Minutes of Proceedings
Session: Session currently unavailable
Date: 09 December 2020
Meeting Venue: Members' Dining Room
Meeting date: Wednesday 9 December 2020
Meeting Time: 2.00pm
Assembly Commission Members:
Mr Keith Buchanan MLA
Mr John O'Dowd MLA
Mrs Dolores Kelly MLA
Mr Robbie Butler MLA
Mr John Blair MLA
Mrs Lesley Hogg, Clerk/Chief Executive
Ms Tara Caul, Director of Legal, Governance and Research Services Dr Gareth McGrath, Director of Parliamentary Services
Mr Richard Stewart, Director of Corporate Services
Mr Robin Ramsey, Adviser to the Speaker/Head of Corporate Support
Mrs Janet Hughes, Clerical Supervisor
Others in attendance:
Mr Derek Martin, Independent Member of Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC)
Mr Kevin Pelan, Clerk Assistant (Item 14)
Ms Clodagh Miskelly, Senior Assistant Clerk (Item 14)
Mr Brian Devlin, Head of Information Systems Office (Item 18)
The meeting commenced at 2.07pm.
Apologies were received from Jim Brooks, Chairperson of SARC.
2. DECLARATION OF INTERESTS
3. CHAIRPERSON'S BUSINESS
Assembly Members (Remuneration Board) Bill
The Speaker advised Members that introduction of the Assembly Members (Remuneration Board) Bill was proposed for the sitting on 14 December 2020 and that a Member would be required to move the Bill.
The majority of Members were content for the Bill to be introduced on 14 December 2020 as proposed, however Keith Buchanan MLA, recorded reservations about the timing of introduction and stated that his preference was that it be introduced at the first sitting in January 2021.
Following further discussion, it was agreed that the Bill would be introduced on 14 December 2020 and that Members would agree who would move it.
Assembly Commission Oral Questions
The Speaker thanked Members for their handling of Assembly Commission oral questions in the Chamber the day before and noted that three supplementary questions required a written response from Members.
Action: Commission Office to liaise with Members to agree responses to supplementary questions not answered during Assembly Commission oral questions.
Government of Ireland Act Lecture
The Speaker noted the success of the recent virtual "Perspective On ...." Lecture, to mark the centenary of the Government of Ireland Act. He confirmed that over 200 people had joined on-line, making it the biggest virtual event the Assembly had held to date. Members reported positive feedback and recorded thanks to all staff involved in the delivery of the event.
The Speaker advised that as it was not possible to hold the usual staff Christmas events at Parliament Buildings, he would be holding a short virtual staff event in the Senate Chamber on 19 December 2020 to thank staff for their hard work during the year, and invited Members to attend.
4. MINUTES OF PREVIOUS MEETINGS
Minutes from the Assembly Commission meeting on 11 November 2020 were approved for publication.
5. MATTERS ARISING
There were no matters arising.
6. ASSEMBLY COMMISSION ACTIONS
Members noted the status of actions.
Members noted four items of correspondence as follows:
A letter dated 23 November 2020 from the Chair of the Assembly and Executive Review Committee, regarding the implementation of an independent review of the adequacy and effectiveness of the Statement of Entitlements for an Official Opposition. The Speaker advised that Gareth McGrath had prepared an update paper on this matter for consideration under agenda item 15.
Letters dated 24 November 2020 from the Speaker to the Chair of the Audit Committee and the Chair of the Committee for the Executive Office, regarding the commencement of Part 3 of the Public Services Ombudsman Act (Northern Ireland) 2016.
Lastly, a letter dated 4 December 2020 from the Chair of the Chairpersons' Liaison Group (CLG), in relation to the need for an additional committee room with broadcasting capability. The Speaker proposed that officials consider the request and report back to the Assembly Commission at its next meeting.
Members were content with this approach.
Action: Officials to consider the request from CLG for the creation of additional committee room with broadcasting capability and report back to the Assembly Commission at its next meeting.
8. CLERK/CHIEF EXECUTIVE UPDATE REPORT
Mrs Hogg provided Members with an update on the key issues, which had arisen since the last Assembly Commission meeting, namely:
Mrs Hogg referred Members to the Management Accounts for October 2020.
Mrs Hogg advised Members that the outturn for Resource DEL was £45.081m and £0.97m for Capital DEL.
Mrs Hogg informed Members that two Youth Participation Officers had joined the Youth Assembly team and that the Speaker had concluded the last of his meetings with the proposed external representatives on the Speaker's Advisory Group.
Mrs Hogg also advised that invitations to nominate young people to the Youth Assembly Co-design Panel had been issued in November 2020 and that a number of virtual meetings of the Panel had been planned for December 2020, the findings of which would be presented to the Assembly Commission in February 2021.
