Minutes of Proceedings

Session: Session currently unavailable

Date: 24 June 2019

Meeting Venue: Room 106, Parliament Buildings

Meeting date: Monday 24 June 2019

Meeting Time: 12.45pm

Commission Members:
The Speaker
Mr Jim Wells MLA 
Mr Alex Maskey MLA
Mr Robin Swann MLA 
Mr Stewart Dickson MLA

Apologies: None

Officials present: Mrs Lesley Hogg, Ms Tara Caul, 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 Simon Burrowes, Head of Official Report and Public Engagement, Mr Peter Hall, Assembly Clerk

The meeting commenced at 12.53pm.

1. APOLOGIES

No apologies were received.

 

2. DECLARATION OF INTERESTS

There were no declarations of interest.

 

3. CHAIRPERSON’S BUSINESS

The Speaker advised that he recently attended an event in Leinster House hosted by the Céann Comhairle. He was accompanied by Robin Swann MLA, Lesley Hogg, Clerk/Chief Executive and Robin Ramsey, Adviser to the

Speaker/Head of Corporate Support. He noted that the Céann Comhairle was very complimentary of the hospitality extended to him by the Assembly Commission in January when he attended “Perspectives on the First Sitting of Dáil Éireann’ event at Parliament Buildings. The Speaker advised Members that if no political progress had been made by the end of the summer, he had agreed with the Céann Comhairle to consider other initiatives to maintain connections between the two institutions.

The Speaker also advised Members that following his letter to the SDLP regarding nominating an MLA from their party to attend Assembly Commission meetings, the SDLP had indicated that it would be nominating an MLA. He informed Members that Mr Ramsey would be writing to those MLAs whose votes are not automatically allocated to Assembly Commission Members to see if they wish to do so.

 

4. MINUTES OF PREVIOUS MEETING

Members approved the draft restricted minute from the Assembly Commission meeting on 11 April 2019. In relation to the draft standard minute from 11 April, Mrs Hogg sought clarification of the position of Members in relation to the potential for opening the building to commercial events as outlined in the Support Services Contract paper. Members confirmed that they were not content to allow commercial events in the building and approved the minute.

Members approved the draft minute from the Assembly Commission meeting on 10 June 2019.

 

5. MATTERS ARISING

There were no matters arising.

 

6. COMMISSION ACTIONS

Members noted the status of actions.

Mr Swann queried the delay in relation to the action on ‘Inappropriate Behaviours’. Mrs Hogg advised that this stemmed from the inability to establish a joint working group at this time when no committees had been formed and no normal business was taking place, as this had been the approach adopted by other legislatures.  She stated that officials hoped to be in a position to provide a further update in the autumn.

 

7. CORRESPONDENCE

7.1 Members noted the Speaker’s response to the Chair of Politics Plus in relation to a query regarding the availability of travel expenses to Members’ staff.

7.2 Members noted the Speaker’s response to correspondence from the Secretary of State (SoS) regarding the availability of

Assembly officials to provide advice and information on Assembly procedures including the Petition of Concern.

7.3 Members noted correspondence from the Northern Ireland Assembly Women’s Caucus asking if a link to the Caucus website could be placed on the Assembly website.  Members were content for officials to progress this request as an operational matter.

7.4 Members noted correspondence from the Office of Public Works requesting temporary loan of an Assembly painting.

The Speaker advised Members that officials had prepared a paper for consideration in relation to this request and confirmed that it would be dealt with under agenda item 18.

7.5 Members noted correspondence from the Speaker to Colum Eastwood MLA regarding nomination of an SDLP MLA to attend Assembly Commission meetings. The Speaker informed Members that he had been advised that Colin McGrath MLA had been nominated to attend Commission meetings and that written confirmation from the party was expected imminently.

7.6 Members noted correspondence from the Speaker to the SoS advising her of the vacancy on the Assembly Commission.

7.7 Members noted further correspondence from the Speaker to the SoS regarding the need for legislation to be introduced in relation to nominating a candidate for appointment as Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (the Ombudsman) and Acting Ombudsman.

7.8 Finally, Members noted correspondence from the Speaker to the Ombudsman regarding the vacancy in the office of the Ombudsman.

 

8. CLERK/CHIEF EXECUTIVE UPDATE REPORT

Mrs Hogg provided Members with an update on the key issues which had arisen since the April Assembly Commission meeting, namely:

Staffing Update

Mrs Hogg advised Members that the Staff in Post (SiP) figure as at 1 June was

308.3 Full time Equivalents (FTE) against a staff complement if 350.4 FTE, meaning that there are currently 42 vacancies to be filled on resumption of normal Assembly business.

Mrs Hogg informed Members that the Procurement Office had reopened in May following temporary closure.

