Minutes of Proceedings

Session: Session currently unavailable

Date: 22 November 2017

Meeting Venue: Room 106, Parliament Buildings
Meeting date: Wednesday 22 November 2017
Meeting Time: 10.00am

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, Dr Gareth McGrath, 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 Brian Devlin – Head of Information Systems

The meeting commenced at 10.10am.

1. APOLOGIES

No apologies were received.

The Speaker welcomed Jim Brooks, SARC Chairperson to his first Commission meeting.

2. DECLARATION OF INTERESTS

Mr Jim Wells MLA is a pension trustee and declared an interest in agenda item 5.

3. CHAIRPERSON’S BUSINESS

The Speaker expressed sympathies on behalf of the Commission to the Clerk/Chief Executive on the death of her father-in-law and also to Mr Wells MLA on the death of his father.

4. MINUTES OF MEETING – 25 SEPTEMBER 2017

The minutes from the last Commission meeting on 25 September 2017 were approved for publication.

Restricted closed session minutes from the meeting on 25 September 2017 were agreed by Members, not for publication.

5. CORRESPONDENCE

5.1 The Commission noted correspondence between the Chair of the Assembly Members Pension Scheme Trustees and the Speaker.

5.2 The Commission noted the written response from the Speaker to the Chair of the Assembly Members Pension Scheme Trustees.

Mr Robin Swann MLA joined the meeting at 10.15am.

6. CLERK/CHIEF EXECUTIVE KEY UPDATE REPORT

Lesley Hogg, the Clerk/Chief Executive, 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 Mandatory Temporary Redeployment Policy had been introduced and that a number of staff briefing sessions had been held. The Commission noted the number of Full Time Equivalent (FTE) staff currently redeployed outside Parliament Buildings and those working in Parliament Buildings for other entities. Mrs Hogg also confirmed that to date all staff had been redeployed on a voluntary basis.

Draft Commission Budget 2018/19

Mrs Hogg informed Members that she would be bringing a paper on the nature of the assumptions that could be included in the budget planning for 2018/19 to the next Commission meeting.

Management Accounts

Mrs Hogg referred Members to the Management Accounts for October 2017, and asked Richard Stewart, Director of Corporate Services to update Members.

Mr Stewart advised Members of the current forecast underspend of £2.27m and informed them of notification that had recently been received from the Department of Finance in relation to a monitoring exercise, the results of which would be fed into the Spring Supplementary Estimate.

Sexual Harassment Procedures

Members were advised that given developments following allegations of inappropriate behavior at Westminster, Mrs Hogg and the Speaker had agreed that it was important to review policies in place at the Assembly. An update will be provided at the next Commission meeting.

Written Assembly Questions

Mrs Hogg confirmed that the Commission had received 72 written questions since 25 September 2017, which represented a much higher volume than usual and she thanked Members for their co-operation in responding to the questions on time.

Artefacts

Mrs Hogg highlighted the fact that a number of recent Assembly written questions to the Commission had centred on the artefacts which the Commission currently holds in storage.

Mrs Hogg sought views on a request from an MLA, to view artefacts accompanied by a journalist which are currently held in the off-site storage facility.

Members agreed that it would be inappropriate for media access to the artefacts to be arranged by individual MLAs and restricted to an individual journalist. Following discussion, Members agreed that Officials would bring back a proposal to allow media access for a viewing of artefacts held off-site.

Action: Officials to develop a proposal for the Commission’s consideration to give MLAs and journalists an opportunity to view the artefacts held off-site.

Officeholders: Legislative Provisions

Following recent publicity, Mrs Hogg reminded Members of the legislative provisions in place in relation to officeholders following the dissolution of the Assembly.

Section 75 Progress Report to the Assembly Commission

Members noted the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland’s assessment that the Assembly Commission’s Section 75 Annual Progress Report for 2016/17 was comprehensive and that the Commission had sustained consistent progress in the implementation of its Equality Scheme.
Support Services Contract

Mrs Hogg confirmed that the tender evaluation process for the Support Services contract had taken place and that award notification letters were due to issue later in the week.

Business in The Community (BiTC) Environmental Benchmarking Survey 2017

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

Action: Communications Office to arrange for a press release to be issued in relation to this award.

Complaints Policy

Mrs Hogg advised Members that an annual report on the complaints received under the Assembly Commission’s Complaints Policy for the year ending September 2017 would be presented at the January 2018 Commission meeting.

NIO Review of MLA and Officeholder Salaries

Members noted that the Secretary of State had appointed the former Northern Ireland Assembly Clerk/Chief Executive, Trevor Reaney CBE, to provide independent advice to him on the provision of salaries and office costs to Members given the delay in the Assembly returning to normal business. Mrs Hogg confirmed that the Commission was providing Secretarial support to Mr Reaney, and that Officials would be providing information as requested to allow him to submit his report to the Secretary of State by 15 December 2017.

7. PROPOSED MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING BETWEEN THE NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY COMMISSION AND POLITICS PLUS

Gareth McGrath, Director of Parliamentary Services, presented this paper, providing Members with background on the establishment of Politics Plus, its work and achievements over the last 5 years and a proposed new Memorandum of Understanding.

Agreement was sought from Members, that the Assembly Commission enters into a new Memorandum of Understanding with ‘Politics Plus including the award of a grant-in-aid to Politics Plus of up to £75k in each of the 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20 financial years.

