Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2014/2015

Date: 25 November 2014

Venue: Room 106, Parliament Buildings

1.            DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST

The acting Chairperson sought any declarations of interest from the Commission in relation to items of business being discussed.  No items were declared.

2.         CHAIRPERSON’S BUSINESS

The acting Chairperson informed Members that the meeting had been rescheduled to facilitate a full attendance of Members. As a result the meeting would address urgent business only and that substantive business items would be discussed at the Commission meeting on the 10 December 2014.

The acting Chairperson highlighted that in response to a request from the Simon Community as the Assembly’s Charity of the Year, Members had agreed to light up the front of the building in red to raise awareness of homelessness week.  He confirmed that Mr Ramsay MLA, as the portfolio holder for the Facilities Directorate had approved a press release and had agreed to have a photo taken with Mr Jim Dennison, Chief Executive of the Simon Community following the conclusion of the meeting.  The acting Chairperson sought other Commission Members involvement, if available, in the scheduled photo call.  In conclusion of his business, the acting Chairperson informed Members that the Deputy Speakers would be hosting the lighting of the Assembly Christmas tree on 26 November 2014 in conjunction with the launch of a ‘giving tree’ to support the Commission’s Charity of the Year.

3          CLERK/CE KEY UPDATE REPORT 

The Clerk/Chief Executive (Clerk/CE) provided Members with an update on the key issues arising in his monthly report namely:

3.1       The Spotlight Programme

The Clerk/Chief Executive provided Members with an overview of the issues arising from the first BBC Spotlight documentary on Members expenses which was broadcast on 18 November 2014.  Members discussed the issues in the documentary and possible actions required. Members also sought further information relating to the management responses of the internal audit investigations conducted on the matter and it was agreed that this would be brought to the next meeting, including the proposal to update the database of Members’ signatures. It was agreed that a further paper to be brought to a future Commission meeting outlining a range of costed options for refining and improving Assembly Members financial systems, including details on comparative models within each of the other UK legislatures and the Oireachtas. It was agreed to give further consideration to these issues following the broadcast of the second documentary.

3.2       Strategic and Financial Planning

The Clerk/Chief Executive informed Members that he was exploring the development of a ‘Strategic Planning 2015/16 and Beyond’ project which would aim to:

  • achieve the best possible outcome from the draft budget 2015/16 to support the effective operation of the Assembly;
  • to prepare options on future prioritised delivery of services to meet the agreed budget for 2015/16 and to prepare the way for budgets in future years;
  • to draft a revised Corporate Strategy for the period 2015 to 2017 which will guide future service delivery within available resources;
  • to design an implementation and change programme for the period 2015 to 2017 which will include the delivery of the Organisational Development Strategy; and 
  • to implement the agreed programme.

 

In considering the prioritisation of services the Clerk/Chief Executive outlined a proposed approach in descending order of priority:

  1. Those services required to deliver the statutory functions of the Assembly, the Commission and associated bodies (ie. IFRP, Commissioner for Standards) under the NI Act 1998 and other relevant legislation;
  2. Those services which are not statutory but which are essential to deliver the statutory functions; and
  3. Those services which are discretionary.

Members agreed that a strategic and realistic view was required which should consider further efficiency measures in relation to the future shape and delivery of services in addition to those already achieved as part of the Spending Review 2010.

Action: 

  • Clerk/Chief Executive to progress the Strategic planning 2015 and beyond project.  

3.3       Draft Budget 2015/16

The Clerk/Chief Executive reminded Members of discussions they had held in advance of the Minister for Finance & Personnel’s Statement to the Assembly on the Draft Budget 2015/16 on 3 November 2014.  He highlighted that the Minister’s Statement had confirmed that the Commission’s budget allocation for 2015/16 would be retained at the same level as the current financial year, however the statement noted that the Commission “would seek to manage their internal pressures from within their overall Resource allocations and seek to achieve similar savings, returning any efficiencies to the Executive for re-distribution.”  Members discussed the efficiencies achieved to date from the Business Efficiency Project (BEP) which had assisted in creating the 19% real terms reduction in budget.  Members confirmed that they had already agreed to meet pressures for next year from its allocation but agreed in line with the development of the ‘Strategic Planning 2015/16 and Beyond’ project, that further consideration should be given to indicating any further efficiencies that could be achieved.  The Clerk/CE highlighted that the Finance and Personnel Committee had requested their consideration as part of the consultation on the Executives draft Budget proposals for 2015/16 and it was agreed that the Commission would offer a submission highlighting the work achieved to date through the Business Efficiency Programme and that the Commission would be considering further efficiencies. 

3.4       Voluntary Exit Scheme

The Clerk/Chief Executive informed the Commission that the NI Civil Service is developing proposals for a voluntary exit scheme to significantly reduce the number of staff in the public sector over coming years and sought Members consideration of expressing a interest to participate in the scheme, without commitment.  Following consideration, Members requested further information on the matter for decision at a future meeting. 

