Minutes of Proceedings

Session: Session currently unavailable

Date: 19 December 2018

Meeting Venue: Room 106, Parliament Buildings

Meeting date: Wednesday 19 December 2018

Meeting Time: 11.00am

Commission Members:
The Speaker
Mr Jim Wells MLA
Mr Alex Maskey MLA
Mr Alex Attwood
Mr Robin Swann MLA
Mr Stewart Dickson MLA

Officials present:
Mrs Lesley Hogg, Ms Tara Caul, Mr Richard Stewart, Mr Robin Ramsey, Ms Frances
Leneghan and Mrs Janet Hughes

Others in attendance:
Mr Jim Brooks, Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC) Chairperson
Mr Simon Burrowes, Head of Public Engagement
Ms Sinéad McDonnell, Head of HR
Ms Angela Kelly, Senior Legal Adviser

The meeting commenced at 11.04am.


No apologies were received.


There were no declarations of interest.


3.1 The Speaker informed Members that, further to the correspondence from the Women’s Caucus which was tabled at the October meeting, he had subsequently met with the Chair of the Caucus. The Speaker explained that he had proposed holding a Speaker’s event to mark International Women’s Day 2019 and the Caucus has agreed to help develop this.

The Speaker also advised that he had informed the Caucus to let him know if it considers that the Commission can assist with its future priorities.

Members were content with the approach.

3.2 The Speaker advised that the Clerk/Chief Executive would be writing to all staff before the Christmas break and suggested that the Clerk be asked to pass on the thanks of the Commission to staff for their work throughout the year, particularly in the current difficult circumstances.

Members were content.

3.3 The Speaker said that there had been a number of media stories in recent months over items of Commission business and, given that Members may be unfamiliar with Commission provisions on media handling, he had asked officials to develop a paper on media handling which he tabled. Robin Ramsey, Adviser to the Speaker/Head of Corporate Support spoke to the paper.

Mr Ramsey outlined that the Commission Handbook had provisions for media handling on Commission Business reflecting the Commission’s collective corporate responsibilities. In line with those procedures, if Members received contact from the media on Commission business they should either refer them to the Communications Office or the Member should contact the Commission Office for advice and support. Mr Ramsey acknowledged that Members had only just had sight of the document and was content for Members to come back to him if they had any queries.


Draft minutes issued to Members on 4 December 2018.

As there were no objections the minutes from the last meeting were agreed.


The Speaker stated that at the last Commission meeting Members agreed to initiate the Commission’s principles on centenaries in 2019 and would commence with a lecture covering the centenary of the first sitting of Dáil Éireann and the beginning of the Irish War of Independence. The Speaker asked Mr Ramsey to update Members on arrangements.

Mr Ramsey informed Members that following discussions with the Ceann Comhairle’s office, a date for the “Perspectives On” lecture had been agreed of Wednesday 30 January 2019. The event has been arranged to take place in the Senate Chamber commencing at 7pm with Dr Eamon Phoenix delivering the lecture. The Speaker had also asked the Ceann Comhairle to extend the invitation to the Oireachtas members of the North/South Inter-Parliamentary Association Joint Executive Committee.

Mr Ramsey noted that the Speaker advised that he had been invited and would be attending a series of events in Dublin in January to mark the centenary of the first sitting of Dáil Éireann on behalf of the Assembly. Given the timing of the Commission meeting to Christmas, Mr Ramsey proposed issuing the invitations on return in January.

Members were content with the approach.


Lesley Hogg, Clerk/Chief Executive, advised Members that all actions from the previous Commission meetings had been completed.

Mrs Hogg confirmed that further information in relation to a Youth Assembly would be provided in the Clerk’s Report.

In relation to the display of artefacts Mrs Hogg said that a paper would be brought to the next Commission meeting and would include proposals for loan arrangements to external organisations. Mr Dickson asked if following the temporary exhibition all Assembly artefacts had been returned to storage including those that were previously situated in the First Minister and deputy First Minister’s Offices. Mrs Hogg advised that access to the offices was currently within the Assembly’s control but that she would check and confirm that all artefacts were securely stored.

Action: Richard Stewart, Director of Corporate Services, to present a paper on the way forward in relation to the display of artefacts at the next Commission meeting. Paper to include proposals for loan arrangements to external organisations.

Action: Mr Stewart to check whether artefacts previously situated in the First Minister and deputy First Minister’s Offices have been placed in storage.


The Speaker advised Members that a number of pieces of correspondence had been received since the last meeting in October.

7.1 The Commission noted correspondence from The Northern Ireland Public Service Ombudsman (NIPSO). Members were content for a meeting to be arranged and that a holding reply would be issued to allow a paper to be prepared for consideration at the next Commission
meeting setting out the Commission’s specific responsibilities towards the NIPSO.

Action: Speaker to issue a holding reply.

Action: Corporate Support Unit to prepare a paper for consideration at the next Commission meeting.

