At its meeting on 24 May the Remuneration Board considered the evidence received to date during its review of staffing support for Members. The Board considered the responses to its consultation on increasing the flexibility of the allowances available to Members, a summary of these discussions and decisions taken is provided in the Board update letter of 6 June. The Board also considered how it could increase the flexibility of the allowance with regards to the Support for Political Parties Allowance to provide a degree of parity in the flexibility of the provisions for both Members and Political Parties. The below provides an overview of the Board’s discussions and the next steps.
The evidence gathered from the Board’s review thus far, which includes feedback from Members and support staff, as well as the Board’s previous review on the effectiveness of the Determination, indicated that there is support to introduce more flexibility into provisions contained within the Determination. The evidence suggested that the increased flexibility could address the workload pressures within offices, the preference to spend allowances on staffing rather than other expenses such as offices costs and that the current staffing structures were restrictive. Following consideration of the views received, the Board is considering whether to implement the following changes so as to increase flexibility for Political Parties in their use of various elements of the Determination, bringing it into line with what has been agreed for individual Members Staffing allowance.
Budgeting staffing costs for Political Parties at actual pay points
The Board considered the matter of calculating staffing costs for Political Parties at actual pay points rather than the potential maximum cost as is the current practice.
Currently staffing costs are calculated at the “Potential Maximum Cost” as outlined in section 8.2 of the Determination. The difference between the maximum cost and the Staffing Allowance is the “Remaining Balance”. It is this Remaining Balance that Political Parties have at their disposal to cover other staffing costs such as staff employed on fixed term contracts, work placements and interns, staff travel and overtime. It cannot be used to employ permanent staff.
Following the Board’s decision to introduce more flexibility for individual Members’ allowances within the system and to address pressure points, the Board is proposing to allow the remaining balance of the Support for Political Parties Allowance to be calculated at actual cost rather than potential maximum cost. As the Remaining Balance may change during the year as staff leave, join and other costs are incurred, there will be no change to the provisions on how this balance can be utilised. Should this proposal be implemented, this would come into effect from 1 April 2019 in line with the changes to the provisions regarding Members staffing allowance.
Alongside this proposal the Board is also proposing to publish the expenditure each Political Party makes on its Support for Political Parties Allowance. This would be an annual publication of the Party’s total spend during a financial year on staffing.
Viring between budgets
The Board considered the purpose of the Political Party Support Allowance and agreed that the intended use of the use allowance was significantly different from those allowances provided to individual Members.
Section 7.5 of the Board’s Determination allows a Member to vire (transfer) a sum of their choosing from the Remaining Balance of their Staffing Allowance to the Support for Political Parties Allowance.
The Board is proposing to remove the provision within the Determination which allows for the virement of funds from the Member’s Staffing Allowance to the Support for Political Parties Allowance. This proposal would take effect from the start of the Sixth Assembly. Those Members who currently vire from their Staffing Allowance to their respective Political Parties Allowances will be permitted to continue to vire up to the same amount annually until the end of the Fifth Assembly. The Board is of the view that no new viring arrangements into the Support for Political Parties Allowance are to be established during the remainder of this Assembly.
In addition to the proposals outlined above, the Board would like to seek your views on whether any of the issues that are raised above could have an impact, or could they have a potential impact, on people who identify with protected characteristics as defined under the Equality Act 2010?
Increased flexibility will result in the amount available in Political Parties staffing allowance fluctuating during the year, depending on where their staff are on their individual pay points. Responsibility for managing this volatility will be a matter for the Member who is authorised to manage the expenditure of the allowance.
Members may wish to note that the proposals outlined above apply to the Support for Political Parties Allowance and not an individual Member’s allowances.
The Board is aware that the changes described in this consultation, if implemented, would be likely to affect the underspend on the Determination and, therefore, the funds available to the Assembly Commission. The Board intends to engage the Commission directly to ensure that it has timely information about the impact of any Board decision.
Providing written evidence
The Board would welcome your views on its proposals. Please let us have any responses to the above proposals by 20 July 2018 to inform the Board’s deliberations at its following meeting. If you have any questions related to the review or the consultation, please contact the secretariat.