Parliament Buildings Access Arrangements and Forthcoming Events
It was noted that Members had agreed to re-visit access arrangements to Parliament Buildings before the Christmas recess.
Mrs Hogg stated that in light of the ongoing public health restrictions, the continuing risk of infection and the likelihood that a widespread vaccination programme would not be available for a further number of months, she recommended that the current prohibition on visitors to, and events in, Parliament Buildings should continue until after the Easter recess, at which time a further review would be undertaken. She also advised Members of a small number of upcoming events booked in Parliament Buildings, including a wedding in March 2021 and stated that in respect of this she would like to give a clearer picture to the organisers.
Following consideration, Members agreed that the current restrictions regarding access to Parliament Buildings remain in place until the end of February 2021, with a further review to be carried out at that time.
Action: Review of restrictions regarding access to Parliament Buildings to be carried out at the end of February 2021.
Robbie Butler MLA asked that a notice previously issued to all building users in relation to visitor access during the current restrictions, be re-issued and that security staff be reminded of the arrangements.
Action: Officials to re-issue the notice to all buildings users on visitor access to Parliament Buildings.
Mrs Hogg advised that the next Members' Survey would be undertaken during January and February 2021 and that an action plan would be prepared on the basis of the feedback from the survey and presented to the Assembly Commission for approval.
Wi-Fi in Parliament Buildings
In order to provide video conferencing facilities in Parliament Buildings which were not dependent on Wi-Fi connection, Mrs Hogg advised that web cams had been purchased for use by MLAs and party support staff and that these would be rolled out in the next two weeks.
Artefacts in Parliament Buildings
Mrs Hogg referred Members to the last meeting, when a brief update was provided in relation to progress on seeking to achieve a balanced display of artefacts in Parliament Buildings, on a permanent basis.
Mrs Hogg informed Members that the Speaker had written to Dr Eamon Phoenix and that he had agreed to assist officials to identify potential artefacts which might be available for loan and which could be added to those owned by the Assembly Commission, to reflect a balance of the entire Assembly. Mrs Hogg confirmed that if suitable artefacts were identified, officials would bring forward a range of options for the Assembly Commission to consider at a future meeting.
9. ASSEMBLY COMMISSION ANNUAL PLAN 2020-21
Robin Ramsey noted that the Annual Plan for 2020-21 was being presented later than expected, due to the resumption of normal Assembly business at short notice in January 2020 and the need to focus resources on responding to COVID-19 from the beginning of the financial year. He informed Members, that the activities outlined for 2020-21 in the Corporate Plan 2019-23 had been reviewed to take account of what could be achieved in the context of the pandemic.
Mr Ramsey sought Members' approval of the draft Annual Plan 2020-21 and advised that planning for the Annual Plan for 2021-22 would commence in the New Year.
Members approved the draft Annual Pan 2020-21 as presented.
10. BUDGET 2021-22
Richard Stewart presented and sought approval of the Commission's budget proposals for 2021-22.
Mr Stewart informed Members, that the budget had been prepared on the assumption that Parliament Buildings would be open as normal for the entire financial year.
Members noted that the budget assumptions for costs to be incurred under the Financial Assistance for Political Parties (FAPP) Scheme had been based on the current scheme, which had been developed in 2016. Due to the length of time that has elapsed since the Scheme had been developed, Members agreed that a review of the Scheme should not wait until the completion of the proposed review of the statement of entitlements for an opposition and should be progressed.
Action: Mr Stewart to prepare a paper for the next Assembly Commission meeting in relation to a review of the FAPP Scheme.
Mr Stewart also provided a breakdown of the proposed Capital DEL budget.
Following discussion, Members agreed to adopt the budget proposal for Capital DEL but requested an increase in the proposed Resources DEL budget, to allow for any potential increase in expenditure following a review of the FAPP Scheme.
Action: Mr Stewart to increase the proposed Resources DEL budget to allow for any potential increase in expenditure following a review of the FAPP Scheme.
11. PAY CLAIM 2020
Mrs Hogg referred Members to the discussion at the last Assembly Commission meeting regarding the 2020 Pay Claim, when Members reached an agreed position on the elements of the pay remit from NIPSA as follows:
- No change in the annual leave entitlement;
- Increase in the contractual rate of maternity pay from 18 to 26 weeks at full pay;
- Pay recovery would be considered under the anticipated grading and pay benchmarking exercise and that the existing method of allocating the pay rise, namely a consistent percentage uplift for all staff, remained the most appropriate method; and
- That Mr Stewart engage with Trade Union Side (TUS) to seek to reach an agreed position on a percentage uplift for all pay points.
With regards to the percentage uplift, it was noted that further discussions had taken place with TUS, and that TUS had written seeking a consolidated pay increase of not less than 3% for 2020.
