Minutes of Proceedings
Date: 05 June 2013
Venue: Room 106, Parliament Buildings
Apologies were received from Mr Colm McKenna. Mr Bernard Mitchell attended on his behalf.
2. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
The Speaker sought any declarations of interest from the Commission in relation to items of business being discussed. None were received.
3. PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS ROOF (Presentation)
The Speaker welcomed Mr Paul Millar and Mr Neil Moore from Hamilton Architects and Mr D Lynn, Head of Building Services to the meeting and invited Mr Millar to provide a presentation on progress achieved on the roof project including prospective cost analysis.
Following the presentation, the Commission gave its approval to proceed with the roof project and the associated contractor's yard, as detailed in the Stage D Report.
The Commission also discussed the potential impact, on Assembly business, of disturbance from the construction works and requested further information on options to mitigate against possible disruption. It was agreed that options would be provided by correspondence to Commission Members for a decision by 14 June 2013, to allow for the next stage of the project to proceed.
4. MINUTES OF PREVIOUS MEETINGS
4.1 Minutes of Meeting held on 27 Feb 2013
Ms Ruane highlighted that she was not content with the detail provided within the minute of the meeting held on 27 February 2013 and agreed that she would forward her comments to CCSU for inclusion in a further draft minute to be considered at the next Commission meeting.
4.2 Minutes of Meeting held on 7 May 2013
Ms Ruane highlighted that she was not content with the detail provided within the minute of the meeting held on 7 May 2013 and agreed that she would forward her comments to CCSU for inclusion in a further draft minute to be considered at the next Commission meeting.
5. MATTERS ARISING
5.1 Ormiston House
Mr S Welch, Director of Facilities/Keeper of the House provided Members with an update in relation to the sale of Ormiston House site. The Commission also noted the marketing update provided by BTW Shiells.
5.2 Bilingual Responses to AQWs to the Commission
The Speaker informed the Commission that following its decision, at the meeting on 7 May 2013, to respond to all questions for written answer in the language which had been used to ask the question, the outstanding questions had been returned by the Commission Member translated bilingually. The Speaker sought Members views on how to progress the matter.
Ms Ruane stated that in her opinion that she was entitled to exercise her right to respond to questions in both English and Irish and believed that the decision of the Commission was discriminatory.
Mr Weir stated that as all responses to Assembly Questions for written answer are signed by Commission Members on behalf of the Commission and as the Commission had taken a previous decision to issue responses in the language which had been used to ask the question, that the questions should be issued immediately to the Members in that format and signed by another Member of the Commission.
Mr Cree agreed with Mr Weir's position as he felt that a democratic decision had been previously taken by the Commission.
The Speaker made the proposal that the responses now issue in the format agreed by the Commission on 7 May 2013.
The Commission voted as follows:-
For :- Mr Weir, Mr Cree, Mr Ramsey and Mrs Cochrane = 75 votes.
Against :- Ms Ruane = 29 votes.
The proposal was agreed.
Ms Ruane asked that the Speaker confirms the above position in writing. However this was declined as the decision will be recorded in the minutes of the meeting.
5.3 Employers and Public Liability Insurance
Mr Widdis, Director of Legal and Governance provided legal advice on the public liability insurance policy. Ms Ruane highlighted that she had not obtained a copy of the policy until she made a personal request. Mr Stewart responded by informing the Member that the certificate is issued on an annual basis to all MLAs and he was confident that this had been issued. Following further discussion, it was agreed that the matter should be deferred to a future Commission meeting.
6. CLERK/DG KEY UPDATE REPORT
The Clerk/Director General provided Members with a brief overview of key issues contained within his update report, drawing Members attention to the following:
6.1 Annual Accounts 2012/13
The Commission noted that the Annual Accounts for 2012/13 had been drafted and considered by the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee and that the Clerk/Director General, in his role as Accounting Officer, had submitted the draft accounts to the NIAO for audit. Mr P Ramsey highlighted the benefits of the attendance of a member of SARC to each Commission meeting.
6.2 Corporate Risk Register
The Commission noted the latest version (May 2013) of the Corporate Risk Register.
