Minutes of Proceedings

Session: 2013/2014

Date: 07 May 2013

Venue: Room 106, Parliament Buildings

Meeting began in Closed Session at 4.05pm with Commission Members, the Clerk/Director General and Mr Bernard Mitchell.


Apologies were received from Mr Colm McKenna. Mr Bernard Mitchell attended on his behalf.


The Speaker sought any declarations of interest from the Commission in relation to items of business being discussed. Mr Leslie Cree declared an interest as a member of the NI Assembly Business Trust in relation to Item 7 on the agenda.


The Clerk/Director General sought the Commission's views on the Organisational Redesign report which had been presented to the Commission at its meeting held on 24 April 2013.

The Commission discussed the overall report and considered each of the report's recommendations. The Clerk/Director General indicated that further work was required on the detailed implications of the proposed structure before decisions could be made. The Commission was also advised of TUS intention to make a response to the report.

Following discussion, the Commission's initial position in respect of each recommendation is noted below.

Recommendation 1
We do not recommend any change in the pattern of externalisation of services at the Assembly.

The Commission noted that this recommendation is consistent with the Commission's current approach to the externalisation of services.

Recommendation 2

The target to reduce staff numbers to 375 posts should be discontinued and the financial target for savings retained.

The Commission acknowledged the primacy of financial budgets in managing the outworking of the Spending Review 2010 budget settlement but recognised the continued value of a specific staffing target in helping to achieve the budget reductions.

Recommendation 3
To assist in a managed reduction in staff numbers, the Commission should introduce an early exit scheme to be available to staff, either restricted to posts or tiers identified for reduction, or through more general access with gatekeeping to ensure that savings are achieved and key skills are retained.

Recommendation 4
Job titles should be changed in the light of this report, to reflect current practice and make them more generally understood.

Recommendation 5
We recommend that the Commission adopt the structure set out in Annex F of the report.

In respect of recommendations 3, 4 and 5 the Commission sought further information on a number of factors which may have an impact on these recommendations including Equality, HR policy issues, financial, severance scheme and legal. A further meeting will be convened when this information is available.

Recommendation 6

The Commission should adopt an organisational development plan to support structural changes in delivering its ambition to provide outstanding and progressive parliamentary services.

The Commission agreed that work commence on recommendation 6, which is consistent with the existing objective in the Corporate Strategy 2012-16.
The meeting resumed in Open Session at 5.25pm.


The Speaker referred to 3 papers issued recently and it was agreed that they would be cleared by correspondence.


Subject to some amendments, the Minutes of the meetings held on the 27 February 2013 and 24 April 2013 were agreed.


6.1 Parliament Buildings Roof
Mr Welch updated the Commission on recent progress. The Chairperson's Liaison Group had been briefed on developments and the likely impact of the work. The relevant planning applications have been submitted and it is planned to have contractors appointed by the end of 2013. It was agreed that the Commission will receive a presentation on all aspects of the project on 29 May 2013.

6.2 Ormiston House
Mr Welch updated the Commission on recent developments. Discussions are ongoing with the agent on the way forward.

6.3 Proposals for Electronic Access Control
Mr Welch advised the Commission that this issue had arisen out of the recent Business Efficiency Project report on Security and Ushering – the paper before Members contained a number of options for consideration. While recognising the need for ongoing savings, the Commission agreed to leave the proposal in abeyance and to keep security in Parliament Buildings under review.

6.4 Contingency Fund for Constituency Offices
Mr R Stewart updated the Commission on his discussions with the Independent Financial Review Panel which has responsibility for MLA funding arrangements. The Panel has already issued a Determination within the Mandate and may only issue another in exceptional circumstances. It was agreed that the Speaker should write to Panel on behalf of the Commission.


The Clerk/DG briefed the Commission on the further paper which had been requested at an earlier meeting. Current staffing levels can be sustained within 2013/14. Members requested further information in relation to weekend events. In the interim, the Commission agreed to the closure of Parliament Buildings at 8.00pm on those days when the Assembly is not sitting and there is no event booked.


The Clerk/Director General provided Members with a brief overview of key issues contained within his update report, drawing Members attention to the following:

8.1 Commission Strategic Planning Event
The Clerk/Director General updated the Commission on the follow-up actions being taken following the Strategic Planning Event on 27 February 2013. In the subsequent discussion, it was agreed that the Clerk to the Commission would canvas Members on rotating responsibility for Directorate Portfolios.

8.2 Review of Committee System
The Commission was informed that the Chairperson's Liaison Group is leading the review which will include consideration of the level and nature of support required by Committees.

8.3 Management Accounts
The Director of Corporate Services updated Members on the interim management accounts for the period 1 April – 31 March 2013.

8.4 Annual Budget
The Director of Corporate Services updated Members on the provisional allocations for the 2013/14 budget.

8.5 Access to the Members' Bar and Lounge
The Director of Facilities provided the Commission with information on the updated list of those eligible to access the Member's Bar and Lounge. It was agreed to include members from other legislatures. Members requested details of Parties Nominated Users.

8.6 Security Incident
The Clerk/DG provided the Commission with information in relation to a recent security incident. Ms Ruane asked for a written report of the incident and details of the guidance for firearms storage in Parliament Buildings.


The Commission considered a paper which had been requested at the last meeting. It was proposed that the Commission should consider the NIA Good Relations Strategy in more detail while attending an event with the Assembly Community Connect on 7 June 2013. The majority of members agreed to the proposal. While content for the Commission to attend the event, Ms Ruane stated her opposition to the Commission's discussions on the Good Relations Strategy and in particular discussions around the flying of flags and language issues.


The Speaker briefed the Commission on the legal advice received from the Director of Legal and Governance Services. The Speaker confirmed that attempts to resolve this issue had been unsuccessful and that he was of the view that a vote in the Commission was now the way forward. Mrs Cochrane proposed that Ms Ruane should be allowed to respond bilingually to Assembly Questions on behalf of the Commission. The Commission voted as follows:-

For:- Ms Ruane, Mrs Cochrane = 37 votes.
Against:- Mr Weir, Mr Cree, Mr Ramsey = 67 votes.

The motion was lost.
Ms Ruane asked for the outstanding questions to be referred back to her.

Robin Ramsey, the Advisor to the Speaker, briefed the Commission on a proposal for the Speaker to host a lecture event in June 2013. The Commission approved the proposal.


The Director of Corporate Services, Mr R Stewart, updated the Commission on the insurance arrangements in place to cover the Commission's legal and commercial obligations. Ms Ruane raised concerns about the fact that Members had not received copies of the insurance policy and had not been made aware of the cover in respect of potential libel/slander therein. Other Members raised that issue of the £5k excess and whether this cost should be met by the Member in the recent litigation case. It was agreed that the Clerk/DG would bring a further paper to the Commission on the contractual liabilities in relation to excess payments.

13. AOB

It was agreed that arrangements would be made for the cleaning of Lord Craigavon's tomb, following a request from Mr Cree.


It was agreed that the next meeting would take place on Wednesday, 5 June 2013 at 4.00pm.

Meeting concluded at 7.50pm

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