Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2013/2014

Date: 26 February 2014

Venue: Room 106, Parliament Buildings

The meeting commenced at 3.00pm


An apology was received from Mrs Cochrane MLA.    


The Speaker sought any declarations of interest from the Commission in relation to items of business being discussed. All Members present declared an interest as Trustees of the Northern Ireland Assembly Legislative Strengthening Trust which was discussed under Item 6.4.          


Minutes of the meeting on the 26 January 2014 were agreed subject to the following amendment:

Item 5.3, insert ‘in relation to a lack of security and high standards and’ to third sentence.

Ms Ruane requested sight of the note of the Commissions Financial Planning event (Dec 13) following her submission of amendments.  The Clerk/Chief Executive advised that as it was planned to keep the agenda for today’s meeting as brief as possible, a copy would be provided to the next Commission meeting.


4.1 Parliament Buildings Roof Project – Update

The Director of Facilities provided Members with an update on the progress of the Roof Project in Parliament Buildings. Mr Welch also provided information in relation to progress achieved on the decant of several business areas to Annexe C.  He also paid tribute to Parties for allowing Secretariat staff to utilise their Party meeting rooms and further acknowledged the hard work and professionalism of staff from facilities in ensuring that all moves occurred with minimal disruption.  It was agreed that a further Commission meeting would be arranged to approve the Tender Evaluation Report. 


The Clerk/Chief Executive (Clerk/CE) provided Members with a paper which outlined a number of issues for consideration relating to the corporate governance arrangements of the Assembly Commission, including:

  • issues relating to an update of the Assembly Commission Handbook (including the possible adoption of a set of common principles);
  • comparative information in relation to the delegated authority of the Clerk/CE within other legislatures; and
  • the type & amount of information currently provided to Commission Members. 


The Clerk/CE provided Members with an update on the revisions made to the draft Handbook.  Ms Ruane highlighted the unique nature of the NI Assembly as a devolved institution and requested that a further options paper should be brought to the next Commission meeting detailing the voting arrangements operating within other corporate bodies outside the UK and Irish legislatures.   The Commission further agreed that consideration should also be given to the development of a draft set of Common Principles and a draft Code of Conduct for the Assembly Commission, taking account of the development of codes at local government level.   The Commission further agreed that there would be value in conducting a further self-assessment of effectiveness, utlising the framework developed by CIPFA under the Good Governance Standard for Public Services.  Ms Ruane requested that further consideration should be given to the inclusion of compliance/ equality indicators and the Clerk/CE encouraged Members to bring forward any further elements which they would like to be included within the review.  In conclusion, Ms Ruane requested that the draft Handbook should be forwarded to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland for consideration.

The Clerk/CE then drew Members attention to section 3 of the paper which provided comparative information on the Schemes of Delegation operating within both the devolved and national legislatures.  Members agreed that an independent interpretation should be sought in relation to the levels of financial delegation within the Northern Ireland Assembly and it was decided that the view of the Chair of the Secretariat and Audit Committee, Mr McKenna would be sought in this regard.  It was further suggested that comparative information should also be obtained on levels of delegation operating in DFPNI, a local Health Trust and within parliamentary institutions within the Nordic Countries.  Mr Weir also suggested that consideration be given to the guidance provided by the NI Audit Office.  Ms Ruane also requested further legal advice in relation to paragraph 6 of Schedule 2 to the Government of Wales Act 2006.

The Clerk/CE drew Members attention to section 4 of the paper which related to the range and type of information provided to Commission Members.  Following consideration the Commission agreed that a further paper should be developed for consideration exploring options for increasing the information and communication methods for Commission.  Members agreed that the paper should explore the potential for developing a format for reporting on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), a dedicated web space for Commission access and a review of the existing submission template for Commission papers.


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

6.1 Financial and Governance Issues

The Commission noted the Management Accounts for the 10 month period, 1 April – 31 January 2014.

6.2 Corporate Strategy 2012/16 – Directorate Business Plans – Quarterly Performance – 31 December 2013

The Clerk/CE highlighted that the Corporate Strategy for 2012/16 was agreed by the Assembly Commission at its meeting in December 2011 and highlighted that the Strategy itself did not contain specific objectives/targets but relies on the Directorates within the Assembly to contribute to its delivery through their annual Business Plans. The Clerk/CE drew Members attention to the quarterly monitoring report for the quarter ending 31 December 2013.   Ms Ruane sought information in relation to the activities not completed within the report and it was agreed that the exception report would issue to Members.

6.3 Data Management Breach

The Clerk/CE reported that the investigation into the recent data management breach had concluded and the report had been circulated to Commission Members, SARC, affected Members and their staff.  Following consideration on the recommendations, Members highlighted the importance of appropriate staff training and suggested utlising some market research techniques in measuring quality and compliance of any policy or procedural change.

6.4 Members’ Professional Development and Northern Ireland Assembly Legislative Strengthening Trust (NIALST)

The Clerk/CE provided the Commission with an update on the status of the funding proposal to support the Politics Plus initiative.  The Clerk/CE informed Members that the funder would make a final decision in June 2014.  Members noted their initial commitment to support the NIALST through the establishment of a budget of £50k within the Assembly Secretariat budget for 2013-14.  The Clerk/CE highlighted an intention to make a financial contribution by way of a grant-in-aid to the Trust, but that it was not possible to achieve this in-year.  The Clerk/CE advised that he intends to address the matter through a single tender action and sought the Commissions support.   The Commission endorsed the benefits of the programme to date and following further consideration, agreed the process in principle, pending receipt of further information on the background and the detail of the process.

The Clerk/CE further advised the Commission that he would be submitting a paper to the next Commission meeting outlining proposals for improving governance with Partner Bodies.


The Director of Corporate Services provided a paper which detailed a further analysis of the options previously presented for the management of future insurance cases involving defamation. Ms Ruane requested that the wording at section 4 (b) iv be revised.  Members agreed that they would like further time to consider the matter and it was agreed that a separate meeting would be convened within the next two weeks to review the options and finalise the management of future cases.


8.1 Correspondence with IFRP

The Commission noted the correspondence received from IFRP on the consultation on NI Assembly Members’ Pension Scheme.  The Speaker highlighted that the range of consultation questions appeared to be more applicable to individual MLAs and Political Parties and advised the Commission that he would draft a response for clearance by correspondence.

8.2 Visitors Survey

Ms Ruane sought further detail on a visitors survey which she had obtained from the Great Hall. 

8.3 Audit of Artefacts

Ms Ruane requested that the audit of artifact’s held within Parliament Buildings which she had sought at the last meeting be considered in more detail at the Commission meeting in April 2014.

8.4 Assembly Commission Oral Questions

Mr Logue provided Members with the timings for the next Assembly Commission Oral Question Time on 18 March 2014.

8.5 Ormiston House

The Director of Facilities informed the Commission that he had been notified of a new bid on the Ormiston House site and would provide a further update to the next Commission meeting.

The meeting concluded at 4.15pm

Tony Logue
Head of the Commission and Corporate Support Unit 

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