Minutes of Proceedings
Date: 27 September 2011
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. All Members declared an interest in relation to Item 6 relating to the valuations of constituency offices.
2. CHAIRMAN’S BUSINESS
The Speaker provided Members with an update in relation to the work being undertaken in respect of the Portraits of the previous Speaker, Mrs Eileen Bell, the former First Minister, Mr David Trimble and the former Deputy First Minister, Mr Mark Durkan. The portraits are now nearing completion, it was agreed that an unveiling ceremony will be arranged for November 2011.
The minutes of 28 June 2011 were agreed subject to one amendment to reflect that Mr McElduff left the meeting to participate in an adjournment debate.
The minutes of 4 July 2011 were agreed subject to one amendment to Item 3: Implementation of the revised Financial Support for Members Handbook. Insert following text at end of 9 th paragraph under Item 3, “ Mr Cree also suggested the concept of a “business case” to include the cost of relocating to assist in determining a practical level of rental that could be funded from OCE and it was agreed that this would also be considered within the body of the paper.”
4. MATTERS ARISING
4.1 Commission Newsletter
The Commission agreed the content of the Commission Newsletter which will now issue to all Members electronically and placed on AssISt.
5. CLERKS/DG’S REPORT
The Clerk/Director General provided members with a brief overview on key issues and developments. He advised members that Mr Stephen Welch would be absent from the office for a number of weeks, and in his absence, Mr Damien Martin will be acting Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House. The Clerk/Director General also drew Members attention to the following:
5.1 Ormiston House
The acting Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House provided members with an update in relation to the sale and planning application of the Ormiston House site. Members agreed that key decisions would need to be made on this issue by the end of the calendar year.
5.2 Secretariat Audit & Risk Committee (SARC)
The Clerk/Director General informed members that the appointment process to replace the Chair of the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC) was underway with interviews scheduled to take place on 8 October 2011. The Clerk/ Director General also highlighted that in addition to the Chair’s position, a reserve list would be created for members of SARC.
Mr McKenna, as the acting Chair of SARC, also provided the Commission with an update in relation to the recent activity of the Committee.
5.3 Litigation Update
Mr Widdis provided members with an update in respect of current litigation issues.
6. VALUATIONS OF CONSTITUENCY OFFICES RENTALS
The Director of Corporate Services provided members with an overview on developments in relation to the valuations of constituency office rentals. The Commission considered the final report from the independent chartered surveyors and agreed the approach to the treatment of constituency office valuations. In summary, the Commission agreed that:
- the valuation exercise would be applied to all leases but any limit on the amount that would be funded from Office Cost Expenditure (OCE) would only be applied to those leases that had expired or were about to expire;
- a 10% tolerance would be applied to the higher of an initial or appeal valuation; and
- a cost of moving allowance would be applied (at a notional rate of £1,600 per annum or the actual cost of moving if a member provides a bona fide quote).
It was further agreed that details of the rental valuations for all current MLAs would issue to Commission Members.
As the approach to the valuation of constituency offices had been agreed via correspondence in early July 2011, the Commission formally endorsed that agreed approach (in accordance with paragraph 3.11 of the Assembly Commission Handbook).
7. STANDARDS OF CONDUCT POLICY
The Director of Corporate Services provided members with background information on the current rules relating to the political activity of Assembly Commission employees. Following discussion it was agreed that the Director of Corporate Services would hold individual meetings with Commission Members as required, to ascertain their views on the policy with a view to a further paper for discussion at the next Commission meeting.
8. BUDGET AND VACANCY MANAGEMENT
The Director of Corporate Services provided Members with an update in relation to the budgetary performance for the current financial year. Members took note of the planned Resources and Capital expenditure for 2011/12 and the level of expenditure for the year to date.
9. TRAVEL MILEAGE – SECRETARIAT STAFF
The Director of Corporate Services spoke to a paper in relation to Assembly Secretariat travel rates. Mr Stewart informed the Commission that the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the Approved Mileage Allowance Payments (Rates) Regulations 2011 would come into force on 6 April 2011. Following consideration, the Commission agreed to endorse the increase of the motor mileage rate to 45p per mile in line with the Regulations.
Mr Barry McElduff left the meeting to participate in an adjournment debate.
Mr J Gilsenan joined the meeting.
10. EQUALITY COMMISSION FOR NI ANNUAL PROGRESS REPORT 2010/11
The Director of Corporate Services provided members with background in relation the submission of the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission’s Annual Report to the Equality Commission. An annual review is required by the Equality Commission detailing the progress achieved against the targets of the Assembly Commission’s Equality Scheme. Following consideration, the Commission agreed the content of the report for submission to the Equality Commission.
Mr Gilsenan also highlighted the amount of work that had been completed across the Secretariat in relation to taking forward the equality agenda.
Mr J Gilsenan left the meeting.
11. INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS: REFERRAL UNDER JOINT AGREEMENT
The Clerk/Director General sought a Commission decision in relation to the management of a disagreement arising from the Employee Relations Board. Following discussion, the Commission agreed that the Labour Relations Agency should be invited to assist in the resolution process.
12.1 Members Financial Services Handbook: OCE Matters
Mr Weir sought clarification in relation to allowable expenditure as outlined in the rules governing the Members Financial Services Handbook. In particular, Mr Weir raised queries in relation to signage, advertising (leaflets) and the requirement to obtain quotations for goods or services. It was agreed that the Director of Corporate Services would hold further discussions with Commission Members with a view to providing a further paper at the next Commission meeting on the implementation of the new rules and guidance within the Members Financial Services Handbook.
12.2 IT Matters
Mrs Cochrane highlighted several IT related issues affecting Members; namely the login process of Assembly PCs and the inability of being able to connect laptops to the Assembly’s network. It was agreed that the Director of Outreach and Information would discuss the matter with the Member to remedy the issues.
The Director of Outreach and Information further highlighted the difficulties his team were experiencing in obtaining the return of laptops from members to facilitate the completion of the ‘upgrade project’.
12.3 Childcare Scheme
Mrs Cochrane sought further information in relation to the operation of the childcare scheme within the Assembly. Following consideration it was agreed that a paper would be prepared for consideration at the next Commission meeting outlining the cost of the existing childcare scheme currently operating within the Northern Ireland Assembly.
13. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
Tuesday 25 October 2011 at 4.00pm
Meeting ended at 5.30pm
Commission and Corporate Support Unit