Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2013/2014

Date: 20 November 2013

Venue: Room 106

The meeting commenced at 4.07pm


An apology was received from Pat Ramsey for the meeting. The Commission wished Mr Ramsey a speedy recovery.


The Speaker sought any declarations of interest from the Commission in relation to items of business being discussed. None were received.


The Speaker reminded Members that as agreed at the previous meeting, a separate closed meeting would take place at the end of the Commission Meeting, with the Chair of the Secretariat and Audit Committee (SARC) to discuss the SARC Annual Report. The Speaker also advised Members that a confidential paper relating to the Organisational Redesign project would also be taken as part of this closed meeting.

The minutes of the meeting on 26 June 2013 were agreed with one amendment to Item 5:'SARC Annual Report':

Amendment: Final line to be replaced to read 'It was further agreed that a full list of all contracts currently operating under the authority of the Commission would be provided for its information'.


5.1 Parliament Buildings Roof – Update

The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House provided the Commission with an update in relation to the roof project. The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House informed Members that the project was now moving to Stage 2 for the procurement of a main contractor and that following a full evaluation, a Tender Report would be presented for consideration and final approval to the Commission meeting on 29 January 2014. Ms Ruane sought assurances that all necessary equality obligations had been followed in the process and the Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House confirmed that the process had been pursued under current European guidelines.

The Director of Facilities highlighted that an important aspect of the project would be the successful decant of Secretariat staff from the 4th floor. He confirmed that suitable accommodation had been secured for approximately 100 personnel within the Stormont Estate, which left a remaining 30 – 40 staff requiring relocation. The Director of Facilities confirmed that the Clerk/DG had held discussions with the Head of the Civil Service and Executive (OFMDFM) personnel to explore availability of further accommodation within Parliament Buildings but to date had been unable to assist. Members agreed that a letter should now issue to the Head of the Civil Service to seek his further consideration of the matter.

Mr Weir sought additional information in relation to the estimate of potential accommodation sought from parties and it was agreed that the Director of Facilities would explore and discuss these requirements with Members. Members confirmed that they would go back to their respective Parties to explore the possibility of surrendering any Member/Party accommodation under their discretion. The Clerk/DG confirmed that in keeping the financial impact to a minimum he was keen to support as many Secretariat staff as possible staying within the building.

5.2 Ormiston House

The Director of Facilities provided the Commission with an update in relation to the sale of the Ormiston House site. He highlighted that at present the agent was in receipt of a single live bid. Mr Welch sought the Commission's direction on how to progress the matter and it was agreed that a revised LPS valuation would be sought in conjunction with a new commercial valuation for the site with a view to further discussion at the Commission Meeting in January 2014.

5.3 Additional Email facility for Members

The Clerk/DG highlighted that IS Office were now able to provide an alternative email address for Members who wished to avail of it.

5.3 Employers and Public Liability Insurance

The Director of Corporate Services reminded the Commission that at its meeting on 26 June 2013, a paper had been considered which set out possible future approaches to the management of insurance cases involving a defence to a claim of defamation and provided an update in relation to the recent case which included information on the question of the recoupment of the excess.

The Commission considered the options presented in relation to the treatment of future claims under the defamation element of the policy and comparative information between the insurance arrangements within the Assembly and those in place within other legislatures.

Ms Ruane highlighted that equality of treatment should apply to all MLAs in their role and requested further information on similar liable claims against the corporate bodies of the Oireachtas and the Scottish Parliament. It was agreed that a further paper would be considered at the Commission meeting in January 2014.

With the exception of Mr Weir, Members agreed that a letter should issue to the Member to seek recovery of the insurance excess paid.

The Clerk/Director General provided Members with a brief overview of key issues contained within his update report, drawing Members attention to the following:

6.1 Information Update
The Clerk/DG highlighted the detail of the information update which he had issued for Members on 22 October 2013. Mr Reaney also informed Members that the newly formatted Assembly Commission Annual Report is now available on the Website in video and invited feedback on this format.

6.2 Financial Planning/ Prioritisation for 2014/15
The Clerk/DG highlighted that he had held discussions with available Commission Members relating to financial planning and prioritisation for 2014/15. Mr Reaney informed the Commission that these discussions would assist in the preparation of a workshop to review the financial planning and priorities for the remainder of the Corporate Strategy period. Members agreed that the workshop would take place on 12 December 2013. The meeting would include a review of current governance matters. The Clerk/DG advised the Commission that it was now necessary to lift the moratorium on external recruitment which he had held in place for the past three years. He would be proceeding to fill a limited number of specialist posts within available budget provision.

6.3 Assembly Commission Budget Setting Process
The Clerk/DG reminded Members that they had previously agreed that the model used to set the budget for the Commission of the National Assembly for Wales would provide a basis for developing an appropriate model for the NI Assembly Commission. He highlighted that Secretariat and DFP officials had met and a final version of the proposed approach was being prepared for consideration by the Commission, the Finance and Personnel Committee, the Executive and the Assembly.

6.4 Good Relations Review Session
The Clerk/DG requested that Members give consideration to holding a Good Relations Review session in January 2014. Ms Ruane stated her opposition to holding any discussion on the matter of flags within such a session. Following consideration, it was agreed that a review session would be held on 7 January 2013, following the Business Committee Meeting.

6.5 Awards
The Clerk/DG informed Members of two recent successes in respect of Parliament Buildings, namely:

  • the Sustainable Development team within the Facilities Directorate has been successful in retaining the Platinum level award in the annual Arena Network Awards; and
  • the Eurest housekeeping team have been declared the winners in a UK wide award for the best kept and presented public building.

