Minutes of Proceedings
Session: Session currently unavailable
Date: 03 March 2016
2. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
3. CHAIRPERSON'S BUSINESS
The Speaker thanked Members and Officials for their attendance at this late hour and asked all to be mindful of the time as we progress through the agenda.
The Speaker congratulated Tara Caul on her permanent appointment as Director of Legal Services.
The Speaker reminded members about the upcoming Assembly Women's Week events which have all generated a high level of interest.
Members were reminded that oral questions to the Commission are scheduled to be answered in the Chamber on Tuesday 15 March. The Speaker also advised Members that the Northern Ireland public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO) motion is scheduled for the Plenary of Tuesday 8 March. Ms Bradley agreed to move the motion with Ms Ruane winding.
4. MINUTES OF MEETINGS
The minutes of the Commission meeting on 27 January 2016 and 17 February 2016 were approved for publication.
Action: Publish minutes.
5. ACCESSABILITY ADJUSTMENTS
Stephen Welch, Director of Facilities / Keeper of the House, introduced this paper by referring Members to the Commission meeting of 22 September 2015 when Members requested details of alterations made to meet the access needs of a wheelchair using Member along with further proposed alterations to Parliament Buildings. Updates were subsequently provided at Commission meetings in November 2015, December 2015 and January 2016.
David Lynn, Building Services Manager, provided Members with recommendations on potential capital work projects to further improve access in Parliament Buildings. These included a report, with plans, by Hamilton Architects, regarding ramped access from the lower ground floor to ground floor, fire safety modifications to the lifts and changes to the counter in the Members' Bar.
Mr Lynn also informed Members on the outcome of work undertaken to determine how best to provide automatic-opening of corridor doors to ensure that wheelchair users and people with mobility issues are provided with the same level of access as others in the basement and on the ground and first floors access and potentially on all floors . The cost to provide automatic-opening and electronic access control is estimated to be in the region of £660-700k for the entire building.
Ms Ruane stated that she would not be supporting the Electronic Access Control (EAC) proposals for the whole building on the grounds that she was opposed to any measures that might restrict access to the building for visitors and also on the grounds of cost. Ms Ruane, however, fully supported accessibility measures in relation to disability access but felt that the proposals put forward went beyond what was required.
Ms Bradley stated that she remained concerned about security at events.
The Clerk / CE reiterated the advice of Officials to proceed with EAC, as the lack of such a system posed a risk to Parliament Buildings as previously advised to the Commission and supported by external recommendations. In not proceeding with EAC the Commission was carrying an unnecessary risk and vulnerability.
Agreed: Members agreed to proceed with the following proposals: ramped access from lower ground floor to ground floor, alterations to the Members' Bar, lifts and associated doors and door alterations on lower floors to facilitate disabled building users, subject to consultation with Mr Andy Allen MLA. Members agreed not to proceed with EAC.
Action: Mr Welch to action all of the above agreed changes and modifications and explore further options without EAC.
Mrs Bannon, Equality Manager joined the meeting at 6.35pm for agenda items 6, 7, 8 and 9
6. DRAFT DISABILITY ACTION PLAN 2016 – 2021
Mrs Bannon spoke to this paper.
Members were asked to consider and approve the Draft Disability Action Plan for a 12-week public consultation.
Agreed: Members approved the Draft Disability Action Plan for public consultation.
Action: Richard Stewart, Director of Corporate Services, to make arrangements to commence the 12-week public consultation period.
7. REVISION OF THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION EQUALITY SCHEME
Mrs Bannon spoke to this paper seeking approval from the Commission to submit the scheme to the Equality Commission, publish on the Assembly website and circulate to Section 75 consultees.
Agreed: Members agreed that the Scheme be submitted to the Equality Commission and published and circulated as discussed.
Action: Mr Stewart to submit the revised Equality Scheme to the Equality Commission.
Action: Mr Stewart to arrange for the revised Equality Scheme to be published on the Assembly website and circulated to Section 75 consultees.
8. FINAL GENDER ACTION PLAN 2016 – 2018
Mrs Bannon spoke to this paper seeking Members approval to implement the Gender Action Plan.
Mrs Bannon informed Members that no staff responses had been received to the consultation. However, staff and the trade union were heavily involved in the preparation of the Plan. However, feedback had been received from the Commissioner for Public Appointments of the current make-up of Senior Management and Commission Members.
Mrs Bannon also advised Members that an Oversight Group was to be established to co-ordinate and monitor the implementation of the Gender Action Plan.
Ms Ruane suggested making reference to the upcoming Women's Week in the Action Plan and also advising the Commissioner of Public Appointments of the current make-up of Senior Management and Commission Members.
Agreed: Members approved the Gender Action Plan for implementation.
Action: Mr Stewart to inform the Commissioner of Public Appointments of the current make-up of Senior Management and Commission Members.
Action: Mr Stewart to arrange for a reference to be made to Women's Week in the Action Plan.
Action: Mr Stewart to make arrangements for the Action Plan to be implemented and for an Oversight Group to be established to oversee the implementation.
