Minutes of Proceedings

Session: Session currently unavailable

Date: 30 May 2018

The Northern Ireland Assembly Commission

Meeting Venue: Room 106, Parliament Buildings

Meeting Date: Wednesday 30 May 2018

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, Mr Richard Stewart, Mr Robin Ramsey, Ms Frances Leneghan and Mrs Janet Hughes

Others in attendance:

Mr Jim Brooks, Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC) Chairperson
Mrs Sinéad McDonnell, Head of HR
Mr Ken Eccles, Head of Security

The meeting commenced at 10.08am.


No apologies were received.


There were no declarations of interest.


The revised minutes as tabled from the last Commission meeting on 5 March 2018 were approved for publication.

In relation to the 2017 Pay Award as agreed by Members at the March 2018 meeting, Alex Attwood asked for sight of the letter from TUS formally rejecting the Assembly Commission's 2% annual pay award for 2017.

Stewart Dickson MLA joined the meeting at 10.11am.

Action: Richard Stewart, Director of Corporate Services, to arrange for a copy of TUS's letter formally rejecting the Assembly Commission's agreed pay award of 2% for 2017 to be issued to Members and also ensure that any further items of correspondence deemed to be of importance are copied to Members.

Alex Maskey MLA, requested that the minutes record the fact that Assembly Commission staff have received the 2% increase as agreed by the Commission, from March 2018 backdated to August 2017, even though this percentage increase was rejected by TUS.


Lesley Hogg, Clerk/Chief Executive provided Members with an update on actions from the previous Commission meeting confirming that all had been completed with the exception of those not yet due.


5.1 The Commission noted correspondence dated 6 March 2018 from the Trustees of the Assembly Members' Pension Scheme regarding the Administration Agreement between the Assembly Commission and the Trustees of the Assembly Members' Pension Scheme (NI) in relation to The General Data Protection Regulation which will come into force on 25 May 2018.

5.2 The Commission noted correspondence dated 10 May 2018 from Kellie Armstrong MLA regarding a request to increase Member's email account allocations.

The Speaker confirmed that officials were currently looking at this issue and sought agreement from Members that officials prepare some fuller advice for consideration at the next Commission meeting.

Agreed: Members were content for officials to prepare advice for consideration at the next Commission meeting and for a response to issue to Ms Armstrong informing her of the Commission's course of action in relation to the matter raised.

Action: Mrs Hogg to prepare a paper for discussion as the next Commission meeting regarding Ms Armstrong's request to increase Member's email allocations.

5.3 The Commission noted two pieces of correspondence relating to artefacts from Jim Allister MLA and The Mac's Creative Director.

As this issue will be dealt with in more detail in the Clerk/Chief Executive's report, the Speaker proposed, and Members were content to discuss both pieces of correspondence under that agenda item.


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 the Staff in Post (SiP) figure on 21 May 2018 was 318.9 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) against a Complement of 349.4. Mrs Hogg highlighted that the gap between SiP and Complement was growing month on month as staff leave, retire or reduce working hours and are not replaced. Mrs Hogg stated, and Members noted, that whilst alternative arrangements would be put in place to facilitate a return to normal Assembly business when required, the vacancies would have an impact on the Commission's readiness to return at short notice.

Management Accounts

Mrs Hogg referred Members to the Management Accounts for April 2018 and advised that while a small forecast overspend of £21k was currently being shown because of a change to the estimated costs for Utilities, this was not anticipated to persist throughout the year.

Annual Report and Accounts

Members noted a slight underspend against the Spring Supplementary Estimate provision which had arisen because the assumption of a return to normal Assembly business in February 2018 did not occur.

Corporate and Business Plan Outturns

Mrs Hogg updated Members on the performance against both Corporate and Directorate objectives as set out in the 2017/18 Business Plans.

Corporate Strategy

Mrs Hogg updated Members on the ongoing development of a new Corporate Strategy.

Mrs Hogg confirmed that an extensive process of staff engagement had taken place and that a further draft of the strategy had recently been issued to staff for final consultation. While formal approval of the Corporate Strategy will await the appointment of a successor Commission by the new Assembly, it is intended to consult the current Commission to ensure there are no substantive objections on the draft Corporate Strategy in order that it can be used to guide 2018/19 business planning.


Mrs Hogg confirmed that excellent progress had been made by the GDPR Project Team, Project Board and Secretariat with regard to ensuring that the Commission will be compliant with GDPR. A full report will be provided to the Commission at its July meeting.

Corporate Risk Register

Members noted the May 2018 version of the Corporate Risk Register.

Mr Attwood raised concerns about the Commission's ability to return to normal business at short notice if staff numbers continued to reduce.

Mrs Hogg advised Members that as much as possible was being done to keep staff in a state of readiness but as the number of staff vacancies increases this will become increasingly difficult.

2016-17 Members Survey Action Plan – Implementation Update

Mrs Hogg advised Members that there was no change to the Action Plan since the update that was provided at the January 2018 Commission meeting, as the remaining actions were either not relevant given the current political situation or could not be completed because of the current political situation.