6.6 Security Incidents
The Commission considered the recent security incidents within the Stormont Estate and agreed that all buildings users be advised that Parliament Buildings should not be used as the delivery address for private parcels or packages.

6.7 Litigation Update
The Director of Legal Services provided members with an update in relation to the current litigation matters. Ms Ruane requested a written response from the Clerk/DG in relation to an incident she had raised regarding damage to a vehicle in the upper car park. It was further agreed that the Director of Legal and Governance would provide legal advice on the Commission's liability for instances of accidental damage to vehicles in the upper car park.

6.8 Management Accounts
The Director of Corporate Services provided an overview of the Management Accounts for the 7 month period April – October 2013.


The Director of Information and Outreach spoke to a paper which provided the Commission with progress achieved in relation to reducing the quantity of printed material within the Assembly. Mr J Stewart also highlighted further proposals on the way forward in the form of a 'Digital First' Strategy.

Members acknowledged the reduction in the amount of printed material currently produced by the Assembly and requested that a revised options paper be brought to the Commission meeting in December 2013 dealing with procurement options.


It was agreed that the matter would be deferred for consideration to the Commission meeting in December 2013 and that the paper be updated to include cost information.


It was agreed that the matter would be deferred for consideration to the Commission meeting in December 2013 to allow for consideration along with the External Relations Strategy paper.


It was agreed that the matter would be deferred for consideration to the Commission meeting in December 2013 to allow for consideration along with the External Relations Strategy paper.

The Head of the Commission and Corporate Support Unit presented Members with a report, following consultation with Assembly Parties, regarding the number of days upon which the Union Flag flies from Parliament Buildings and detailing a range of options and how a process of public consultation could be carried out.

Ms Ruane stated that she and her party were opposed to addressing the matter at the Commission which she felt was fundamentally anti-democratic.

Following discussion, it was agreed that a further paper would be provided to the Commission Meeting in January 2014 detailing additional information on consultation process including timeframes.


Mr Eccles joined the meeting.

The Head of Security provided the Commission with an update in relation to several Business Continuity issues requiring the Commission's consideration and approval before the Business Continuity planning arrangements could be progressed to the next stage.

The Commission agreed the short term alternative accommodation Options but requested that the current list be expanded to include additional public and community sector buildings.

The Commission agreed the proposed actions in seeking a longer term option for alternative accommodation. Members also noted the four main recommendations to improve the Assembly's IT resilience in the event of an incident at Parliament Buildings. The two recommendations relating to off-site or 3rd party options would be considered further at the Commission meeting in January 2014 and the recommendation relating to relocation of one server room above ground level would be taken forward as part of the roof project. Costings in relation to the recommendation on the provision of a second internet feed would be considered at the Commission meeting in December 2013.

Mr Eccles left the meeting.


13.1 Correspondence from IFRP
The Speaker highlighted that he had received correspondence from the Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP) following the Commission's request for IFRP to include, within a revised Determination, the establishment of a contingency fund for Members who were unable to access their constituency offices due to emergency or unforeseen circumstances. The Speaker advised the Commission that IFRP were agreed that the circumstances outlined were not sufficiently exceptional to justify the publication of a new Determination or a further revision to the current Determination. The Commission agreed that a further letter should be submitted to IFRP requesting that the matter is considered within the next Determination. Members also agreed that the Director of Corporate Services would explore any additional support which could be made available by the Commission to support such instances.

13.2 Tributes to Literary Icons
The Advisor to the Speaker informed the Commission that the Speaker had received 2 requests from Members for commemorating Mr Seamus Heaney and Mr CS Lewis within Parliament Buildings. Following discussion it was agreed that proposals for tribute would be brought to next Commission meeting in January 2014. In addition it was further agreed that a draft policy should be developed to address future requests for recognising individuals within Parliament Buildings.

13.3 Future Commission Meetings
The Commission agreed the dates for future Commission Meetings until December 2014 and that it would only deal with urgent business.

14. Date of next Meeting

It was agreed that the next meeting would take place following the Financial Planning workshop on Thursday 12 December 2013.

The meeting concluded at 6.35pm to commence in closed session.

Tony Logue
Head of the Commission and Corporate Support Unit
(Meeting resumed in closed session at 6.36pm with Commission Members, the Clerk/Director General, Ms A McGarel and Ms K Martin and Mr C McKenna)

15. Organisational Redesign (OR)
The Clerk/Director General updated Members on the work of the Organisational Redesign (OR) Project Board and presented a paper on the viability of an early exit scheme which might assist in streamlining organisational structures. The paper outlined three options and considered the advantages, risks and costs associated with an early exit scheme offered to:

a) all grades of Assembly staff;
b) senior staff (at grades AG4, AG3 and AG2); and
c) senior staff (at grades AG3 and AG2)

Commission Members discussed the issues involved and decided that none of the options offered the prospect of a viable business case at this time. In moving forward, the Commission agreed that the Project Board continue its current work and explore other potential avenues to facilitate the project.

The Clerk/Director General, Ms A McGarel and Ms K Martin left the meeting.

16. Annual Meeting with Chair of SARC

The Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC) Annual Report had been presented to the Commission in June 2013 and Mr McKenna gave Members an overview of the report. During discussion Ms Ruane expressed her view that the Commission was anti-democratic and asked that SARC look at the matter. Mr McKenna agreed to include the item under AoB at the next meeting of SARC. Ms Ruane stated her concern that she had not to date been provided with a list of contracts as requested at the Commission meeting in June 2013.

Meeting concluded at 6.50pm

Find MLAs


Locate MLAs


News and Media Centre


Read press releases, watch live and archived video

Find out more

Follow the Assembly


Keep up-to-date with the Assembly

Find out more