Mrs Hogg outlined that while 3% was above what had previously been discussed, Members may want to take account of a number of unique factors, including the exceptional circumstances and challenges posed to staff following the resumption of Assembly business and the impact of the pandemic.
While there was general agreement with an offer of a 3% uplift, it was agreed that Members would confirm their position with the Clerk/ Chief Executive by 10 December 2020.
12. POLICY ON INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOURS TOWARDS ASSEMBLY COMMISSION STAFF BY VISITORS OR MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC
Mr Stewart presented and sought Members' approval of a draft policy on Inappropriate Behaviours towards Assembly Commission Staff by Visitors and Members of the Public.
Mr Stewart drew Members' attention to the range of actions that might arise asa result of implementing the policy. Members were content with the draft policy and approved it for consultation with TUS.
13. REVIEW OF THE SECURITY CLEARANCE POLICY AND DEVELOPMENT AND IMPLEMENTATION OF A POLICY ON THE RECRUITMENT OF EX- OFFENDERS
Mr Stewart presented and sought the Assembly Commission's approval for the implementation of a policy on the Recruitment of Ex-Offenders. He also asked that Members note and approve some minor changes to the Security Clearance Policy.
On considering the draft policy on the Recruitment of Ex-Offenders, John O'Dowd MLA, asked if previous guidance issued by the then Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) had been incorporated in the draft policy. Mr Stewart confirmed that the Assembly Commission's Policy on the Recruitment of Ex-Offenders does not necessarily prevent an applicant with a criminal record from obtaining a position with the Assembly Commission.
Mr O'Dowd MLA indicated that he would like to return to a discussion regarding the recruitment of ex-offenders at a future meeting.
Action: A discussion regarding the recruitment of ex-offenders to be considered for a future meeting.
Members approved the draft policy on the Recruitment of Ex-Offenders as presented for inclusion in the Staff Handbook and the proposed changes to the existing Security Clearance Policy.
Kevin Pelan and Clodagh Miskelly, joined the meeting at 3.34pm for agenda item 14.
14. INTERIM MEMBER DEVELOPMENT PLAN FOR 2020-21
Kevin Pelan advised that the Interim Member Development Plan for 2020-21, had been developed following engagement with Whips' offices during the summer and autumn of 2020.
Clodagh Miskelly informed Members that as a result of this engagement a number of programmes had been identified as being required by MLAs and their staff. It was noted that due to the current pandemic, the focus had been on delivering programmes online and Ms Miskelly advised that the Clerking and Members Support (CAMS) office, had engaged with the Assembly's Learning and Development team, and agreed a process for giving MLAs and their staff, access to the catalogue of on-line modules that are currently available to Assembly Commission staff, through the NICS Centre for Applied Learning (CAL) LInKS platform. She confirmed that initial engagement with MLAs and their staff on the potential courses available had been very positive and generated a number of expressions of interest.
Moving forward, Ms Miskelly informed Members that a Working Group would be established, with representatives from the Whips' offices and smaller parties/independent MLAs, to identify parliamentary development needs by conducting a skills audit and agree development priorities. She confirmed that the CAMS office, in conjunction with the Working Group would continue to work on the Member Development Plan for the period June 2021 to March 2022 for presentation to the Assembly Commission at a future meeting.
Action: Draft Member Development Plan for 2021-22 to be presented to the Assembly Commission at a future meeting.
Following consideration, Members approved the Interim Member Development Plan for 2020-21.
Kevin Pelan and Clodagh Miskelly left the meeting at 3.43pm.
15. IMPLEMENTATION OF PARAGRAPH 3.7 OF 'NEW DECADE, NEW APPROACH' (NDNA) ON FUNDING FOR AN OPPOSITION AND THE STATEMENT OF ENTITLEMENTS FOR AN OFFICIAL OPPOSITION
Dr McGrath provided Members with an update on the development, together with the Assembly and Executive Review Committee (AERC), of a joint approach and joint terms of reference to facilitate implementation of paragraph 3.7 of NDNA on funding for an opposition and to the Statement of Entitlements for an Official Opposition.
It was noted that following interaction between the AERC and the Assembly Commission on this matter, on 13 October 2020 the Assembly had passed a resolution to formally refer the commissioning of a review of the adequacy and effectiveness of the Statement of Entitlements for an Official Opposition (as set out in paragraph 3.7 of NDNA) to the AERC.
Dr McGrath advised that in pursuance of the above, on 19 November 2020 the AERC agreed terms of reference for the review, under the provisions of temporary Standing Order 115(9) and that the AERC's letter of 23 November 2020 as recorded under item 7 'Correspondence' sought the Assembly Commission's consideration and agreement of terms of reference to enable the review to be progressed.
Following consideration, Members approved the terms of reference.