Portrait Unveiling

Mrs Hogg referred Members to the successful Speaker's event in March to unveil the Commission portrait of the former deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Alcohol Licensing

Following a press report which queried the sale of alcohol in Parliament Buildings on Good Friday, Mrs Hogg informed Members that the Assembly Commission is not subject to the restrictions in the licensing laws in relation to the sale of alcohol in certain premises on Good Friday but proposed that further consideration be given to this matter next year.

Members were content with Mrs Hogg's proposal to consider this matter at a future Commission meeting before Easter next year.

Action: Mr Stewart to bring a paper to a future Commission meeting to consider the sale of alcohol on Good Friday in 2019 and beyond.

Cyber Incident

Mrs Hogg advised Members that following the recent cyber-attack in March, additional software had been identified in an effort to mitigate any further attacks.

Mrs Hogg confirmed that MLAs and their support staff had been invited to visit the IS Office to have the new software installed on their mobile devices.

Mr Stewart Dickson MLA, stated that he had had the software installed but found the new log-in process awkward and complex when using across a number of devices.

Action: Mrs Hogg advised the Member that she would inform the IS Office of this feedback and check if anything could be done to assist
with ease of use.


Mrs Hogg addressed item 5.3 of the minutes, regarding requests received to have an exhibition of Assembly artefacts in Parliament Buildings and to issue artefacts on loan.

While Members had different views on the merits of the request to have an exhibition in Parliament Buildings, it was agreed that a more detailed paper should be brought back to inform a decision. Members agreed that a number of considerations needed to be taken into account, including detailed costings, possible display locations within Parliament Buildings, security considerations and that any resulting exhibition should have a clear time limit. Proposals on where the artefacts should go following display in Parliament Buildings was also sought.

In relation to the request to loan artefacts, Mrs Hogg advised Members that officials would seek further information from The MAC and subsequently assess the state of the artefacts that it is interested in.

Action: Mr Stewart to bring a paper to the July Commission meeting addressing the Members' queries regarding artefacts.

Broadcasting and Related Services Contract Variation

Mrs Hogg informed Members that a further contract variation had been agreed with the contractor effective from 1 June until 9 November 2018 to allow continued facilitation of the RHI hearings.

Mrs Hogg confirmed that a further paper detailing options for consideration to further vary the contract beyond 9 November 2018, would be brought to the Commission meeting in July 2018.


Lesley Hogg referred Members to the March 2018 Commission meeting when it was agreed that officials would prepare a discussion paper in order to
give due consideration to a request received from an MLA regarding the "use of the term 'Cross Community' in relation to the Assembly Commission's Events Policy."

Mrs Hogg explained that there were at least three options open to the Assembly Commission which were set out in the paper to aid discussion but acknowledged that Members may have others.

Following consideration, Members asked that officials also consider the further options highlighted at the meeting and provide additional information for discussion at the next Commission meeting.

Action: Mrs Hogg to bring an expanded paper to the July Commission meeting for further consideration.

8. 2018/19 BUDGET

Richard Stewart presented budget forecasts for 2018/19 based on the following two scenarios:

(i) Reduced Assembly Activities; and
(ii) Fully Operational Assembly from 1 April 2018.

Mr Stewart confirmed that the budget figures outlined for this financial year were prepared using a range of financial planning assumptions that incorporated the three principles as previously agreed by the Commission of:

• Retaining readiness;
• Maximising the use of public resources; and
• Supporting and motivating staff.

Although two budget scenarios were presented, Mr Stewart proposed that the figures used for the year should reflect the operational reality of continuing reduced activities and sought the Commission's approval to adopt the budget figures as set out under Scenario (i).

Agreed: Members were content with Mr Stewart's proposal to adopt a budget based on 'Reduced Continuing Activities' for 2018/19.


Richard Stewart referred Members to the March 2018 Commission meeting when a request was made to bring a paper to the May meeting for consideration by Members on the issues involved with an Assembly Allowance for staff.

Mr Stewart presented his paper providing background information on the original rationale for introducing an allowance and the subsequent incorporation of the allowance into pay scales in 2010 following a comprehensive review of grading and pay structures.

Members agreed that full consideration could not be given to this paper until they had received the Salary Benchmarking Review Report and agreed to re- visit this issue at the July meeting when the report would be available.

Mr Attwood requested that the previous Commission paper which included information on 'Pay Recovery' be re tabled at the July Commission meeting.

Action: Mr Stewart to present the findings of the recently commissioned Salary Benchmarking Review at the July meeting.

Action: Mr Stewart to arrange for the previous Commission paper on the Pay Claim for 2017 which included details on 'Pay Recovery' to be re-tabled at the July Commission meeting together with the Assembly Allowance paper as discussed today.

Sinéad McDonnell, Head of HR, joined the meeting at 11.09am.


Sinéad McDonnell provided Members with a summary of the actions being undertaken in other legislatures regarding the subject of inappropriate behaviours by elected members and outlined a number of proposals for consideration by the Commission in relation to addressing these issues within the Assembly.