Mrs Hogg also advised Members of a Corporate Staff Return Day planned for 26 June 2019 as a part of ongoing Retaining Readiness preparations. She explained that the event would bring together both those staff who are carrying on the continuing activities of the Assembly Commission and those who are voluntarily temporarily redeployed, for briefing sessions on corporate and business area developments and a charity teambuilding event.

Recruitment and Selection and Induction Project

Mrs Hogg updated Members on the review of Secretariat recruitment, selection and induction that was taking place and the four key areas of work. She explained that this was part of Retaining Readiness preparations, in preparation for the urgent recruitment that would be required to address the vacancies that currently exist, on the resumption of normal Assembly business.

Mrs Hogg confirmed that TUS is being consulted on proposals agreed by the Secretariat Management Group (SMG) following consideration of the out workings of the review and that an implementation plan and timetable to deliver the proposals was being developed.

Pay and Grading Review – Engagement with TUS

Mrs Hogg informed Members that engagement with TUS on the Pay and Grading Review was ongoing and that a number of informal discussions had taken place, with a formal meeting in May 2019.

Mrs Hogg confirmed that consultation and negotiation with TUS would be undertaken throughout all of the key activities associated with the Pay and Grading Review.

Management Accounts

Members noted the management accounts summary as at 31 May 2019.

Annual Report and Accounts

Mrs Hogg advised Members that the Assembly Commission’s Annual

Report and Accounts for the year ended 31 March 2019 were considered by the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee at its meetings in May 2019 and June 2019, with a recommendation that they are signed by her as Accounting Officer. She explained that these would be signed in the next few days and the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) had indicated that an unqualified audit opinion will be issued.

National Fraud Initiative

Mrs Hogg informed Members of the requirement to participate in the biennial National Fraud Initiative (NFI). She confirmed that the latest exercise was completed in October 2018 and, following investigation, no fraudulent activity had been identified.

The Examiner of Statutory Rules: Operation of Standing Order 4 – Update on the scrutiny of subordinate legislation

While noting that the substance of Statutory Rules was not an issue for the Assembly Commission, Mrs Hogg drew Members’ attention to the fact that Statutory Rules continued to be laid during this period when the Assembly is not sitting.

She updated Members on the number of Statutory Rules that were laid between 26 January 2017 and 23 May 2019, as follows:

  • 261 subject to the negative resolution Assembly procedure;
  • 35 subject to the confirmatory resolution Assembly procedure; and
  • 184 not subject to Assembly procedure.

Corporate Risk Register

Members noted the June 2019 version of the Corporate Risk Register which had been agreed by SMG on 16 June and noted by SARC on 18 June 2019.

2016-17 Members’ Survey Action Plan – Implementation Update

Mrs Hogg provided Members with an update on the Members’ Survey Action Plan. She confirmed, that given the current political situation, all actions that could be completed had been completed with the exception of one which was due to be completed by the end of June.

Complaints Report

Mrs Hogg confirmed that no complaints had been submitted during the period 1 September 2018 to 31 March 2019.

US Congressional Visit

Mrs Hogg referred Members to the visit by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi to Parliament Buildings in April. She confirmed that very positive feedback had been received from both the delegation and young people attending the reception.

Assistance to the Petition of Concern Working Group

Mrs Hogg confirmed that Assembly officials had been actively involved in providing information to a working group set up by the SoS to review the Petition of Concern.

Before moving on to the next agenda item, the Speaker said that he continued to receive very complimentary remarks about voluntarily temporarily redeployed Assembly Commission staff from various host organisations. Assembly Commission Members asked Mrs Hogg to pass on their thanks to staff for their continued hard work and commitment, at the upcoming Staff Return Day.

Action: Mrs Hogg to convey the Assembly Commission’s thanks to all staff for their continuing hard work and commitment during the current impasse.

 

9. CORPORATE PLAN 2018-19: YEAR-END REPORT

Mr Ramsey presented the Corporate Plan Year-End Report for 2018-19. He informed Members that 91% of the targets had been either fully or partially achieved. He explained that regarding the three targets which had not been achieved, issues had been resolved and progress had now resumed.

Mr Ramsey informed Members that work to develop the 2019-23 Corporate Plan had commenced and that a draft 2019-20 Corporate Plan would be produced as part of this work.

Mr Ramsey recorded his thanks to all the staff that had contributed to the plan.

 

10. NORTHERN IRELAND PUBLIC SERVICES OMBUDSMAN - SALARY MATTER

Richard Stewart, Director of Corporate Services, referred Members to previous discussions on the matter of the Ombudsman’s salary.

Following discussion, Members agreed to lay a statutory rule to amend the Ombudsman’s salary.

Action: Assembly officials to take forward the necessary arrangements to implement the Assembly Commission’s decision.