9. DRAFT GOOD RELATIONS ACTION PLAN 2016 – 2021
Mrs Bannon spoke to this paper seeking approval from the Commission to commence a public consultation.
Agreed: Members approved the Draft Good Relations Action Plan for public consultation.
Action: Mr Stewart to make arrangements to commence a full public consultation.
Ms Ruane left the meeting at 6.45pm.
10. CLERK/CE KEY UPDATE REPORT
The Clerk/CE provided Members with an update on the key issues in his monthly report namely:
10.1 Legislative Programme & End of Mandate Pressures
The Clerk/CE advised Members that the legislative workload 'peak' was coming to an end and acknowledged the enormous amount of work that had been carried out by staff. He noted that the secondment of a Bill Clerk from the Oireachtas had been a successful initiative.
10.2 SP15+ Update
Members noted the issues currently being progressed by SP15+ up to the end of March 2016.
10.3 Financial Matters
Members noted that work on the detailed allocation of the agreed Commission budget for 2016/17 was ongoing and that the previously agreed 5% reduction in controllable expenditure would be formally adjusted in the June Monitoring round.
Ms Ruane rejoined the meeting at 6.58pm.
Management Accounts – April 2015 – January 2016
Members noted Management Accounts for the period April 2015 to January 2016. Members were asked to remind MLAs on the need for prompt submission of expense claims before the end of the mandate.
Politics Plus funding 2015/16
The Clerk/CE reminded Members that the Memorandum of Understanding between the Commission and Politics Plus included a commitment to provide £50k funding per annum to programmes run by Politics Plus. In 2015/16 this funding was reduced to £25k due to the reduced budget available to the Commission, however the positive financial performance year to date may enable the Commission to restore the level of funding to 50k.
Agreed: Members agreed to the restoring of a budget of 50k for 2015-16.
Action: Mr McGrath to arrange to fund Politics Plus at £50k for 2015/16, subject to funds being available before the year end.
10.4 Microsoft Enterprise Agreement
The Clerk/CE sought approval from the Commission to proceed with the renewal of the Microsoft Enterprise Agreement, covering a 3 year period and costing in the region of £683,000.
Agreed: Members agreed to proceed with the renewal of the agreement.
Action: Mr Welch to take forward renewal of the Microsoft Enterprise Agreement.
10.5 Members' Expenses Update
The Clerk/CE provided an update on a recent meeting which had taken place between Assembly officials and the Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP) and advised Members that they would receive copies of future correspondence between IFRP and officials.
Action: The Clerk/CE to copy relevant correspondence to Commission Members.
10.6 Freedom of Information (FoI)
Members noted a FoI request which had been received relating to IFRP Minor Reforms.
Action: Ms Caul to copy the draft FoI response in relation to IFRP Minor Reforms to Commission Members.
10.7 Valuation of Constituency Office Rentals
The Clerk/Chief Executive advised Members that consideration of future Independent Rent Valuations of constituency offices may not now be required given anticipated changes to be introduced in the next Determination from IFRP.
10.8 Election Guidance – Breaches and Sanctions
Members were reminded that a number of breaches of the Election Guidance provided to MLAs had occurred in the run up to the General Election in 2015 and at that time the Commission had agreed to consider the issue of sanctions in advance of the Assembly Elections in 2016.
The Clerk/Chief Executive sought agreement from the Commission to the principle that a Member or Party which breaches the guidance should make an appropriate amount of financial reimbursement in relation to the breach. The appropriate amount of financial reimbursement to be assessed by the Finance Office.
Agreed: Members agreed with the principle proposed.
Action: Mr Stewart to proceed with the preparation of a financial re-imbursement scheme to deal with breaches of Election Guidance.
10.7 Flags EQIA – Mitigating Measures
The Clerk/Chief Executive provided Members with an update on 4 mitigating measures recommended following a report carried out by an independent consultancy company, namely:
Further review the work already carried out to promote a good and harmonious working environment within Parliament Buildings.
A range of activities are undertaken which aim to keep under review and promote a good and harmonious working environment. These include the completion of a mid-point review of the audit of inequalities, completion of an Engagement EQIA, work continues with disenfranchised groups through the work of Assembly Community Connect, the agreed list of historic anniversaries continues to be marked, the Speakers respect agenda continues to be implemented, increasing the balance of art work in the building, a visitor survey continues to be conducted to seek the views of those visiting Parliament Buildings. The 2016-2021 Good Relations Action Plan is also under consideration by the Commission.
Consider flying a neutral, civic flag (or other visual display) to mark days when the Assembly is sitting.
This measure has not found support amongst Commission Members and has not been progressed.
Consider adopting a policy on the flying of the Union flag on civic occasions.
A draft Protocol, which sought to adopt a balanced approach to the flying of flags on civic occasions consistent with the feedback received during the EQIA process, was presented for consideration.
Monitoring the impact of the policy
A report will be brought to the Commission in June 2016 summarising the impact of the policy during its first year of operation under the above headings. This will form part of the Annual Equality Progress report to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.