3.5       Ormiston House

The Clerk/CE informed the Commission that the completion of the sale of Ormiston House was scheduled to conclude at the end of November 2014.          

Actions:

  • Clerk/CE to include management responses to findings from completed internal audit investigations in the paper to be prepared for the next Commission meeting including the proposal to update the database of Members’ signatures.
  • Further paper to be brought to a future Commission meeting outlining a range of costed options for refining and improving systems, including details on comparative models within each of the other UK legislatures and Oireachtas;
  • Clerk/Chief Executive to progress the development of a "Strategic Planning 2015/16 and Beyond" (SP15+) project;
  • Response to be made to Finance and Personnel Committee highlighting 19% real terms reduction already made by the Commission and the work that has been undertaken to date (e.g. BEP);
  • Further paper to be brought to a future meeting on the NI Civil Service Voluntary Exit Scheme.

3.                     BROADCAST CONTRACT

The Director of Information and Outreach spoke to his paper which sought the Commission’s approval on the approach to retendering the Assembly Broadcasting and Related Services Contract.  Mr Stewart highlighted that the preferred option was to continue to use the contract until Summer 2016 (19 months) as it mitigated against potential risks and allowed for the establishment of a Project Board and Team to fully research and consult with the Clerking and Reporting Directorate on any changes that may affect Assembly Business, carry out market sounding, investigate opportunities for efficiencies and cost reductions and conduct an appropriate retendering exercise.  The Director of Information and Outreach also referred to his response to queries raised by Ms Ruane MLA in relation to the monitoring of Fair Employment relating to contractors and the procurement process for Broadcasting Contract 2010.

Ms Ruane highlighted that she was not content with the timescale given for taking a decision on the project and indicated that Mr Stewart’s response, in her opinion did not fully answer her query.  She highlighted concerns with a roll-over of contracts and requested further evidence that this contract was fully adhering to the duties specified by the Northern Ireland Equality Commission.  She highlighted that she would have liked to see a breakdown of all fair employment data in relation to the contract.  Mr Stewart agreed that he would seek guidance from the Equality Commission relating to the feasibility of requesting data for monitoring purposes in relation to the contract.  Members also requested that further information be sought on best practice and approaches taken within other institutions.  Ms Ruane further sought a full list of all current ‘managed contracts’ and an indication of whether fair employment data could be collected and it was agreed that legal advice would be requested on the extent to which existing contract clauses (fair employment monitoring data) can be used in respect of ‘managed service’ providers.

Members discussed the associated risks, key performance indicators and timescales for the retendering exercise and following consideration, Ms Ruane proposed Option 2; to continue to use the contract to summer 2015 and retender (7 months), however the majority view from other Members was to accept Option 3; to continue to use the contract to summer 2016 and retender (19 months). Mr Stewart emphasised that every effort would be made to reduce costs during the period up to summer 2016.

Decision: The Commission agreed Option 3 to use the contractually agreed terms for a period to summer 2016 and retender (19 months).

Actions:

  • Guidance to be sought from Equality Commission for Northern Ireland relating to feasibility of requesting fair employment data for monitoring purposes in relation to this contract;
  • Further information to be obtained in relation to approaches taken in other institutions /public bodies (best practice).
    • Full list of ‘managed services’ contracts to be provided to include detail if provision exists within the contract to seek breakdown of fair employment data; and
  • Commission legal advice on the extent to which existing contract clauses (fair employment monitoring data) can be used in respect of ‘managed service’ providers.

 

Mr McKenna left the meeting.
Mr Mingout joined the meeting.

4.         SUPPORT SERVICES CONTRACT

The Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House provided Members with a background to his paper on options relating to the Support services Contract.  Mr Mingout provided Members with an overview of the performance to date of the contract against the targets set in the initial Business Case and CSR budget targets.  Ms Ruane also requested that Eurest be asked to provide further information relating to the breakdown of fair employment data as specified within the contract.

Following consideration in relation to each of the proposed options, it was agreed that a further paper would be developed for the next Commission meeting refining the options and highlighting a preference based on the information discussed, along with fair employment data from the contractor.

The Clerk/Chief Executive reminded Members of the need to consider the services and costs involved in the contract in the context of future budget pressures and service prioritisation.  

Decision: The Commission agreed that a further paper would be developed for the next Commission meeting refining proposed options and highlighting a preferred option. 

Actions:

  • Director of Facilities/ Keeper of the House to write to Eurest and request information in line with clause 34 3 (Equalities & Human Rights including Fair Employment monitoring) of the Commission’s contract.

5.         DATE OF NEXT MEETING

The next meeting to take place on Wednesday, 10 December 2015 at 2.00pm in Room 106, chaired by Ms Ruane MLA.

The meeting concluded at 2.24pm

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