Note of meeting – 17 January 2019

Published 06/02/2019   |   Last Updated 11/08/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

The Remuneration Board met on 17 January. The following is a summary of its discussions and decisions.

The Board was saddened to hear of the passing of Steffan Lewis. We send our deepest condolences and sympathies to Steffan’s family, friends and colleagues.

Review of staffing support for Members

The Board considered the responses received to its third consultation arising from its review of staffing support for Members. The Board is grateful to all those who shared their views with the Board on its final set of proposals. Having carefully considered the responses it received, the Board’s final decision on each of the proposals is outlined below.

Removing the funding available for the employment of family members

The Board acknowledges that the procedures currently in place for hiring support staff who are family members were introduced to increase transparency and fairness into the recruitment process. However, permitting employment of family members by Members paid for by publicly-funded allowances places the Assembly out of step with current arrangements in the UK Parliament, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Board now considers that, as a matter of general principle, the current allowances do not satisfy the need to ensure probity, transparency and objectivity in dealing with all support staff employed by Assembly Members in the same way, nor that the public can have confidence that this is the case. The allowances do not, therefore, fully achieve the Board’s clear ambition to maintain public confidence and the reputation of the Assembly.

The Board is also of the view that performance reviews, dealing with conduct issues and complaints and, very importantly, any discussion of dignity and respect issues, are more difficult to undertake in a straightforward and transparent manner where this involves family relationships.

Addressing the matters noted above is a priority for the Board. In doing so, the Board must give consideration to its objectives, as outlined in legislation, to provide the support required by Members to enable them to exercise their functions and also to produce a Determination which ensures that public money is spent with ‘probity, accountability, value for money and transparency’.

Following careful and open-minded consideration of the responses it has received to its third consultation, alongside the Board’s statutory objectives, the Board has agreed to amend its original proposals for the funding arrangements regarding the employment of family members[1]. The Board will, therefore, put in place a scheme which, in its judgement, is best designed to achieve its objectives for the future without disproportionately disadvantaging those who are currently employed by Members.

To this end, the Board has amended its two proposals so that funding for family members who are already employed before 1 April 2019 may continue until the dissolution of the Sixth Assembly (which is likely to be in 2026). This will provide a longer transition period for those family members currently employed by Members. The Board believes that extending this date, from 2021 as originally proposed, is a proportionate means of addressing the concerns raised about the impact of the original proposals on the career choices of those affected.

In coming to this decision, the Board also considered the transition period in other legislatures. This Board will put in place a transition period to mirror that which was provided to family members working for Members of the Scottish Parliament.

The Board has also agreed that no funding will be made available for new family members who are employed by Members from 1 April 2019, which is the date on which the next Determination (for 2019-20) will take effect.

The Board’s decision, as outlined, means that:

  • From 1 April 2019, funding will not be given for employment of family members who were not already employed before this date (so the date referenced in the consultation: 24 October 2018 is no longer relevant);
  • There will be transitional protection[2] for those employed before 1 April 2019. The transitional protection will cease as at the date of the dissolution of the Sixth Assembly (expected to be in 2026);
  • The transitional protection only covers staff to remain in their current post and on their current working hours. In other words, there will be no funding for the additional cost of increasing the hours of work or of promoting those individuals who are transitionally protected;
  • An employee who becomes a family member will be covered by the same transitional protection until the dissolution of the Sixth Assembly regardless of when they become (or became) a family member of their employer.
  • For those who become a family member after the dissolution of the Sixth Assembly, funding will be withdrawn on the day on which they become a family member. They may be entitled to a resettlement package depending on the terms of the Determination at that time.

Having considered the arrangements for other legislatures in the United Kingdom the Board has also agreed to introduce further provisions which it believes will improve the transparency and accountability of Members employing family members. As such, the Board will publish the following:

  • the name, role, relationship and salary band of all family members[3];
  • the average weekly overtime payments made to family members over the course of the financial year (from April 2019 with a view to commencing publication on an annual basis from 2020).

In implementing these changes, the Board considered its previous commitment to ensuring that it is not possible to identify individual support staff through the annual publication of a Member’s total spend on staffing. As such, further safeguards will be put in place which will ensure that non-family members cannot be identified from the publication of this information.

The Board would encourage Members to introduce independent appraisals for staff members who are also family members.