Action: Corporate Support Unit to arrange a meeting between the NIPSO and the Commission.

7.2 The Commission noted correspondence from Kellie Armstrong MLA in relation to internet speeds in Parliament Buildings. The Speaker advised that as this was an operational matter he had asked the Clerk/Chief Executive to investigate. Mrs Hogg confirmed that the IS Office had been working with Ms Armstrong and Mr Dickson to investigate the issues identified and that these had now been addressed.

Mrs Hogg also reminded Members that it is preferable to contact the IS Office at the time any IS issues are identified so that they can be investigated in real time.


Mrs Hogg provided Members with an update on the key issues which had arisen since the last Commission meeting, namely:

Staffing Update

Mrs Hogg advised Members that the Staff in Post (SiP) figure at 1 December was 311.7 Full Time Equivalents (FTE) against a staff complement of 349.4 FTE which means that there is likely to be an impact on the Assembly Commission’s readiness to return to Assembly business at short notice. Jim Wells asked about the redeployment of specialist staff and whether there had been any improvement in the IT staff position. Mrs Hogg advised that the Scottish Parliament was undertaking a review of the IS Office and was due to report by the end of December. Mrs Hogg also advised that a meeting was scheduled in January to discuss an apprentice programme for IS staff.

Unacceptable Behaviour

Mrs Hogg updated Members on the work being done to identify and address unacceptable behaviour within the organisation. She advised that following the 2017 staff survey she had set up an Unacceptable Behaviours Working Group to consider the findings in more detail and as a result, Inspire Knowledge and Leadership was commissioned to conduct focus groups and ask staff for suggestions on how to address the issues. The report has just been received and the recommendations will be considered.

Mrs Hogg also confirmed that staff are regularly informed that unacceptable behaviour will not be tolerated by the Assembly Commission, whether it is committed by colleagues, managers, Members, visitors or other building users. She stated that the support of Assembly Commission Members, their parties and all MLAs in communicating this message remains important.
Mrs Hogg advised that the work requested by the Commission to develop a policy and process to deal with concerns about unacceptable behaviour was ongoing and was anticipated to be brought to the Commission at the end of March.

Management Accounts

Mrs Hogg referred Members to the Management Accounts for November 2018. She advised that based on the assumption that there would be no return to normal Assembly business before the end of the financial year, £1.53m was returned as part of the December Monitoring round for DEL Resource and £127k for DEL Capital. The forecast outturn was now just under £35m which was very similar to 2017/18. Following a query from Alex Attwood, Mrs Hogg confirmed that no monies had been held back for a possible return to normal Assembly business.

Pre Action Protocol Correspondence

Mrs Hogg advised that Members had been informed about the receipt of a further pre action protocol letter relating to a former MLA’s entitlement to expenses paid under the IFRP’s 2016 Determination and that the Legal Services Office had responded on 14 December 2018.

Following discussion, it was agreed that Mrs Hogg would keep Members informed in relation to the outcome. Mr Dickson asked if the route of mediation had been considered as an option. Mrs Hogg advised that the former MLA’s solicitor had proposed mediation and that this was being considered.

Action: Mrs Hogg to keep the Commission informed in relation to the outcome of pre action protocol correspondence.

Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC)

Mrs Hogg informed Members that SARC had reviewed its Terms of Reference at its meeting in October. As part of that review, SARC agreed to provide for another Commission Member to attend on behalf of the nominated Member if required. Mr Wells clarified that he had been appointed for one year and said that he would be content to be replaced if any other Member wished to replace him.

Following discussion, it was agreed that Mr Wells should continue to represent the Assembly Commission at SARC.

Corporate Risk Register

Mrs Hogg provided Members with a copy of the December 2018 Corporate Risk Register for information.

Biodiversity and Environmental Benchmarking

Business in The Community (BiTC) Biodiversity Award Scheme 2018

Mrs Hogg advised Members that over the summer the Commission participated in the BiTC Biodiversity Award Scheme and has again successfully achieved accreditation at the highest platinum level.

Business in The Community (BiTC) Environmental Benchmarking Survey 2018

Mrs Hogg informed Members that the Commission had been awarded a Gold level in the BiTC Environmental Benchmarking Survey 2018.

Youth Assembly

Mrs Hogg advised Members that work was ongoing in relation to developing options for the establishment of a Youth Assembly. It is intended that a report will come to the Commission for consideration in Spring 2019.

Action: Mrs Hogg to present a report on options for the development of a Youth Assembly to the Commission in Spring 2019.

International Day – Disability

Mrs Hogg informed Members that International Day of Disability in December was marked by providing a number of accessible tours of Parliament Buildings for people with disabilities. Regular meetings with umbrella groups are ongoing.

Complaints Annual Activity Report

Mrs Hogg referred Members to the Complaints Annual Activity Report covering the period from September 2017 to September 2018 and noted that one complaint had been received and investigated during the reporting period.


