Minutes of Proceedings
Date: 21 January 2015
The meeting commenced at 2.00pm
An apology was received from Mr Pat Ramsey MLA
2. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
All Members declared an interest regarding Agenda item 7.
Ms Ruane declared an interest regarding Agenda item 8.
3. CHAIRPERSON’S BUSINESS
The Speaker confirmed that arrangements to recognise the contribution of the former Speaker, Lord Hay are being drawn up and that Commission Members will be kept informed of any planned events.
4. MINUTES OF MEETINGS
10 December 2014
Mrs Cochrane asked that her request for budget reduction options to be included in the minutes.
Action: Minutes will be amended as requested by Mrs Cochrane and sent for publication.
5. MATTERS ARISING
5.1 Roof Project – Update
Stephen Welch, Director of Facilities, informed the Commission that work remains on course for completion within budget in May 2015 despite recent inclement weather. Energy efficient and environmentally friendly facilities are currently being installed on the roof as part of the project.
Action: Commission to view progress on the roof project.
5.2 Broadcasting Contract
John Stewart, Director of Information and Outreach, presented options for pricing the extension to the existing broadcasting contract agreed in November 2014.
Decision: To proceed with the steady state option, maintaining the current fee.
Action: To correct a typographical error in the paper.
5.3 Budget 2015-2016
The Clerk / Chief Executive (Clerk/CE) updated Members on the budget reductions announced by the Finance Minister on 19 January 2015.
Prior to giving an overview of the budget settlement, the Clerk/CE referred to the process by which the Commission’s budget for 2015/16 had been set, the essential independence of the legislature and that the Commission will wish to revisit this issue in due course.
The Clerk/CE outlined the significant impact of the cuts in 2015/16, particularly following the efficiencies already delivered under SR2010. The 5% reduction equates to 8% on costs which are controllable by the Commission. Given the potential impact on staffing numbers the Commission would now have no option but to avail of the public sector voluntary exit scheme. He also highlighted the difficulties of delivering all savings from 1 April 2015 and emphasised the importance of final decisions being made by the Commission in early March.
He also referred to managing Members expectations, the potential for industrial action as cuts take effect (national, regional, local) and the long term impact on effectiveness and dignity of the Assembly as a parliamentary institution.
The Speaker informed the Commission that he had yet to receive responses to letters to the Minister for Finance. The Clerk / CE added that initial information had been requested by DFP regarding long term anticipated paybill cost reductions and that this was due by Monday 26 January 2015. Ms Ruane stated that she believed the timeframe for response is too short to allow a complete answer and that the Commission should meet with the Minister and OFMdFM. Mr McKenna added that for the purpose of planning, it is important that the return is made with the proviso that figures could only be an initial calculation at this stage, particularly for years after 2015-2016. Members gave some initial thoughts as to areas of the Commission remit where savings might be possible going forward.
The Clerk / CE added that the SP15+ project, headed by Dr Gareth McGrath, Director of Clerking and Reporting, will be presenting options for making savings going forward and that the Commission Office is arranging a planning session for early March to consider options. An interim report will be presented to the Commission at its February 2015 meeting.
Actions: Respond to Paybill Reduction Across the Public Sector correspondence from DFP.
To provide an update interim report on the SP15+ review at February’s meeting.
Follow up outstanding correspondence from Finance Minister.
Arrange SP15+ Budget Workshop for Members in early March 2015
5.4 Red Bull Crashed Ice event
Stephen Welch, Director of Facilities, detailed the plans for the Red Bull Crashed Ice event being staged on the Stormont Estate between Thursday 19 and Saturday 21 February 2015. The event is one of four Crashed Ice events being staged across the world in 2015 and some 50,000 spectators are anticipated as well as a huge global audience on Red Bull’s TV channel. Despite extensive construction and de-rig work on the Estate between 2 and 27 February, no disruption to the work of Parliament Buildings is envisaged.
John Stewart, Director of Information and Outreach, went on to provide details of events at Parliament Buildings for Crashed Ice. The Speaker has agreed to host an event to raise funds for the Assembly’s Charity of the Year, The Simon Community on Saturday 21 February 2015.
