Minutes of Proceedings

Session: Session currently unavailable

Date: 31 January 2018

 

Meeting Venue: Room 29, Parliament Buildings

Meeting date: Wednesday 31 January 2018

Meeting Time: 11.00am

Commission Members:

The Speaker

Mr Jim Wells MLA

Mr Alex Maskey MLA

Mr Alex Attwood

Mr Robin Swann MLA

Mr Stewart Dickson MLA

Officials present:

Mrs Lesley Hogg, Ms Tara Caul, Dr Gareth McGrath, Mr Richard Stewart, Ms Frances Leneghan and Mrs Janet Hughes

Others in attendance:

Mr Jim Brooks, Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC) Chairperson

Mr David Lynn, Building Services Manager

Mr Robin Ramsey, Adviser to the Speaker/Head of Corporate Support

The meeting commenced at 11.04am.

1. APOLOGIES

No apologies were received.

2. DECLARATION OF INTERESTS

There were no declarations of interest. AC05

3. MINUTES OF MEETING – 22 NOVEMBER 2017

The minutes from the last Commission meeting on 22 November 2017 were approved for publication.

4. COMMISSION ACTIONS

Lesley Hogg, Clerk/CE provided Members with an update on actions from the previous Commission meeting.

5. CORRESPONDENCE

The Commission noted correspondence between the Chair of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust and the Speaker.

6. CLERK/CHIEF EXECUTIVE KEY UPDATE REPORT

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

Staffing Update

Mrs Hogg advised Members that all staff redeployments continue to have been achieved on a voluntary basis and updated Members on the number of Full Time Equivalent (FTE) staff currently temporarily redeployed outside Parliament Buildings and those working in the building for other entities.

Management Accounts

Mrs Hogg referred Members to the Management Accounts for December 2017, and asked Richard Stewart, Director of Corporate Services to update Members.

Mr Stewart advised Members of the current forecast underspend of £49k, which was much reduced from the £2.27m forecast underspend reported at the November Commission meeting, due to the surrendering of surplus funds to the Department of Finance during the December Monitoring Round.

Sexual Harassment Procedures

As reported at the November Commission meeting, Mrs Hogg updated Members on the work to assess whether adequate provision was in place for complaints to be raised by anyone who felt that they had been subject to sexual harassment or similar behaviour whether they be Members, Assembly staff, party and Members’ staff or others.

Members noted the range of measures that are currently in place, which included: 

  • The Commission’s Dignity at Work Policy;
  • An Assembly Secretariat Staff/Member Protocol;
  • Support, counselling and welfare support mechanisms;
  • Harassment Contact Officers;
  • An occupational health service for staff;
  • A Grievance procedure for staff members of MLAs;
  • The Northern Ireland Assembly Commissioner for Standards; and
  • Development of guidance for external visitors attending a parliamentary outreach event in Parliament Buildings.

Mrs Hogg confirmed that following consideration of these measures, with the exception of the potential weakness with the MLA Staff Grievance Procedure (where a member of staff of an MLA might be required to report an allegation of harassment to the alleged harasser), she was content that they were comprehensive and provided a range of support and complaint mechanisms for complaints to be raised by anyone who felt they had been subjected to sexual harassment or similar behaviour.

Members noted that a cross-party working group had been set up in Westminster to take forward proposals outlined by the Prime Minister, for an independent grievance procedure. Mrs Hogg informed Members that the HR Inter-Parliamentary Group would also be considering sexual harassment at their next meeting on 8 and 9 March.

The Commission considered whether the potential weakness in the MLA Staff Grievance Procedure should be brought to the attention of MLAs. Mrs Hogg advised Members that Assembly officials would be monitoring any developments that may arise from the workings of the groups mentioned, to assess whether any additional mechanisms identified by them might be used to enhance the procedures already in place within the Assembly. She proposed that the MLA Grievance Procedure could be considered at that time but that if the findings of the groups were delayed then a communication could be issued to MLAs in the interim. Mrs Hogg confirmed that she would keep Members updated.

Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Northern Ireland Assembly Commission (NIAC) and the Police Service for Northern Ireland (PSNI)

Members noted that an MoU agreed by the previous Commission, covering police searches of premises used by MLAs within Parliament Buildings had now been signed by the PSNI.

The Examiner of Statutory Rules Operation of Standing Order 43 – update on the scrutiny of subordinate legislation

Mrs Hogg stated that whilst procedural issues were not a matter for the Commission, in the absence of the normal operation of the Assembly, she felt it would be helpful to make Members aware that Statutory Rules were continuing to be laid during this period.