 

11. INCIDENTAL COSTS OF PARLIAMENTARY TRAVEL BY MEMBERS

Mr Stewart referred Members to previous discussions on this matter and sought a decision on the way forward.

Following discussion, Members agreed to defer this matter and return to it at the next meeting. Alex Maskey MLA requested that a schedule of future British Irish Parliamentary Association (BIPA) meetings be provided.

Action: Mr Stewart to provide Members with a schedule of upcoming British Irish Parliamentary Association (BIPA) meetings.

 

12. FUTURE DELIVERY OF MEMBER DEVELOPMENT AND SUPPORT FOR THE ASSEMBLY WOMEN’S CAUCUS

Gareth McGrath, Director of Parliamentary Services, presented a paper for discussion following the Assembly Commission’s informal meeting with the Board of Politics Plus on 10 June 2019.

Following consideration, Members agreed the recommendations proposed in the paper.

Action: Dr McGrath to prepare a detailed options paper for presentation at the October 2019 Assembly Commission meeting.

Simon Burrowes joined the meeting at 1.35pm for agenda item 13.

 

13. OPTIONS FOR A NORTHERN IRELAND YOUTH ASSEMBLY

Simon Burrowes outlined the work that had been done to develop options for creation of a youth assembly, including significant engagement with stakeholders, a review of the approach adopted in other legislatures and presented the options set out in the paper.

Peter Hall joined the meeting at 1.44pm.

Peter Hall provided information on similar models within other legislatures and noted that they were now all moving to considering the extent to which they engaged with the business of their respective institutions and committee business in particular. He explained that research showed that while many youth assemblies function relatively well and have records of successful campaigning and youth engagement, they often failed to achieve meaningful outputs that impacted the development of policy or shaped legislation.

Discussion centred on the advantages and disadvantages of in-house versus outsourced delivery. Mr Hall clarified that a youth assembly supported directly by the Assembly Commission would not mean the Assembly dictating its business and priorities. After considering each of the options Members

agreed that a further paper be produced developing the option of an Assembly- led model and that this should make clear the independence of the youth assembly in setting its own agenda.

Mr Swann enquired whether there was a budget for a youth assembly. Mrs Hogg explained that there was not and that funding would need to be sought through the Audit Committee once the Assembly returned to normal business.

Action: Officials to prepare a detailed paper on the preferred option for consideration at a future Assembly Commission meeting.

Simon Burrowes and Peter Hall left the meeting at 1.58pm.

 

14. POST-EU EXIT IMPLICATIONS FOR IFRP 2016 DETERMINATION

Members considered the likely impact of the UK leaving the EU without amendment of the 2016 Determination issued by the IFRP.

Mr Stewart outlined four options for consideration which would seek to avoid a situation where Members would be unable to recover any expenditure incurred with a UK-based supplier if the UK left the EU prior to the formation of an Executive.

Following discussion, Members agreed that the SoS should be asked to issue a further Determination to amend paragraph 10 of the 2016 Determination, that specifically includes a provision that the amendment should stay in place after the date on which an Executive is formed.

Action: Speaker to write to the SoS in relation to the Assembly Commission’s decision.

 

15. PAPERS ON INDEPENDENT FINANCIAL REVIEW PANEL MINOR REFORM, IFRP REFORM CONSULTATION DOCUMENT AND REVIEW OF IMPLEMENTATION OF IFRP DETERMINATION

Tara Caul, Director of Legal, Governance and Research Services and Mr Stewart presented a paper on IFRP reform.

Ms Caul referred Members to previous Assembly Commission papers in relation to this issue and a previous consultation paper that had been issued to Members.

Mr Stewart then presented an updated submission highlighting a number of issues that were causing concern for Members or having a detrimental impact on Members’ staff.

Following a detailed discussion, Members agreed that they wished to recommence consideration of IFRP reform. Members further agreed that a separate single item agenda Assembly Commission meeting should be held to consider the matter in detail.

Action: Corporate Support Unit to arrange a single item agenda Commission meeting on IFRP reform.

 

16. INDEPENDENT AUDIT OF FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE FOR POLITICAL PARTIES (FAPP) SCHEME 2016

Mr Stewart confirmed that the external audit for 2018-19 had been completed, and that certificates had been obtained for each of the political parties that received funding under the Scheme during 2018-19, verifying that expenditure claimed was in accordance with the requirements of the scheme.

Mr Stewart stated that although the auditor confirmed expenditure was in accordance with the scheme, the report highlighted a number of areas for potential improvements to internal control and made six recommendations to improve governance arrangements. Mr Stewart highlighted that the Scheme itself could only be amended by the Assembly.

Members considered each of the recommendations and were content to endorse the proposed draft management responses.