6. CLERK/CHIEF EXECUTIVE KEY UPDATE REPORT
The Clerk/CE expressed his thanks to Tony Logue, Cathy McGowan and Christine Dodson for their work supporting the Commission over recent years.
The Clerk/CE provided Members with an update on the key issues arising in his monthly report namely:
6.1 Stormont House Agreement
The Clerk / CE provided an indication as to how the Stormont House Agreement is likely to affect aspects of the Commission’s responsibility and budget.
6.2 Strategic Planning 2015 and Beyond (SP15+)
Gareth McGrath, Director of Clerking and Reporting provided the Commission with an update of the work of SP15+. The first information gathering task has a deadline of 26 January 2015. An interim report on progress will be provided for the February 2015 Commission meeting. The first SP15+ Steering Group meeting will be held on 23 January 2015.
6.3 Management Accounts
Richard Stewart, Director of Corporate Services, informed Members that the current underspend in OCE and Secretariat Staff will be resolved by year end and any GAE underspend at year end will be carried over to the 2015-21016 accounting year. The 2014-2015 budget remains on target.
6.4 Corporate Risk Register
The Clerk / CE noted that there were no changes to the Corporate Risk Register. However, upcoming budget reductions will increase risk in some areas.
6.5 Independent Financial Review Panel (the Panel) Liaison Meetings
The Clerk / CE informed the Commission that he has met with the Panel following the recent BBC Spotlight programme investigating Members’ expenses. The Panel is currently looking at possible mechanisms for statutory pensions auto enrolment for Members’ staff.
6.6 Recognition of Seamus Heaney and C.S. Lewis
The Clerk / CE informed members of progress since the Commission agreed to recognise Seamus Heaney and CS Lewis on 20 November 2013. Members discussed possible forms of recognition other than portraits.
Action: Seek Tony Logue’s input on previous contacts with the Heaney and Lewis families on the proposed recognition of S Heaney and CS Lewis.
6.7 House of Commons Governance Committee
The Clerk / CE informed Members of the recent publication of the House of Commons Governance Committee report which is due to be debated in the House of Lords in January 2015. Points regarding: a proposed statutory responsibility to set the strategic framework for the delivery of services; the Commission should have two external Members and two official Members; portfolio responsibilities should be allocated to backbench Members of the Commission and a new post of Director General should be created (in effect a Chief Operating Officer) reporting to the Clerk of the House.
6.8 Youth Panel – Erasmus+ Funding
The Clerk / CE congratulated the Assembly Education Service on successfully securing €49,600 from the Erasmus+ to develop a Structured Dialogue project.
The funding will be used to resource a youth panel for Northern Ireland comprising 36 young people. The recruitment process will ensure a wide range of backgrounds is represented.
6.9 Litigation Update
Hugh Widdis, Director of Legal and Governance Services informed the Commission of two recent employment cases taken by Secretariat staff against the Commission. One has now been dropped and a lessons learned exercise undertaken.
Action: Provide further details at next litigation update.
7. MEMBERS EXPENSES SYSTEM
7.1 Analysis of BBC Spotlight Programmes
Richard Stewart, Director of Corporate Services, provided the Commission with an overview of his paper regarding the Members’ Expenses System. Members agreed that due to length and range of issues discussed, that further time and, if required, a meeting with Mr Stewart for clarification was the preferred way to proceed. This will allow Members time to consult with their respective parties.
Mrs Cochrane raised the Members’ £1,000 allowance for office consumables (Internal Recharge) and requested clarification as to the range of stationery and other items available within this limit.
Decision: IPSA be engaged immediately to undertake a peer review of the current Members’ expenses system.
Actions: Provide further guidance on paper if requested by Members.
Engage IPSA to undertake peer review of current Members’ expenses system.
Provide paper regarding permissible stationery items for the £1000 Members Allowance with analysis of spend to date.