The Board is of the view that implementing the above changes will improve the transparency surrounding the employment of family members and addresses the main concerns it received in response to its original consultation.

Throughout its consideration of these issues the Board received independent legal advice from Helen Mountfield QC.

You may wish to note that the decisions above only apply to those support staff who work for a family member and do not restrict staff from working for a Member who is not related to them.

The Board would like to remind staff who will be affected by these changes of the various support channels available to them, such as the Employee Assistance Programme. The Board has also agreed to write to the Assembly Commission to ask that outplacement services and support continue to be made available when the time arises. Anyone requiring additional support in accessing these channels should contact Members’ Business Support.

Adjusting support staff salaries in April of each year by the change in the ASHE survey

All responses received broadly supported the Board’s proposal to adjust support staff salaries in April of each year by the change in the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE), gross Median Earnings for full-time employee jobs in Wales between March in one year and March of the previous year. As such the Board agreed to implement this change effective immediately, which will bring the process in line with the automatic adjustment in the salaries of Assembly Members. From 1 April 2019 the salaries of Members and support staff will be increased by 1.2 per cent. Details of the new salaries will be published in the Determination for 2019-20.

The Board noted the suggestions made in relation to considering other mechanisms for adjusting support staff salaries, however, the Board is of the view that the mechanism it uses for both support staff and Members remains appropriate. Should the Board be of the view that the ASHE figure is not appropriate, it may decide to consult on utilising a different indexing mechanism in any given year.

Introducing privilege days for support staff

The Board considered the responses it had received to its proposal to introduce privilege days for support staff. All respondents were in favour of the Board’s proposal, however some respondents noted that Members should be responsible for any decisions affecting their office. As such the Board agreed to amend support staff contracts to introduce this provision from 1 April 2019 but stating it will be for the employing Member, or Political Party for those support staff who work in group offices, to determine when these privilege days may be taken.

Introducing a new compassionate leave policy for support staff

All those who responded to this proposal welcomed the Board’s suggestion to introduce a new compassionate leave policy for support staff. On behalf of the Board, the secretariat will work with both the Member and support staff Representative Groups to develop this new policy. Further information on how to engage with this process will be confirmed in due course.

The Board noted that a number of responses queried the rationale for Commission policies which mirror those which were being proposed by the Board in its consultation. The Board does not hold such information therefore these queries should be directed to the relevant Commission service.

Review of the Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures

The Board also considered the responses it had received to its proposals to amend both the Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures. The Board agreed to review these Procedures in light of the Assembly Commission adopting its new Dignity and Respect Policy.

The Board noted that all responses were broadly supportive of its proposals. In light of the responses received, the Board agreed to implement the proposed amendments to the disciplinary and grievance procedures to ensure they align with the Dignity and Respect Policy. These changes include introducing grievance officers independent of the Assembly and the right to be accompanied to meetings that fall under these procedures. The Board will work with both the Commissioner for Standards and the Representative Groups to ensure the procedures are clear and fit for purpose.

Review of the Determination for the Sixth Assembly

The Board undertook its second consideration of the issues which fall under part one of its review, which focuses on the Residential Accommodation Expenditure, Members’ travel and the Office Costs chapters of the Determination. The Board will return to the issues raised at its next meeting. As outlined on the Board’s website, the Board anticipates issuing a consultation on the issues raised in this part of the review during the spring term.

Annual review of the Determination 2019-20

Details of the Board’s consultation proposals in light of its annual review of the

Determination were published in the Board’s letter of 22 January 2019. Please let us have any responses to the above proposals by 12 March 2019 to inform the Board’s deliberations at its following meeting.

Other matters

The Board would like to thank everyone who has participated to date in the evaluation of the Senior Advisor role. The secretariat will ensure that both Members and support staff are kept fully informed of any other opportunities to engage with this process. The Board will consider the report by Capital People, the organisation undertaking the evaluation on behalf of the Board, at a future meeting, and will use this information to inform its review of the Determination for the Sixth Assembly.

[1] As defined in Standing Order 3 – Recording of the Employment of Family Members with the Support of Commission Funds.

[2] “Transitional Protection” means that the funding will continue to be given for employing those individuals until the dissolution of the Sixth Assembly.

[3] The published Register of Members’ Interests already notes the name, role and relationship of any family member in employment.