Minutes of Proceedings
Session: Session currently unavailable
Date: 23 June 2016
Apologies were received from Alex Attwood MLA.
2. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
• Colm McKenna, as Chair of SARC, declared an interest regarding Agenda Items 12 and 13.
• Jim Wells MLA and Ross Hussey MLA declared an interest as current Pension Trustees for Agenda Item 11.
• Commission Members' positions as MLAs was noted for Agenda Items 9 and 10.
3. CHAIRPERSON'S BUSINESS
The Speaker thanked Members and Officials for their attendance at the familiarisation session on Thursday 16 June.
He looked forward to developing a strong working relationship with Commission Members and his ambition is that the Commission moves forward on a consensus basis.
The Speaker welcomed Lesley Hogg and informed Members that she would take up her role as Clerk / Chief Executive on Monday 27 June 2016.
4. MINUTES OF MEETING – FOR INFORMATION
The minutes of the last Commission meeting on 3 March 2016 were provided for information having been cleared by Members of the last Commission.
5. CLERK / CE KEY UPDATE REPORT
Trevor Reaney, the Clerk/CE, provided Members with an update on the key issues in his monthly report namely:
5.1 Financial Matters
Budget Setting Methodology
Mr Reaney provided Members with background to and an update on correspondence between him and the Department of Finance and Personnel / Department of Finance.
Members noted that a budget setting methodology that would put the Assembly's budget to the House for agreement was very close to being agreed.
Management Accounts – April – May 2016
Richard Stewart, Director of Corporate Services, asked Members to note that resettlement payments would be incurred in 2016/17. The IFRP 2016 Determination will alter how Members expenses are reported during 2016/17.
Review of Specified Payments
Mr Reaney informed Members that following queries raised by the Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP) in the implementation of the Panel's Determinations of 2012, he had commissioned a review of specified payments by Internal Audit.
The review has been completed and identified £54,000 of payments in the period January 2013 to March 2015 which, while compliant with the Members' Financial Support Handbook, were not compliant with the Panel's Determinations of 2012. The payments were however within the limit of the overall allowance for Office Cost Expenditure for each of the financial years affected. The non-compliant payments were identified in trend analysis carried out by staff and ceased prior to the matter being raised by IFRP.
The report is being considered by the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee and recorded in the Governance Statement of the Annual Accounts 2015/16.
Mr Reaney informed Members that appropriate action has been taken to ensure that this issue does not arise in future.
Annual Accounts 2015/16
Mr Reaney informed the Commission that the Annual Accounts 2015/16 would be signed off and forwarded to the Northern Ireland Audit Office and laid in the Assembly before he left office.
5.2 Performance v Directorate Business Plans 2015-16
Mr Reaney informed Members that for the reporting period 2015-16, 94% of objectives had been met and commended the work of staff in achieving this percentage in the face of staffing and budget pressures, particularly at the end of the 2011-2016 mandate.
5.3 Independent Financial Review Panel
Memorandum of Understanding
Mr Reaney drew Members' to the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between himself (in his role as the Clerk/Chief Executive) and the Chair of IFRP to assist in the effective implementation of the Panel's Determinations. The MoU is in addition to a Service Level Agreement for the provision of administrative support to the Panel by the Commission.
Interim period pending appointment of new Panel
As a result of the ongoing consideration of reforms by the Commission, there will be a period in which no Panel will be in place. Mr Reaney informed Members that the length of this period will be determined by the Commission's consideration of the proposed reforms to be discussed at Agenda Item 9.
During the interim period it is not anticipated that there will be a need for any further Determinations by a Panel. However, there may be issues which would require consultation with the Panel. Any such issues which can be deferred until the appointment of a new Panel will be held pending their appointment. Any urgent issues will fall to the Accounting Officer to deal with in the short-term and will then be brought to a Panel for consideration at the earliest opportunity.
Members noted the professionalism of the Finance Team in answering Members' queries regarding the 2016 Determination.
Agreed: Members approved the proposed interim measure for dealing with urgent issues.
5.4 Litigation Update
Tara Caul, Director of Legal and Governance Services, updated the Commission on two ongoing litigation cases.
Mr Stewart noted that Members, as employers of their staff, will not be able to reclaim funds from the Commission having defended themselves against any legal action.
5.5 NIPSA Pay Claim
Mr Stewart informed Members that a pay claim for 2016 has been received from the Assembly's Trade Union partners, NIPSA. The major element of the claim seeks a 6% pay increase for all staff. Initial without prejudice discussions have commenced with NIPSA and progress on those discussions will be brought to the Commission in advance of seeking the Commission's approval for a pay award for this year.
Final recommendations regarding the pay offer will be brought to the Commission for consideration.
5.6 Assembly of Kosovo
Mr Reaney and Gareth McGrath, Director of Parliamentary Services, updated Members on work being undertaken by officials with Parliaments / Assemblies in Kosovo, Jordan, Morocco, the Philippines and Iraq.
The aim of the relationship with the Assembly of Kosovo is to share best practice in parliamentary services and assist a new parliament in a country emerging from conflict.
