Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2011/2012

Date: 24 January 2012

Venue: Room 106

Meeting began at 4.05pm

1. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST

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

2. MINUTES

The minutes of meetings held on the 13 December 2011 were agreed.

3. MATTERS ARISING

3.1 Ormiston House

The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House provided Members with an update in relation to the sale and disposal of the Ormiston House site. 

3.2 Draft Language Policy

The Head of the Commission and Corporate Support Unit provided Members with an update in relation the development of the draft language policy. He highlighted that submissions on the draft policy have now been received from parties and were currently being compiled with a view to being presented for consideration to an early meeting of the Commission. 

4. CLERK/DG KEY UPDATE REPORT

The Clerk/ Director General provided Members with a brief overview of key issues contained within the report. The Clerk Director General drew Members attention to the following:

4.1 Assembly Commission Corporate Strategy 2012-16

The Clerk/Director General highlighted that work was now progressing to prepare annual Directorate Business Plans for 2012- 2013 with consideration being given to the necessary changes required to implement the new Strategic Objectives.  The Clerk Director General reminded Members that one of the Strategic Objectives relates to the future structure and functions of the Assembly, namely:

“Contribute constructively to the wider debate on the future structure and functions of the Assembly in relation to the responsibilities of the Assembly Commission.”

The Clerk/Director General requested that Members consider how this objective could be progressed and forward any views to his office.

4.2 Management Accounts April – December 2011  

The Director of Corporate Services provided Members with an overview in relation to the figures provided for the Management Accounts for 2011.

4.3 Annual Audit of Members Expenditure Claims

The Clerk Director General asked Members to note that the annual Audit of Members Office Costs Expenditure claims was due to commence in January 2012.  Following discussion it was agreed that Members would be provided with an explanatory note of what would be expected of Members during the audit.

4.4 Secretariat Audit & Risk Committee (SARC) 

The Clerk/Director General provided Members with an update in relation to the appointment of the new independent Member of Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee and highlighted that a letter of offer would now issue to the successful candidate.

4.5 Freedom of Information Requests

The Clerk Director General updated Members in relation to current Freedom of Information requests.

Mr McCallion joined the meeting.

5. BUSINESS EFFICIENCY REVIEW (BER) PROJECT UPDATE

The Speaker welcomed Mr McCallion, BER Project Manager, to the meeting. Mr McCallion provided Members with an overview of work to date in relation to the Business Efficiency Programme. He highlighted progress on the programme of Business Efficiency reviews, also that, noting completion of the thematic reviews and the contract review has been concluded. He further highlighted that three business area reviews were currently underway with draft reports scheduled to be generated in April/May 2012.

Following consideration, the Commission agreed that wide-ranging consultation should take place with relevant groups in respect of the Business Efficiency Programme recommendations. Mr Ramsey sought clarification that the business efficiency reviews would cover the entire organisation.  The Clerk/Director General confirmed that the entire organisation would be subject to review, including all levels of management.

Mr McCallion left the meeting

6. UPDATE ON MEMBERS FINANCIAL SERVICES HANDBOOK

The Director of Corporate Services provided Members with an update in relation to the Members Financial Services Handbook. He highlighted that all agreed changes and revisions had now been made to the Members Financial Services Handbook. Following consideration, the Commission agreed that all Members should be notified that the Handbook had been updated and that an extract pertaining to the revisions should be sent in hard copy to Members with a cover note explaining all changes.  It was further agreed that the revised Handbook should also be published on the Assembly’s website and AssISt.   Mr Stewart also offered to attend any party group meetings to assist members in their understanding of the revisions.

7. REWARD AND RECONGITION STRATEGY AND PRINCIPLES

The Director of Corporate Services took Members through a paper on the development of a Total Reward Strategy and Principles for employees of the Assembly Commission.  Mr Stewart highlighted that the strategy set out a proposed approach for the Assembly Commission to deliver reward arrangements for Commission employees.  Mr Stewart also highlighted that the use of a Total Reward Strategy would form part of a strategic approach to the reward for Secretariat staff and would assist in meeting the strategic aim of the Assembly Commission, namely “to ensure that the Secretariat has a dedicated, professional and motivated group of staff.”