Members noted the updates against each of the above recommendations but were unable to reach agreement on the subject of flying the Union flag on civic occasions.
Ms Ruane stated her belief that flags should not be discussed at Commission meetings.
Mrs Cochrane felt that the new Commission should take forward these issues and was disappointed that we hadn't moved forward with this more quickly.
Agreed: Members agreed that the third mitigating measure should be
re-visited after the Elections.
Action: Mr Stewart to bring a paper on flag protocol to the Commission for consideration following the 2016 elections.
Action: Mr Stewart to bring a report monitoring the impact of the flags policy to the Commission in June 2016.
10.8 Assembly Passes – Policy Update
The Clerk/Chief Executive outlined the current Assembly Security Policy regarding the issuing of passes to persons who in the course of their work require access to Parliament Buildings.
A revised list of those persons who may hold Assembly Passes, who are not currently Assembly Staff, MLAs, Party staff, NICS senior staff, media or contractors was presented to the Commission for approval.
Agreed: Members were content with the recommended list with one addition.
Action: Mr Welch to include a revised list of pass holders, as agreed by the Commission, in the Assembly Security Policy.
10.9 BBC Music Day
The Clerk/CE advised Members that the BBC had approached the Assembly regarding the viability of hosting BBC Music Day from Parliament Buildings on Friday 3 June 2016. In order to assess if it would be possible to facilitate the proposed event, further work will need to be undertaken with the BBC to scope out the event requirements and a further paper will be brought to the Commission when more information on the BBC's requirements become available.
Agreed: Members agreed in principle for the event to proceed, subject to further discussions with Assembly officials and the BBC establishing all event requirements.
Ms Bradley left the meeting at 7.17pm.
Action: Mr McGrath to advise the BBC of the Commission's approval in principle for the Music Day Event to proceed and arrange for officials to have further discussions with the BBC to scope out event requirements.
10.10 Appointment of Director of Legal and Governance Services
Members noted the report of Tara Caul's success in the recent external recruitment exercise for the post of Director of Legal and Governance Services and again wished her well.
10.11 Litigation update – Employment Matters
The Clerk/CE provided an update on ongoing litigation.
Ms Bradley rejoined the meeting at 7.20pm.
10.12 Public Services Ombudsman Act (NI) 2016
The Clerk/CE advised Members that one pertinent feature of the Public Services Ombudsman Act (NI) 2016 was that the Commission will come under the Ombudsman's remit in respect of complaints. He informed Members that officials were revising the Commission's Complaints Procedure to ensure it reflected the new arrangements.
The meeting adjourned at 7.25pm for 10 minutes
11. AMENDMENTS TO THE FAPP SCHEME 2016
Mr Stewart spoke to his paper seeking agreement from the Commission on recommended revised rates of funding to enable a Financial Assistance to Political Parties (FAPP) Scheme for 2016 to be laid in the Business Office together with a Motion for inclusion in the Order Paper in the week commencing 14 March.
Alterations to the current Scheme to provide additional funding to any party that might enter opposition after the 2016 Assembly elections were to be cost neutral under Fresh Start.
A discussion took place on the proposed revised rates of FAPP funding and Members asked officials to present a further revised model involving a total 7.5% reduction in FAPP for the coming year.
Mrs Cochrane agreed to move the motion with Mrs McKevitt winding.
Action: Mr Stewart to provide revised FAPP funding figures for Commission consideration on Monday 7 March 2016.
12. ICO COMPLAINT
Ms Caul, Director of Legal and Governance, spoke to her paper providing background on a complaint which had been made to the Information Commissioner challenging a decision by the Commission not to provide information on party funding under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
The Commission's initial decision was made to ensure individuals could not be identified in the answer, however, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) has suggested a compromise which Ms Caul is content does not identify individuals.
Ms Ruane left the meeting at 8.25pm.
Agreed: Members noted and agreed the compromise proposed by the ICO.
Action: Ms Caul to proceed with the proposed informal resolution to the outstanding ICO complaint.
12. END OF MANDATE – CHAIR'S REMARKS
A list of some of the activity and achievements of the Commission and Assembly secretariat over the last five years were circulated to Members.
As this was the last scheduled meeting of the Commission for this mandate, the Speaker wanted to put some words of thanks on record.
The Speaker on behalf of the Commission thanked Secretariat and contract staff for their hard efforts over this mandate.
The Speaker also thanked all Commission members during the 2011-16 mandate, former Speaker Lord Hay, Peter Weir, Barry McElduff, Pat Ramsey and Leslie Cree. He thanked and wished Ms Cochrane and Mr Gardiner well as they move on from the Assembly and ,lastly, thanked Ms Ruane, Ms Bradley and Mrs McKevitt for their contribution to the Commission.
Mr Gardiner thanked the Speaker and staff for their professionalism and impartiality.
The Clerk/Chief Executive thanked Members on behalf of officials for their guidance and support and wished them all well for the future.
This was the final meeting of the 2011-16 Mandate
The meeting ended at 8.30pm