Dissolution of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust (NIABT)

Members noted that the membership of the NIABT had voted in December 2017 to dissolve the Trust.

2016-17 Members’ Survey Action Plan – Implementation Update

Mrs Hogg advised Members that the last Members Survey was undertaken between October 2016 and January 2017, following which an action plan had been developed to address areas for improvement.

Members reviewed the action plan and Mrs Hogg confirmed that of the 11 actions identified, 5 were complete and the remaining 6 were either not relevant given the current political situation or could not be completed because of the current political situation, but would be reviewed and put in place once the Assembly was fully restored.

Mrs Hogg also advised Members that she would brief them if any changes were made to the Independent Financial Review Panel (IFRP) Determination by the Secretary of State.

External Lighting Policy: proposed dates for lighting Parliament Buildings

Mrs Hogg sought agreement from Members, in line with the Assembly’s External Lighting Policy at Parliament Buildings (2014) which stipulates that

‘the Commission will schedule up to 4 days (consecutive or not) during a calendar year for event(s) of its choice in line with the policy’ to light the building for the following four days in the 2018 calendar year:

International Women’s Day Purple

St Patrick’s Day Green

12th July Orange

11th November Red

Agreed: Members were content to light the building on the four days proposed for 2018.

Support Services Contract

Members noted that Sodexo commenced operation of the new Support Services Contract from 8 January 2018. Mrs Hogg confirmed that the transition had gone very smoothly and that feedback had been extremely positive.

Centenary of the Representation of the People Act and Female Suffrage

Mrs Hogg referred Members to the November Commission meeting when it was agreed that the policy on centenaries and historic anniversaries would not be initiated this mandate but re-visited either on the appointment of a successor Commission or in June 2018. Members also noted that other events would be held to continue the Assembly’s previous work on encouraging female participation and in this regard Mrs Hogg advised Members that consideration was currently being given to developing a Speaker’s event for International Women’s day in March.

Members were also advised that Politics Plus had been awarded funding from the Department for Communities to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 and were planning a series of events throughout the year, most of which would be held in Parliament Buildings.

7. PAY CLAIM 2017

Richard Stewart, presented this paper providing Members with an update on the progress in negotiations with Trade Union Side (TUS), since the last meeting, regarding the 2017 pay claim.

Mr Stewart sought clarification from Members on two matters regarding the pay remit to allow negotiations to conclude.

Firstly, Members discussed the outstanding element of the pay claim regarding the pay remit for a percentage uplift.

Agreed: Following discussion on the percentage uplift, Members agreed to reflect on the issue and consider again at the next Commission meeting in March.

In relation to the second matter on the implementation of pay recovery, Members noted the figures provided by Mr Stewart and agreed that this was an issue that should be reviewed and considered further when the Assembly is fully functioning again.

8. BUDGET 2018/19

Richard Stewart, presented this paper advising Members of the wider developments relating to the preparation of the Commission’s budget for 2018/19 and highlighted the issues that will have an impact on the budget for 2018/19.

Due to the political uncertainty Mr Stewart outlined a twin-track approach to budget setting for the 2018/19 financial year, whereby a budget would be assessed on an assumption of the Assembly resuming its full range of functions with a further budget based on an assessment of the resource requirements in the present ‘retaining readiness’ phase.

Members noted the potential issues that will arise from the formation of the Commission’s budget for the 2018/19 financial year and were content with the twin-track approach and range of assumptions that might be considered in the budget plans for 2018/19, as detailed in the paper.

David Lynn, Building Services Manager, joined the meeting at 12.05pm for agenda item 9.

9. VIEWING OF ARTEFACTS, ARTWORK AND FURNITURE IN STORAGE 

David Lynn referred Members to the list of artefacts held in storage and presented a paper relating to a proposal to provide an opportunity for MLAs and journalists who wish to view the artefacts held off-site.

Mr Lynn outlined two proposals for consideration by Members:

  • Production of a short video of the items held in the off-site storage facility, for issue to MLAs and the media; or
  • Extend an invitation to MLAs and the media to express an interest in viewing the items held in the off-site storage facility, with a fixed date then arranged to visit the facility subject to the responses received.

Agreed: Members agreed that an invitation be issued to all MLAs to express an interest in viewing the artefacts. The invite would allow them to be accompanied by a member of the media if desired.

Action: Mr Lynn to arrange for expressions of interest to be issued to MLAs.

Jim Wells asked for clarification in relation to the list of artefacts presented as he recalled a number of items that were not recorded.