Following discussion Members agreed the draft strategy and proposed principles for the delivery of reward arrangements for Commission employees and agreed that consultation should now take place with relevant groups.  It was agreed that any further proposals would be considered at future meetings of the Commission.

8. REPORT TO THOSE CHARGED WITH GOVERNANCE

The Director of Corporate Services drew Members attention to the Northern Ireland Office Audit Report to those Charged with Governance for the year 2010/11 and highlighted that a number of issues had been raised relating to governance arrangements.  Mr Stewart highlighted that several issues in relation to Office Costs Expenditure (OCE) had now been addressed through the introduction of the revised Financial Support for Members Handbook.

Mr Stewart also informed Members that issues raised within the NIAO Report in relation to Party Funding were currently being considered as part of a review on the Financial Assistance for Political Parties Scheme 2007 and proposals to strengthen the governance arrangements would be brought for consideration to the next Commission Meeting.

Following further consideration of issues relating to OCE, the Commission agreed that the procedures currently in place for the overtime payments to support staff should be amended to require Members to provide specific information to the Pay Team when requesting overtime payments for party support staff.  The Commission highlighted that there was a requirement to consider a proportionate response to the issue which takes consideration of the unique position of party support staff within the Northern Ireland Assembly.  Mr Stewart further agreed that staff within the finance office would undertake further work in providing clarification to Members on any revised provisions within the new handbook.

The Clerk/Director General also drew attention to the other issues in the report not directly relating to Members.

9. ASSEMBLY MEMBERS PENSION SCHEME

9.1 PROCEDURE FOR HANDLING OF SCHEME RULE AMENDMENTS

The Director of Corporate Services took Members through a paper on the issue of Assembly Members’ Pension Scheme and the procedure to be used to raise recommendations for any amendments to the Pension Scheme.  He highlighted that currently the Pension Trustees consider any proposed amendments to the Pension Scheme and submit recommendations to the Commission to consider.   However, with the appointment of the Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP), who now hold responsibilities relating to Members’ pensions, there is a necessity to review current procedures and consider if any changes to the existing procedure for raising recommendations, information or concerns relating to the pension scheme needed to be established.

Mr Stewart presented 2 options for the Commission to consider.  It was agreed that Members would discuss the proposed options with their Parties and provide a view by 31 January 2012 on how to proceed.

9.2 PENSION INCREASES AND FAVOURABLE EARLY RETIREMENT (RULE OF 80)

As the Commission did not reach agreement in relation to the procedure for handling Pension Scheme rule amendments this paper could not be considered and will be reviewed following Commission Members consultation with their party.

10. ANY OTHER BUSINESS

 10.1 NIPSA CORRESPONDENCE

The Clerk/Director General drew Members attention to correspondence from TUS relating to probationary policy and procedures, right of appeal and access to civil service appeal board.  The Clerk/Director General reminded the Commission that it had been agreed that as proceedings had been launched in respect of the case at the Industrial Tribunal, that the Tribunal should hear the matters.  The Clerk/Director General informed the Commission that a date for the hearing has now been scheduled for February 2012.  Mr Ramsey raised a number of points relating to the matter.  The Clerk/Director General informed Members that he would be happy to go through the process and answer any queries that Members may have.   

10.2 APPOINTMENT OF COMMISSIONER FOR STANDARDS                

The Clerk/Director General took Members through a paper relating to the appointment of the Northern Ireland Assembly Commissioner for Standards. Following consideration of the terms and conditions of the post, the Commission agreed that a recruitment competition should now progress.  It was further agreed that the previous panel would be re-established to conduct the competition.

10.3 BRITISH HEART FOUNDATION

The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House informed Members that he had received a request from the British Heart Foundation to light up the front of Parliament Buildings red, on Wednesday 8 February 2012. Following consideration, Members confirmed they were content that the request could be facilitated. It was further agreed that a draft policy should be developed to assist in the consideration of further requests.

10.4 PSNI

The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House provided the Commission with an update in relation to PSNI cover on 24 January 2012.  Mr Welch informed the Commission that the matter had now been resolved.

11. DATE OF NEXT MEETING

28 February 2012 at 4.00pm in Room 106 

Meeting ended at 6.00pm

Tony Logue
Head of the Commission and Corporate Support Unit

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