Agreed: Members agreed to the Assembly Commission entering into a new Memorandum of Understanding with Politics Plus and with the awarding of a grant-in-aid to Politics Plus of up to £75k in each of the three financial years ending 2019/20, the allocation of 1.3 Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) from the Assembly Commission to Politics Plus and the provision of two offices with associated facilities for the use of Politics Plus in Parliament Buildings.

Please note change to agenda order, item 10 taken before item 8.

10. PAY CLAIM 2017

Richard Stewart, presented this paper providing Members with additional information as requested at the last Commission meeting on 25 September 2017.

Members noted the additional information provided and their views were sought on the various elements of the pay claim as submitted by NIPSA.

Agreed: The Commission agreed its position regarding the following aspects of the pay award:

  • A request for the re-introduction of a £1,000 Assembly allowance for all members of staff was not agreed as this had already been submitted into pay scales in 2009;
  • From 1 August 2017, pay progression for all relevant staff who meet the eligibility criteria of satisfactory or better was agreed;
  • Improvements for the minimum increase on pay on promotion by means of removing the minimum points on the relevant pay scale was agreed by reducing the number of spinal column points to 3 points for all pay scales;
  • Annual leave arrangements should remain unchanged; and
  • An increase in paternity leave to 10 working days at the contractual rate of pay was agreed.

The Commission discussed the merits of the principle of pay recovery whilst at the same time recognising the need for continued financial providence and authorised Mr Stewart to commence discussions with Trade Union Side (TUS) in relation to an annual percentage pay increase. The Commission also requested that a comprehensive review of pay be carried out.

Action: Mr Stewart to commence discussions with TUS in relation to the Pay Claim for 2017 and present a paper setting out the review of pay at the next Commission meeting.

Brian Devlin, Head of Information Systems, joined the meeting at 11.35am for agenda item 8.

8. REVISED BUSINESS CASE: REVIEW OF CATHODE RAY TUBE (CRT) TELEVISIONS 2017 (INCL ANNUNCIATOR SCREENS)

Mr Devlin presented this paper, outlining the cost of replacement of CRT televisions in public areas within Parliament Buildings as requested by the Commission.

Members considered the revised costings and business case for the replacement of the CRT televisions in public areas, but agreed not to proceed at this time. The Commission agreed that it would review the proposal again on notification of restoration of the Assembly.

9. BUSINESS CASE – VoIP TELEPHONY PROJECT

Mr Devlin presented this paper, seeking approval from the Commission to replace the current analogue telephone system in Parliament Buildings with a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and Unified Communications (UC) solution.

In considering the business case presented, Members were keen to balance the existing political uncertainty with the fact that a telephone system would be required in Parliament Buildings regardless of the future of the Assembly itself. Members were content for the procurement exercise to proceed to award stage at which time a further paper should be brought to the Commission for final consideration.

Agreed: Members approved the commencement of a tendering exercise to procure a VoIP and UC solution to replace the current analogue telephone system in Parliament Buildings.

Action: Brian Devlin to proceed with the initial procurement exercise until award stage, at which time a further paper should be brought to the Commission for consideration.
Brian Devlin left the meeting at 11.55am.

11. GOOD RELATIONS ACTION PLAN 2016-21: OCTOBER 2017 SIX-MONTHLY UPDATE

Richard Stewart presented this paper, seeking the Commission’s approval to publish the 2016-21 Good Relations Action Plan on the Assembly’s website.

Agreed: Members were content for the Action Plan to be published.

Action: Mr Stewart to arrange for the Action Plan to be published on the Assembly’s website.
Mr Alex Maskey MLA queried whether the public survey referred to in the Action Plan was only based on those people who visit the building and suggested that if this was the case that the population was too narrow and should be expanded.

Action: Mr Stewart to consider the population base for future public surveys.

12. DECADE OF CENTENARY EVENTS TO BE MARKED DURING THE MANDATE

Robin Ramsey, Adviser to the Speaker/Head of Corporate Support, presented this paper, seeking approval from the Commission, in light of the current political situation, that the historic anniversaries policy not be initiated for this mandate until the Assembly appoints a successor Commission.

The Commission noted that, separate to the historic anniversaries policy, events continuing the Assembly’s previous work on increasing female participation were being planned during the centenary year of female suffrage.

Agreed: Members agreed that the historic anniversaries policy should not be initiated for this mandate but re-visited on the earlier of either the appointment of a successor Commission or June 2018.

Action: Mr Ramsey to re-visit the historic anniversaries policy in the new mandate with a successor Commission or June 2018 whichever is earlier.

13. AOB

Secretary of State’s Review of Members’ Salaries

Mr Robin Swann MLA enquired whether the Secretariat had considered any potential impact of the Secretary of State’s review of Members’ Salary and office costs on Members’ staff.

Mrs Hogg advised Mr Swann MLA that staff employed by Members were the direct employees of individual Members and did not fall under the responsibility of the Commission.

Action: Mr Stewart to check if any guidance on MLAs role as an employer has been developed and available to pass on to Members.

Assembly Written Questions – Security Policy

Mr Jim Wells MLA referred to the content of a response to a recent Commission written question and asked that the current security policy be brought by Officials for discussion at the next Commission meeting.

14. DATE OF NEXT MEETING

The next meeting is planned for 31 January 2018.

The meeting concluded at 12.04pm

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