7.2 Models for Members’ Salaries, Allowances and Pensions
Hugh Widdis, Director of Legal and Governance Services provided the Commission with possible models to determine and administer financial support for Members of the Assembly based on the range of models operating in the UK legislatures and the Oireachtas.
Decision: Members to consult with Parties on preferred models in advance of February Commission meeting.
Action: Provide expenses system options consultation document for Members to bring to their parties.
8 MID-POINT REVIEW OF THE AUDIT OF INEQUALITIES
John Stewart, Director of Information and Outreach, updated the Commission on the ongoing Audit of Inequalities. Ms Ruane requested that the document be updated to reflect the issue of answering Assembly questions in Irish as the Commission has identified a possible negative impact from the current English only provision.
Action: Amend review document to reflect answering of Assembly questions in Irish.
9. ASSEMBLY LEGISLATIVE STRENGTHENING TRUST (the Trust) – MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING (MoU)
Gareth McGrath, Director of Clerking and Reporting, provided the Commission with details of the proposed Memorandum of Understanding between the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission and the Trust branded as Politics Plus. The MoU will further formalise the governance arrangements between the Commission and the Trust. Mrs Cochrane sought clarification regarding the funding implications of Secretariat support for the Trust and Mr McGrath confirmed that all confirmed costs are already allocated in the 2014-2015 budget and decisions on funding for future years would be taken in the context of SP15+. He reiterated that the MoU was designed to address governance rather than funding.
Decision: Members agreed the wording and content of the MoU.
Mr C McKenna left the meeting at 4.20pm
10. EQUALITY SCREENING REPORT - ASSEMBLY COMMISSION QUESTIONS
Robin Ramsey, Adviser to the Speaker, outlined options mitigating the possible adverse impact caused by the lack of facility to respond to Assembly questions in both English and Irish. Mr Ramsey explained that failure to agree a mitigating measure would mean the Commission would have to facilitate an Equality Impact Assessment. Ms Ruane asked that the agenda item be deferred as not all members were present and reiterated her belief that failure to answer questions in Irish, where requested, discriminated against Irish Speakers. Mr Weir agreed that the item should be postponed and expressed a preference for option 4. The Chairperson suggested that whilst deferring the agenda item was the best option under the circumstances, if Members agreed to reject some options during the current meeting, further discussions may progress more readily.
Decision: Members agreed to remove options 1 and 3 from the list and to revisit options 2, 3 and 4 at the February Commission meeting.
11. EXHIBITIONS POLICY
Robin Ramsey, Adviser to the Speaker recommended that the Exhibitions Schedule for 2015 be approved at a later date to allow the new Speaker to familiarise himself with the workings of the Art Advisory Group but that Members give the go ahead for a sporting exhibition in the summer of 2015. This exhibition had previously been agreed for the summer of 2014 but postponed.
Decision: That the proposed sporting exhibition for Summer 2015 go ahead as previously agreed.
12. GIFTS AND HOSPITALITY
Richard Stewart, Director of Corporate Services, explained that the current policy for Gifts and Hospitality does not adequately reflect the work of Committees or the new purchasing commitment system (PECOS).
Decision: The revised policy was approved.
Action: Provide Members with current spending limits for gifts.
13. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
13.1 Correspondence from Royal College of Nurses (RCN)
Robin Ramsey, Adviser to the Speaker, explained to the Commission that correspondence had been received from RCN requesting permanent recognition of the work of nurses in the UK. Members agreed that recognition was appropriate but that a policy would be required to enable the Commission to make informed decisions on permanent recognition (by plaque or tree for example) and one off events for particular anniversaries.
Actions: Respond to RCN correspondence.
Draft policy for recognising professional bodies to include consideration of commemorating major anniversaries.
13.2 Request to Film at Parliament Buildings
John Stewart, Director of Information and Outreach, informed members of a request to film in Parliament Buildings. He noted that previous filming for different productions had proceeded without major disruption to Parliament Buildings.
Decision: Members were asked to confirm their approval for the filming by Monday 26 January 2015.
14. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The next meeting will take place on Wednesday, 18 February 2015 at 2.00pm in Room 106.
The meeting concluded at 4.47pm