 

17. CALCULATION OF HOLIDAY PAY

Mr Stewart outlined the legal positon in relation to the calculation of holiday pay and whether overtime should be included in its calculation. He informed Members that there had been discussions with TUS on this issue dating back to 2014 but that TUS had not wished to progress the matter pending the outcome

of legal cases. Mr Stewart advised TUS had now expressed a willingness to recommence negotiations and that while the ‘Effective Date’ issue might still be uncertain, as the PSNI may appeal this element of the recent Court of Appeal judgement to the Supreme Court, it was hoped that TUS would be willing to enter into a negotiated settlement that facilitates the payment of the correct rate of holiday pay for future periods. Mr Stewart explained that the retrospective element would be determined when the courts had finally decided on the correct treatment.

 

18. REQUEST FOR TEMPORARY LOAN OF ASSEMBLY PORTRAIT

Mr Stewart referred Members to the letter received from the Office of Public Works requesting temporary loan of the painting ‘State Opening of Parliament’ by William Conor for display in an exhibition in Dublin Castle. Members were content to facilitate the request but noted that the large painting featured on the public tour. The Speaker was content that the smaller painting could be moved from the Speaker’s Office into the public area while the large painting was out on loan.

Agreed: That the large version of the State Opening of Parliament’ by William Conor be loaned with the smaller version in the Speaker’s Office being re-located to be available for viewing by tour participants within Parliament Buildings.

Simon Burrowes re-joined the meeting at 3.08pm for agenda item 19.

 

19. REQUEST TO HOLD AN ALTERNATIVE QUEER ULSTER 2019 EVENT IN PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS

Mr Burrowes outlined a request to hold an Alternative Queer Ulster 2019 event on Saturday 27 July 2019 in Parliament Buildings. He confirmed that the event had received the appropriate cross-designation sponsorship.

Following concerns raised in relation to last year’s event, Mr Burrowes stated that in line with the current events policy the Assembly Commission was being asked whether the request should be approved.

The views of Members were noted in relation to facilitating the event. Members agreed that the request should be approved but that the event sponsors and organisers should be reminded of the concerns raised regarding last year’s event. Members asked Mr Burrowes to engage with the event sponsor and co- sponsors to advise/remind them:

  • Of the concerns raised subsequent to the similar event held last year;
  • Of the range of views expressed at the Assembly Commission meeting;
  • That all events must respect the dignity and reputation of the Assembly, its buildings, staff and processes;
  • That responsibility for the conduct of the event rests with the primary sponsor; and
  • That, in line with the events policy, a list of attendees will be required in advance, including a list of the speakers at the event.

Jim Wells MLA asked to be provided with a list of those speaking at the event.

Action: Mr Burrowes to engage with the event sponsor and co-sponsors.

Action: Assembly Commission Members to be provided with a list of those speaking at the event.

Simon Burrowes left the meeting at 3.28pm. Robin Swann left the meeting at 3.28pm.

 

20. BROADCASTING AND RELATED SERVICES CONTACT VARIATION

Dr McGrath sought Assembly Commission approval for a further variation of the contract for the provision of broadcasting and related services.

Agreed: Members approved a variation to the contract for the

provision of broadcasting and related services, for the period 10 July 2019 to 9 July 2020 as recommended in the paper.

 

21. ANNUAL EQUALITY PROGRESS REPORT TO THE EQUALITY COMMISSION 2018-2019

Mr Stewart presented the annual Equality Progress Report for 2018-2019 and sought Members’ approval of the report to be submitted to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI).

Agreed: Members approved the report for submission to the ECNI.

 

22. SECRETARIAT AUDIT AND RISK COMMITTEE (SARC) ANNUAL REPORT 2018-19

Jim Brooks, Chairperson of SARC, presented the SARC Annual Report for 2018-19, outlining the SARC’s role in supporting the corporate governance arrangements within the Assembly Secretariat and the work that had been undertaken during 2018-19.

Mr Brooks reported that the overall level of assurance in 2018-19 was

“Satisfactory”. He stated that there were good levels of corporate governance in place as well as evidence of a strong culture of financial management.

Mr Brooks thanked the deputy chair of SARC Mr Derek Martin and Assembly Commission Member Mr Wells for their services to SARC. He also thanked the Clerk/Chief Executive and staff of the Assembly Secretariat for their commitment and diligence in providing SARC with the information necessary to achieve its objectives and the Assembly Commission for its support and permission for SARC representation at its meetings.

Members noted the SARC Annual Report for 2018-19.

 

23. AOB

Mr Wells asked that recoupment of constituency office rent and rates following a window display issue identified through Internal Audit’s Review of Members’ Expenses 18/19 (Interim) Report be placed on the agenda for the next Assembly Commission meeting.

 

24. DATE OF NEXT MEETING

Officials to consider possible dates for the next Assembly Commission meeting and check Members availability.

The meeting concluded at 3.36pm and went into closed session.

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