Minutes of Proceedings

Session: Session currently unavailable

Date: 05 July 2017

Meeting Venue: Room 106, Parliament Buildings

Meeting date: Wednesday 5 July 2017

Meeting Time: 10.00am

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, Mr Stephen Welch, Mr Robin Ramsey, Mr James Gilsenan, Ms Frances Leneghan and Mrs Janet Hughes

Others in attendance:
Mr Jonathan McMillen, Head of Legal Services

The meeting commenced at 10.03am.

1. APOLOGIES

No apologies were received.

2. BRIEFING

The Speaker thanked Members for attending the meeting and for their continued co-operation to date.

The Speaker stated that this meeting had been called to further address issues raised at the Commission meeting in May since no political agreement was reached by the deadline of 29 June 2017.

The Speaker also took the opportunity to congratulate Mr Stephen Welch on his new appointment and thanked him for his work as Director of Facilities and wished him all the best for the future. Commission Members also offered congratulations and thanks to Mr Welch.

3. DECLARATION OF INTERESTS

Robin Swann MLA noted that as a former Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, he had been previously involved in the scrutiny of the Assembly’s broadcasting contract.

4. MINUTES OF MEETING

The minutes from the last Commission meeting on 30 May 2017 were approved for publication.

PLANNING

5. Assembly Commission Staffing: Preparatory planning for decisions which may need to be considered in July 2017

Richard Stewart, Director of Corporate Services, spoke to this paper, which followed the same three themes as the one presented at the last Commission meeting: Retaining Readiness, Maximising the Use of Public Resources; and Supporting and Motivating Staff.

Mr Stewart stated that the paper provided recommendations based on the preparatory work undertaken by Assembly Officials, as agreed at the last meeting, for consideration by the Commission, as no political agreement was reached by the 29 June talks deadline.

Mr Stewart advised Members that a number of assumptions had been made in order to assess the level of staffing that would need to be maintained within Parliament Buildings to deliver the required level of service. He confirmed to Members that building security would not be reduced as a result of any redeployments.

Agreed: Members were content with the assumptions in relation to the assessment of need as detailed in the paper.

Mr Stewart provided Members with an update on the number of staff who have been voluntarily re-allocated to work for other public sector organisations and legislatures. He advised Members on the number of opportunities that were advertised but were not filled and proposed that these should be re-advertised to staff. This was agreed.

The potential need for mandatory redeployment was also considered and it was agreed that a mandatory redeployment process should be adopted in consultation with Trade Union Side (TUS). It was also agreed that Assembly Officials would seek further redeployment opportunities for staff in parallel with commencing formal consultation with TUS and that voluntary redeployment was and would remain the preferred option.

Members were content with the approach to redeployment outlined by Mr Stewart. 

Action: Mr Stewart to re-advertise posts and progress the draft Mandatory Redeployment Policy. 

Members agreed with the seven recommendations in the paper and:

1. Noted the staff numbers that have already been engaged in work for other public sector entities and legislatures;

2. Agreed the assumptions made with regard to the continuing activities to be carried out in Parliament Buildings;

3. Noted the preparatory work that has been undertaken in respect to staffing given that political agreement has not been achieved by the end of June 2017;

4. Noted that work is on-going to ensure that suitable work can be provided for all staff;

5. Noted the work that has been undertaken to devise a draft Mandatory Redeployment Policy that is reasonable. That Policy will be fully screened and subject to further check and review;

6. Considered and, agreed that a process of mandatory redeployment should be adopted following consultation with TUS and all opportunities that were previously unfilled will then be re-notified to staff; and

7. Agreed that the Mandatory Redeployment Policy should be reviewed after three months in the context of the prevailing political circumstances.

Mr Attwood MLA requested that the Commission meet following agreement of the Mandatory Redeployment Policy with TUS and prior to its implementation.

Jonathan McMillen, Head of Legal Services joined the meeting at 10:44am

6. Broadcasting and Related Services Contract Variation

Gareth McGrath, Director of Parliamentary Services, spoke to this paper and outlined the terms and conditions of the current Assembly Broadcasting and Related Services Contract and provided details on the work undertaken over the last few months.

Dr McGrath explained that the ongoing political situation meant that the Assembly’s service requirements have reduced and discussions have taken place with the Broadcasting Contract Manager to review the requirements and seek savings.

Members noted that the RHI inquiry is likely to make significant use of the broadcasting contract and contribute towards the costs.

Dr McGrath provided four options for consideration with a recommendation to proceed with option 3, namely to vary the contract as per Section 8 and Schedule 3 (1.1 The over-riding needs of the Northern Ireland Assembly) of the contract terms and conditions to include the continuation of ongoing maintenance of the broadcast infrastructure and archive, continuation of ongoing projects and a notice period of 7 working days to resume broadcast coverage of normal Assembly business.

Members were content to proceed with option 3 as recommended.

Action: Dr McGrath to undertake the necessary steps to begin the contract variation process as outlined in the terms and conditions.

7. Review of Contracts

Richard Stewart spoke to this paper, which was requested by the Commission at its meeting on 30 May 2017.

Mr Stewart outlined how the range of current Assembly Commission contracts might be impacted by ongoing political uncertainty.

Mr Stewart provided Members with details of the differing contracts currently in place within the Assembly and the associated options of: do nothing; vary; or terminate.

In accordance with the planning assumption of Retaining Readiness and Maximising the Use of Public Resources and the issues highlighted in this paper, Members agreed with the recommendations in the paper in relation to Support Services, Broadcasting and Business Critical Systems.

These were as follows:

1. Support Services – the Assembly Commission agreed that at this time no further reduction in services provided by this contract is required and agreed that it will review the Support Services Contract in September 2017 to allow time to implement an agreed way forward prior to the expiry of the existing contract on 8 January 2018;

2. Broadcasting – the Assembly Commission agreed that there should be a short-term reduction in monthly costs and that the contract is reviewed again in September 2017; and 

3. Business critical systems – the Assembly Commission agreed that no change is made to these contracts at this time as they are critical in supporting Assembly Commission functions but that the contracts are reviewed again in September 2017.

8. AOB

The Speaker proposed that the next meeting would be towards the end of September but agreed that a meeting could be arranged should matters require earlier attention.

Mr Dickson MLA asked that the Speaker consider how a nomination on behalf of the Assembly could be made to the Congress of the Council of Europe in the current circumstances. He and Mr Wells MLA also asked that officials consider the options for proceeding with MLA involvement in the range of external bodies on which the Assembly is represented including the British Irish Parliamentary Assembly, the North South Inter-Parliamentary Association and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

Mr Dickson MLA noted that at the Speaker’s most recent meeting with whips, officials had advised that the deadline for ministerial appointments having been missed did not prohibit the Assembly from electing a Speaker and conducting other business. He asked the Speaker to give consideration to this.

Mr Wells MLA asked that the inscription on Craigavon’s tomb be cleaned.

The meeting concluded at 11:11am.

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