Action: Mr Lynn to check the artefacts held, clarify whether there are artefacts that have not been recorded and if so their whereabouts.

David Lynn left the meeting at 12.24pm.

Jim Wells MLA left the meeting at 12.24pm

10. BROADCASTING AND RELATED SERVICES CONTRACT VARIATION

Gareth McGrath, Director of Parliamentary Services, presented this paper, seeking the Commission’s approval, due to the ongoing broadcasting needs of the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) Inquiry, to extend the variation to the monthly cost of the Broadcasting and Related Services Contract, previously agreed in July 2017 and September 2017, until the end of the RHI Inquiry’s public hearings.

Jim Wells MLA re-joined the meeting at 12.26pm.

Dr McGrath also recommended that a further paper be presented to the Commission in May 2018, outlining options to vary the contract further (following the end of the RHI Inquiry’s public hearings), unless the Assembly has resumed normal business in the interim.

Agreed: Members were content to maintain the existing percentage reduction until the end of the RHI’s public hearings and agreed with the recommendation to present a further paper to the Commission for consideration in May 2018.

Action: Dr McGrath to arrange for the contract to be varied in line with the approved recommendation until 31 May 2018.

Action: Dr McGrath to present a further contract variation paper to the Commission for consideration in advance of 31 May 2018.

11. NORTHERN IRELAND ASSEMBLY COMMISSION COMPLAINTS POLICY REPORT

Members noted the Assembly Commission’s Complaints Policy Report 2017 and approved it for publication on the Assembly’s website.

Action: Dr McGrath to arrange for the Assembly Commission’s Complaints Policy Report to be published on the Assembly’s website.

12. SECURITY POLICY: ASSEMBLY COMMISSION CONSIDERATION

Following a request at the last Commission meeting the Security Policy was tabled for consideration by Members.

Members were content with the current policy.

Note change to agenda running order, item 14 taken before item 13.

14. AOB

Request to light Parliament Buildings

A request to light Parliament Buildings was received from the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Communities to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918.

Agreed: Members approved the request to light Parliament Buildings.

Action: Mr Stewart to arrange for the building to be lit as requested by the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Communities.

The Trustees of the Assembly Members Pension Scheme

The Speaker drew Members attention to an email received on behalf of the Trustees of the Assembly Members Pension Scheme regarding their concerns in relation to the number and political make up of Trustees.

As previously stated in a letter from the Speaker to the Chair of the Trustees back in November 2017, the Speaker re-iterated that this is not a matter that can be resolved by the Commission but Members agreed that they had no objection to the Trustees writing to the Secretary of State, highlighting the Trustees’ concerns.

Robin Ramsey, Adviser to the Speaker/Head of Corporate Support, joined the meeting at 12.31pm for agenda item 13.

13. COMMISSIONING OF PORTRAITS OF FORMER OFFICEHOLDERS

Robin Ramsey informed Members that work was underway to commission four paintings, to mark the period of office of the two former Speakers and the former First and deputy First Minister in line with current Commission policy.

Mr Ramsey advised Members that the Assembly’s current portrait policy was last considered by the Commission in 2009, at which time a budget of £5,000 was established for each portrait commissioned with an agreed maximum size of 25” x 35”.

Mr Ramsey informed Members, that recent research in relation to the cost of paintings, has highlighted that in the current market it is increasingly difficult to deliver a portrait from an established artist of a quality befitting long term display in Parliament Buildings, within the existing budget. Mr Ramsey sought Members’ views on increasing the budget for individual portraits and allowing more flexibility on portrait size.

After discussion, Members noted that the policy could be reviewed after a successor Commission is established but agreed that it was not an appropriate time to revise the budget. Members noted that if there was difficulty delivering an individual portrait, officials could return to the Commission to consider an approximate cost. Members agreed to increase the maximum portrait size to 40” x 60”.

Mr Jim Wells MLA expressed the view that no portraits should be procured until the Assembly returned to normal business. Members noted that production of the portraits of former holders within the current policy would normally proceed without being referred back for Commission decision. Mr Alex Maskey MLA proposed that officials attempt to proceed with the outstanding portraits within the current budget. Mr Wells MLA disagreed as he considered that now was not an appropriate time to progress the outstanding portraits. All other Members agreed that the outstanding portraits should be progressed if they could be delivered within the existing budget.

Mr Ramsey agreed to provide an update at the next Commission meeting, including proposals for the location of the portraits.

15. DATE OF NEXT MEETING

The next meeting is planned for 7 March 2018.

The meeting concluded at 12.56pm.

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