The relationship was formalised in a Memorandum of Understanding between the respective institutions which has a focus on providing assistance in the development of research and IT services. With funding from the Westminster Foundation for Democracy the Assembly was able to acquire, construct and install new computer servers in the Assembly of Kosovo. Follow up training is being provided.
Stephen Welch, Director of Facilities / Keeper of the House noted the Assembly's growing reputation for assisting other legislatures.
6. CORPORATE PLANNING 2017-2022
Mr Stewart spoke to this paper outlining the proposed approach for this exercise. Officials will be revising the plan during the Summer for further consideration by the Commission.
Noted: Members noted the proposed approach.
7. ANNUAL EQUALITY REPORT TO THE EQUALITY COMMISSION 2015 – 2016
Mr Stewart spoke to this paper seeking the Commission's approval to send the 2015-16 Annual Equality report to the Equality Commission.
Mr Stewart noted the Equality Commission's praise for the work undertaken by Assembly officials
Members were asked to consider and approve the report for submission to the Equality Commission.
Agreed: Members agreed to submit the Annual Equality Report 2015-16 to the Equality Commission.
Action: Mr Stewart to submit the Annual Equality Report 2015-16 to the Equality Commission.
8. SARC ANNUAL REPORT
Colm McKenna, Chair of SARC, spoke to this paper.
Mr McKenna reported that the overall level of assurance in 2015/16 was "Satisfactory" and that SARC continues to enjoy excellent working relationships with the Assembly Commission, the Clerk/Chief Executive, Directors, Internal Audit and the NI Audit Office. He noted that governance continues to improve due to the hard work of the Clerk / Chief Executive and Assembly officials.
He also outlined objectives for SARC in the 2016/2017 year.
Mr Reaney thanked Mr McKenna, Bernard Mitchell and Commission Members who have served on SARC for their input.
Noted: Members noted the SARC Annual Report.
9. INDEPENDENT FINANCIAL REVIEW PANEL: REFORM
Ms Caul spoke to this paper.
The previous Commission considered a range of options for the reform of the Independent Financial Review Panel but agreed that the incoming Commission should themselves consider options.
Commission Members agreed that they would take the proposals back to their parties for consideration during the Summer before revisiting the topic in September.
Agreed: Lesley Hogg and Richard Stewart to engage with Commission Members during the summer to consider the recommendations further.
Agreed: Commission Members to consult further before revisiting the agenda item in September.
10. INDEPENDENT FINANCIAL REVIEW PANEL 2016 – RECOMMENDATIONS
Mr Reaney spoke to this paper. He informed Members that in the Report of the Independent Financial Review Panel – March 2016 a number of recommendations were made for the Commission to take forward.
After discussion Members agreed to explore the recommendations further with party colleagues and to return to the agenda item in September, following summer recess.
11. APPOINTMENT OF PENSION TRUSTEES FOR ASSEMBLY MEMBERS PENSION SCHEME 2016
Richard Stewart informed Members that under legislation all pension schemes are obliged to have trustees. It has been practice to appoint new trustees at the start of every mandate.
Mr Stewart proposed that a new motion to appoint trustees be brought to the Chamber in September 2016. Trustees appointed in the last mandate will remain in post until new Trustees are confirmed.
Agreed: Members to forward nominations for Trustees.
Action: Mr Stewart to draft a motion to Plenary on the appointment of
the Trustees for the Commission to bring to the Chamber to confirm appointments by Resolution of the Assembly.
Mr Colm McKenna left the meeting at 11.40am
12. FEE REVIEWS FOR SARC, IFRP AND COMMISSIONER FOR STANDARDS
Ms Caul spoke to this paper.
Members considered the current fees for SARC, IFRP and the Commissioner for Standards. Members agreed that a mechanism for fees increase linked to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) was acceptable.
The agreed amount was a one per cent rise in fees from 1 August each year if CPI exceeded one per cent in the previous September.
Action: Mr Stewart to implement agreed fees increase formula.
13. APPOINTMENTS PROCESS FOR THE INDEPENDENT CHAIR AND INDEPENDENT MEMBER OF SECRETARIAT AUDIT AND RISK COMMITTEE (SARC)
Mr Stewart spoke to this paper and informed Members that the appointment periods for independent Chair and Member of SARC will end on 30 November 2016 and 16 September 2017 respectively.
Mr Stewart proposed that a single recruitment competition be run to fill both posts and that the recruitment panel is made up of the Clerk/Chief
Executive, one Commission Member, the Director of Legal and Governance Services and an independent panel member who is experienced in the role of Audit and Risk Committees.
Agreed: Members agreed the proposed approach and make-up of the recruitment panel.
Agreed: Jim Wells MLA to sit on the recruitment panel in his role as a Commission Member.
Mr Stewart also reminded Members that one of the Commission Members was required to represent the Commission at SARC meetings.
Agreed: Jim Wells MLA to be the Commission Member on SARC for an initial period of one year with a view to rotating the role among Members.
The Speaker extended his thanks, and that of the Commission, to Mr Reaney on his last Commission meeting and wished him well for the future.
Mr Reaney wished the Commission and his successor, Lesley Hogg, all the best for the future.
15. DATE OF NEXT MEETING:
The next meeting will be held on 15 September 2016 at 10am.
The meeting ended at 11.50am