Action: Speaker to write to the AERC advising of the Assembly Commission's approval of the terms of reference, as set out in the letter from AERC of 23 November 2020.
16. UPDATE ON CONSIDERATION OF EXTENDING THE ASSEMBLY COMMISSION'S ANNUAL DATES FOR LIGHTING OF PARLIAMENT BUIDINGS
It was noted, that following consideration of extending the Assembly Commission's annual dates for lighting of Parliament Buildings at the November 2020 Assembly Commission meeting, Members had agreed in principle that there was value in seeking to agree a wider package of days.
In order to assist with this, Mr Ramsey confirmed that he had held an informal meeting with all Commission Members (except the Speaker) on 1 December 2020, during which some additional suggested dates had been put forward for consideration.
The Speaker was mindful of the need to reach a political consensus on any wider package of days and it was agreed that a further informal meeting would be arranged with Members in the New Year.
Action: Mr Ramsey to arrange a further informal meeting with Members in the New Year to give further consideration to a wider package of days to light Parliament Buildings.
17. OVERVIEW OF ACTIVITIES AND EVENTS AT PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS IN 2021
Mr Ramsey presented this paper, which was a follow up to an initial discussion at the last Commission meeting, in relation to the handling of centenary events in 2021.
Members noted proposals to mark centenaries of the creation of Northern Ireland/partition and the first sitting of the Northern Ireland Parliament in line with the Assembly Commission's previous decisions.
Mr Ramsey also provided and overview of other proposed activities and events for 2021, which were designed to seek to provide a balanced package, subject to amendment and consensus by the Assembly Commission.
Members agreed that the paper offered a good start towards reaching an agreement and agreed to have a further informal meeting with Mr Ramsey to discuss further.
Action: Mr Ramsey to arrange a meeting with Members to seek to reach agreement on events to be marked in 2021.
The Speaker commended Robin on the paper.
Brian Devlin, joined the meeting at 4pm for agenda item 18.
18. BUSINESS CASE – PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS TELEVISION SYSTEM REPLACEMENT PROJECT 2021
Brian Devlin advised Members that previous papers, seeking approval to replace the Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) televisions in Parliament Buildings
had been presented to the Assembly Commission in September and November 2017. It was noted that at that time the Assembly Commission had declined to approve the proposals, as the Assembly was not carrying out normal business but agreed to review on resumption of the Assembly.
Mr Devlin therefore presented an updated business case for the replacement of both the current television distribution infrastructure and the CRT televisions throughout Parliament Buildings. He outlined two options for consideration:
- Option 1 - do nothing
- Option 2 - full replacement of the television distribution system, including televisions.
Due to the age of the televisions and the fact that there was no longer a third party support and maintenance contract in place, Mr Devlin recommended Option 2 and outlined the benefits of the proposed new system.
Mr Butler MLA queried the proposed costings and size of some of the smaller televisions detailed in the business case and asked that consideration be given in the specification to purchasing screens suitable for people with disabilities.
Mr O'Dowd MLA agreed with the need to give consideration to installing disability friendly devices.
Mr Devlin confirmed that consideration would be given to the matters raised when developing the procurement specification.
Action: The cost, size and disability suitability of screens to be considered when developing the procurement specification for the replacement of televisions.
Members were content to proceed with the recommended option, of a full replacement of the television distribution system, including televisions, as outlined in the business case.
The Speaker thanked Brian for his comprehensive paper.
Brian Devlin left the meeting at 4.17pm.
19. DECISIONS MADE VIA CORRESPONDENCE
Members noted the following decisions that had been made via correspondence:
- Request to light Parliament Buildings to mark Noah Donohoe's 15th Birthday. Approved
- Request to light Parliament Buildings to mark International Day of Disabled People. Approved
- Request to light Parliament Buildings to mark Black Friday in the hospitality and events sector. Declined
Dolores Kelly MLA raised an issue which she noted had also been discussed at the Business Committee, regarding MLAs, their staff and Assembly staff, having to travel long journeys home following recent late sittings of the Assembly.
The Speaker agreed that officials would provide clarification on the provisions available under The Assembly Members (Salaries and Expenses) Determination (Northern Ireland) 2016.
Mrs Kelly MLA also requested that a list of the Assembly Commission's artefacts be circulated for information.
Action: List of the Assembly Commission's artefacts to be circulated for information.
Mr Buchanan MLA sought confirmation that a response would issue to Mr Humphrey MLA in relation to a question he asked during the recent oral questions to the Assembly Commission.
Mr Ramsey confirmed that a response was being drafted and would issue shortly.
21. DATE OF NEXT MEETING
The date of the next meeting was proposed for early February 2021 and that officials will liaise with Members to agree a suitable date.
The meeting concluded at 4.19pm.