6.3 Business Efficiency Reviews
The Clerk/DG informed the Commission that a further five BEP reviews had now reached the stage of consideration by the Clerk/Director General and that a final meeting of consultation with TUS was being arranged. It was further agreed that the reviews would be forwarded by correspondence to Commission Members.
6.4 Assembly Commission Budget Setting Process
The Clerk/DG informed the Commission that he had met with the Permanent Secretary of DFP to progress a number of issues arising from the Finance and Personnel Committee's inquiry into the financial scrutiny and the budget process. He confirmed that an element of this work was the establishment of an appropriate budget setting process for the Commission.
6.5 G8- Contingency Planning
The Clerk/DG informed the Commission that there is on-going liaison with PSNI and DFP officials responsible for the Stormont Estate, in respect of contingency planning for potential protests arising from the G8 summit to be held in Co. Fermanagh. Ms Ruane confirmed that she was pleased that there was no overreaction to the event and that 'business as normal' would apply.
6.6 Review of Flags Policy
The Clerk/DG requested that the Commission note that a paper on the review of the Commission's flags policy was being prepared and would be presented to the next meeting of the Commission. Ms Ruane and Mr Ramsey highlighted that they did not believe that the Assembly Commission was the best place to deal with this matter.
6.7 Lobbying Issue
The Clerk/DG confirmed that the issue of lobbyists holding permanent passes did not apply to Parliament Buildings.
7. BUSINESS PLAN 2012-13 – Monitoring Report
Mr R Stewart provided Members with a paper which summarised the progress of each Directorate against their 2012/13 Business Plans. The Commission noted the significant achievements within the past year and sought additional information in relation to the timetable for the introduction of the e-committee packs for members. Mr J Stewart informed Members that the roll-out of electronic devices for the project would commence week beginning 24 June 2013 and that training for Members would be delivered simultaneously. The Commission further agreed that it was important to highlight and outline the environmental impact and increased efficiencies for introducing electronic meeting packs within the Assembly.
8. BUSINESS EFFICIENCY PROGRAMME- Outreach and Education
Mr J Stewart, Director of Information and Outreach reminded Members that the Commission had requested further information to outline and clarify implications of two recommendations made in the Outreach and Education Business Efficiency Programme (BEP) report at their meeting on 7 May 2013.
In relation to the first recommendation regarding the closing times of Parliament Buildings, Members requested further information relating to the number of evening events which had taken place over the last three months and if impact was negligible then the Commission were content to agree that Parliament Buildings would close at 8.00pm when there is no plenary session or events taking place.
The Commission further considered the second recommendation which related to the costs to the Assembly of hosting a variety of events at weekends. Further information was requested on the number and type of events which have taken place, on a Saturday, in Parliament Buildings over the last 3 months.
9. EQUALITY COMMISSION ANNUAL PROGRESS REPORT
Mr Logue, Head of the Commission and Corporate Support Unit outlined the Assembly Commission's requirement to submit an Annual Report to the Equality Commission for Northern on the actions undertaken during the reporting period 2012-2013 in relation to the Assembly Commission's obligations under Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act and the DDA.
Ms Ruane highlighted that she would not be in a position to agree the report as she felt that it was not a true reflection of activity within Parliament Buildings and in particular she would like the inclusion of more detail relating to:
• the flying of the Union Flag on Parliament Buildings;
• the Commission's decision relating to bi-lingual translation of responses to Assembly Questions for written answer by the Commission;
• the issue of bi-lingual signage within the building; and
• the use of symbols and emblems within the building.
Mr Logue confirmed that the Report was written under the guidance template provided by the Equality Commission and that the activities highlighted were a reflection of the work undertaken to meet the Commission's statutory obligations under Section 75 and Disability Legislation. He further confirmed that some of the issues raised by Ms Ruane fell outside the period of the Report.
Both Mr Weir and Mr Cree highlighted that the report was a work in progress and that a separate meeting was being planned in early July 2013 for the Commission to discuss issues relating to Good Relations and Language. Mr Cree confirmed that he was content to hear any Members concerns but that the Annual Report should issue to the Equality Commission. Mr Ramsey also requested that all Party submissions on the matters of language, flags and symbols should be shared with the Commission in advance of the discussion in July 2013.