Mrs Hogg updated Members on the work that had been undertaken to develop a Corporate Plan for 2018-2019 and asked Mr Ramsey to provide Members with a summary on the development of the Plan.

Mr Ramsey spoke to the paper outlining that the Commission considered the draft Corporate Strategy at its July meeting and agreed that it could be used as a guiding framework to facilitate the corporate and business planning process for 2018-2019. He said that the draft corporate plan reflected the new approach adopted in the draft Corporate Strategy and represented a significant cultural change for the organisation. He also highlighted that extensive consultation had taken place.

Following a question from Mr Dickson in relation to the development of a Health and Wellbeing Action Plan Mr Ramsey confirmed that it is influenced by trends in sickness absence.

Mr Attwood asked whether in the event of the Assembly resuming normal business and a backlog of Assembly business, the Corporate Plan focused on maintaining this state of readiness. Mrs Hogg stated that retaining readiness was a key area of focus in the plan and that consideration had been given on how to fill vacant posts at short notice. She explained that temporary staff would have to be employed and that Commission staff would be redirected to specialist and high priority posts as necessary.

Mr Attwood also asked about training for MLAs and resilience training for staff. Mrs Hogg advised that Member development was continuing and training had taken place over recent months. Meetings had also been held with Parties in order to bring forward a Member’s Development Plan. In relation to staff resilience Mrs Hogg stated that while it had been a difficult two years, temporary redeployment had gone well and staff were being brought back for return days, events and training and that they were updated on a regular basis.

Mr Maskey asked if there was anything to note around preparations for Brexit. Mrs Hogg advised that officials attend as many meetings as possible although often this was in an observer capacity and that consideration is being given to the effect of the EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 on the Assembly’s procedures. Following discussion, Members approved the draft Corporate Plan 2018- 2019.


Mr Stewart presented a paper on Secretariat Pay Policy. The purpose of this was to facilitate the Commission’s consideration of the merits of a policy of pay recovery in the Assembly Secretariat and to determine the parameters for negotiations with TUS on the pay claim for 2018.

Following the decision of the Commission at its meeting on 11 October to undertake a comprehensive job evaluation of all posts in the Secretariat, Mr Stewart explained how the job evaluation exercise would be conducted.

Mr Stewart explained that in relation to pay recovery and as agreed at the previous Commission meeting, a set of questions was issued to Commission Members on 31 October to facilitate a consistent discussion on pay recovery by the Commission but that no replies were received. Following extensive discussion, the Commission agreed that the impending pay and grading review should be implemented in advance of any decision on pay recovery, as this might have an impact. In relation to the 2018 pay claim the Commission agreed the following as its negotiating position with TUS:

1. A pay rise of 2.7% for 2018/19;
2. No re-introduction of an Assembly Allowance;
3. Pay Progression for all relevant staff who meet the performance eligibility criteria of satisfactory;
4. Reduction to two spine points for all pay scales;
5. No change in annual leave allowance; and
6. Permission to negotiate with TUS on overtime rates.


Mrs Hogg spoke to this paper. Following discussion Members agreed that more time was required to consider this paper and that they would seek the views of their individual parties.

Action: Members to consider the paper on the future of Politics Plus ahead of a further discussion at the next Commission meeting.

Comfort break until 1.15pm.

Simon Burrowes, Head of Public Engagement, joined the meeting at 1.15pm for agenda item 12.


Simon Burrowes presented this paper outlining the reasons for the review of the Events in Parliament Buildings and its Grounds Policy and the key principles that he proposed incorporating.

Following discussion, Members noted and agreed the key principles that will underpin the proposed review.

Simon Burrowes left the meeting at 1.39pm.

Sinéad McDonnell, Head of Human Resources and Angela Kelly, Senior Legal Adviser joined the meeting at 1.39pm for agenda item 13.


Sinéad McDonnell presented a paper on the Political Activities section of the Standards of Conduct Policy and outlined three options for Commission consideration.

Mr Wells left the meeting at 1.44pm.

Following discussion, it was agreed that further legal advice would be provided to the Commission and that a specific meeting would be convened in January to consider this.

Action: Robin Ramsey to request legal advice on behalf of the Commission for consideration at a specific meeting in January 2019.

Sinéad McDonnell and Angela Kelly left the meeting at 2.09pm.


Mr Stewart presented a paper outlining the benefits of becoming a member of the Diversity Champions Programme and sought Commission approval.

Following consideration, Members were content for the Commission to become a member of the Diversity Champions Programme.

Mr Stewart advised Members that the Gender Action Plan which is presented to the Commission on a six monthly basis would be updated to report on any additional activities.

Action: Equality Manager to commence the Diversity Champions Programme application process.

15. AOB

There was no other business.


Meeting to be convened in January to further consider the Standards of Conduct Policy: Political Activities submission.

The next full meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, 5 February 2019 at 10am.

The Speaker concluded by wishing Members a Happy Christmas and thanked officials for their work throughout the year.

The meeting concluded at 2.13pm.

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