Members were concerned at the level of Commission staff who had reported in a recent staff survey that they had been subjected to unacceptable behaviours.

Lesley Hogg informed Members that an Unacceptable Behaviours Working Group had been set up in an effort to address this issue and that a number of focus groups had been held with staff.

Members considered three proposals to strengthen the current arrangements:

• Reviewing current procedures that deal with a complaint/grievance from an MLA's staff member about the conduct of their employing MLA.

• Developing a standalone policy/process to deal with concerns from Commission staff members who have been subjected to inappropriate behaviour at internally or externally organised events and/or overseas visits as part of their parliamentary work.

• Embarking on a programme of training for MLAs and their staff.

Members were also asked to consider if the provision of additional human resource support to MLAs was something that they wanted officials to explore.

Members were content that officials progressed the three proposals outlined and for officials to give further consideration to the scope and resource requirement of providing additional human resource support to MLAs.

Lastly, the Commission agreed that a letter should be sent to the Chair of the Committee for Standards and Privileges to consider undertaking a further review of the Code of Conduct for Members once the Committee was formed.

Action: Richard Stewart to present a further paper to a future Commission meeting once three approved proposals have been progressed.

Action: Richard Stewart to prepare a paper setting out the proposed scope and resource requirement of providing additional human resource support to MLAs.

Action: Richard Stewart to draft a letter on behalf of the Commission to the Chairperson of the Committee for Standards & Privileges to ask that the Committee consider undertaking a further review of the Code of Conduct for Members once the Committee is formed.

Sinéad McDonnell left the meeting at 11.43am.

Ken Eccles, Head of Security, joined the meeting at 11.43am.


Ken Eccles sought the Commission's views on two recommendations arising out of the 2017 Internal Audit report in respect of Usher Services that related specifically to MLAs.

Following discussion, Members rejected the recommendation that all MLAs should be required to swipe in/out of the building using the Visitor Management System and use the body and bag scanners but agreed to withdraw upper car park permits for MLAs.

The Clerk/CE reiterated that the advice of Officials was to proceed with a requirement to swipe in/out of the building using the Visitor Management System and use the body and bag scanners. Failure to agree to these recommendations posed a risk to Parliament Buildings as previously advised to the Commission and supported by external recommendations. In not

proceeding with these measures the Commission was carrying an unnecessary risk and vulnerability.

Ken Eccles left the meeting at 11.54am.


Richard Stewart sought Members approval on a proposed new Service Level Agreement in respect of the continued provision of policing at Parliament Buildings for the period 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2021.

Mr Stewart confirmed that Members' approval was being sought, as the level of expenditure over the three-year period exceeded the level delegated to the Clerk/Chief Executive.

Agreed: Members were content to approve the proposed new Service Level Agreement for the period 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2021.


Richard Stewart presented a report on the 'Five-year review of Disability Action Plans' and advised Members that considerable progress had been made during the 2013-2018 review period.

Mr Stewart stated that the Commission would continue to work with staff and stakeholders to have due regard to the need to:

• Promote positive attitudes towards disabled people; and
• Encourage participation by disabled people in public life.

Mr Stewart sought Members' approval of the review report to enable it to be submitted to the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland (ECNI).

Agreed: Members approved the report for submission to the ECNI.


Mr Stewart provided Members with an update on the continuing progress on actions in the Good Relations Action Plan 2016-21 and sought approval to publish the update on the Assembly website.

Agreed: Members approved the update for publication on the Assembly website.


Jim Brooks, Chairperson of SARC, presented the SARC Annual Report for 2017-18, outlining the committee's role in supporting the corporate governance arrangements within the Assembly Secretariat and the work that had been undertaken during 2017-18.

Mr Brooks reported that the overall level of assurance in 2017/18 was "Satisfactory". He stated that there were good levels of corporate governance and systems for decision making in place as well as evidence of effective financial management.

Mr Brooks thanked the deputy chair of SARC Mr Derek Martin and Commission Member Mr Jim Wells MLA for their services to SARC. He also thanked the Clerk/Chief Executive and staff of the Assembly Secretariat for their commitment and diligence in providing SARC with the information necessary to achieve its objectives and the Commission for its support and permission for SARC representation at its meetings.

Noted: Members noted the SARC Annual Report for 2017-18.


Assembly Members' Pension scheme (NI2016) – Triennial Valuation Report 2014-17.

17. AOB

Alex Attwood asked if a meeting would be taking place with TUS seeking their views in relation to the Salary Benchmarking Review, before the paper was presented to the Commission at its meeting in July. Richard Stewart confirmed that an initial informal discussion had taken place with TUS and that TUS was keen to see the final report but that it would be a matter for Members to decide what course of action to take on review of the Report findings, before referring the report to TUS for formal comment. However, Mr Stewart confirmed that he would incorporate initial views from TUS in the paper that would be presented to the Commission meeting in July.


The next meeting is planned for Thursday, 5 July 2018.

The meeting concluded at 12.13pm and went into closed session.