Ms Cochrane confirmed that she agreed the content of the report as representative of activities across the Secretariat. She highlighted that the template did not request information on non-achievement and that certain issues raised could be included within a future progress report to the Equality Commission.
Ms Ruane proposed that the Commission not approve the report to allow for her amendments to be included for discussion at a future Commission meeting.
The Commission voted as follows:-
For:- Ms Ruane = 29 votes.
Against: Mr Weir and Mr Cree = 53
Abstained: - Mr Ramsey and Mrs Cochrane = 22 votes.
The proposal was lost.
The Commission approved the content of the Annual Progress Report for submission to the Equality Commission for NI and further agreed that the cover letter to the Equality Commission would highlight that a vote was taken on the matter.
10. CORPORATE BODY VOTING PROCEDURES
The Commission noted the information relating to the current procedures for voting in Corporate Bodies within the UK Legislatures and the Houses of the Oireachtas and agreed that the matter could be raised for discussion at a future meeting.
11. Any Other Business
11.1 Assembly Commission Oral Question Time
Mr Logue informed Members of the timings relating to the Oral Question Time for the Assembly Commission on Tuesday 18 June 2013 and agreed that copies of the questions and details of Commission respondents would issue to the Commission on Thursday 6 June 2013.
11.2 Commission Portfolio Arrangements
Mr Logue informed Members that as agreed at the last meeting, he had canvased the views of Commission Members on rotating responsibility for Directorate Portfolios. Following a brief discussion, the Commission confirmed that the following Portfolio arrangements would be adopted:
Mr Peter Weir: Legal and Governance Directorate
Ms Caitríona Ruane: Information and Outreach Directorate
Mr Leslie Cree MBE: Clerking and Reporting Directorate
Mrs Judith Cochrane: Corporate Services Directorate
Mr Pat Ramsey: Facilities/Keeper of the House Directorate
11.2 SARC Membership
The Commission agreed that Mr L Cree would replace Mr P Ramsey on the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee.
11.3 Assembly Community Network event - 'Get Involved' Conference
Mr Logue reminded Members of the arrangements for the Assembly Community Network Event in Derry/Londonderry on Friday 7 June 2013. Mr P Ramsey informed Members that the newly elected Mayor, Mr Martin Reilly, had invited Commission Members to view the recently refurbished Guildhall.
12. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
It was agreed that the next meeting would take place on Wednesday 26 June 2013 at 1.00pm.
Meeting concluded at 6.57pm to commence in closed session.
Head of the Commission and Corporate Support Unit
13. ORGANISATIONAL REDESIGN
(Meeting resumed in closed session at 7.10pm with Commission Members, the Clerk/Director General, Director of Corporate Services and Bernard Mitchell.)
The Clerk/Director General advised Members that he had asked the Director of Corporate Services to attend to assist with background information and detailed questions on specific issues within the paper and noted that he had an interest in the matter under discussion.
The Clerk/Director General presented the paper setting out further background information, options and recommendations in respect of the Organisational Redesign report. Further information was requested on gender and community background statistics. Members noted that consultation with TUS was in progress and that a meeting was scheduled to discuss the TUS response to the report.
(The Director of Corporate Services withdrew from the meeting).
Members discussed the information and recommendations within paper. In respect of the recommendation on adopting an early exit scheme to assist in the change process, Members wished to explore other opportunities initially and would revisit the recommendation at a later date.
It was agreed:
a. to move forward on an incremental basis to a more streamlined organisational structure, based on the OR Report, undertaking consultation on implementation with TUS, together with Section 75 screening, and if required, EQIA(s);
b. to proactively explore transfer and secondment opportunities with other public sector bodies in Northern Ireland and beyond and seek political support to achieve positive outcomes;
c. to establish a Project Board to support the Clerk/Director General in overseeing implementation comprising two Commission Members (Judith Cochrane and Pat Ramsey), a Member of SARC and the Clerk/Director General, supported by a short term Project Manager;
d. to note that an implementation plan, including training and development needs, will be prepared; and
e. to note that work is on-going to address two vacant Head of Business posts.
Meeting concluded at 8.05pm.