

Decision: Members agreed to seek further information and delay decision until the next meeting.

Action: Provide report on how many days a year IFRP members, SARC members and the Commissioner for Standards claim the daily allowance.

Provide benchmarking daily rates to inform Commission Members on new rates for possible SARC appointments.

10. AOB

10.1 Next Meeting of the North/South Inter-Parliamentary Association (NSIPA)

Robin Ramsey, Adviser to The Speaker, advised the Commission that the next North South Plenary has been postponed to 26/27 June 2015 at Parliament Buildings.

10.2 Refreshments at Commission Meetings

Members agreed to limit refreshments at future Commission meetings to tea and coffee.

11. Date of Next Meeting

The next meeting will take place on Wednesday 29 April 2015 at 2pm in Room 106.

The Commission moved into closed session at 3.40 pm.

(Officials, other than the Clerk/Chief Executive and the Head of Human Resources, withdrew from the meeting)

12. Organisational Redesign

The Clerk/Chief Executive updated the Commission on the Organisational Redesign project and noted that the planned Voluntary Exit Scheme (VES) would provide a lever which may assist in creating opportunities for change. The Commission agreed to review the matter on the conclusion of the VES.

13. Voluntary Exit Scheme (VES)

The Commission considered the paper on the proposed Voluntary Exit Scheme (VES). Three aspects of the proposed VES process were discussed (i) Excluded Posts, (ii) Selection Process and (iii) Gender Equality issues.

(i) Excluded Posts – Members agreed the rationale for excluding posts and the list of posts to be excluded.

(ii) Selection Process – Members discussed the rationale for giving consideration to management grades in the VES selection stage in order to address an identified business need. It was agreed that the proposed rationale should be reviewed to ensure fairness in the selection process.

(iii) Gender Equality issues – Members requested sight of equality information for staff eligible to apply for the VES and to seek a legal view on whether the VES holds any risk of indirect discrimination on the basis of gender.   

Members agreed that Judith Cochrane MLA would sit on the VES selection panel along with the Clerk/Chief Executive and Comptroller & Auditor General.  

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