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Comisiwn y Cynulliad
Assembly Commission

NAFWC 2010 (Paper 2 Part 1)
Dissolution of the Assembly before the 2011 Elections

Date: 30 September 2010
Time:16:00
Venue:Conference Room 4B
Author name and contact number: Steven O’Donoghue, ext 8746

This paper has been prepared for consideration by the National Assembly for Wales Commission. It has been deemed suitable for publication after such consideration in line with the Commission’s rules for conduct of business. Premature publication or disclosure of the contents of this paper is not permitted as this might prejudice the Commission’s deliberations

1.0 Purpose and summary of issues

1.1 At its July meeting, the Commission agreed a number of provisions relating to dissolution at the end of this Assembly.  These are attached at Annex A.  Further provisions were deferred to this meeting in September in order for feedback to be sought from Members and support staff.

1.2 Members’ terms of office will end on dissolution of the Assembly, about a month before the 2011 elections.  This dissolution will be the first for the Assembly and this has created some uncertainty.  Some features of dissolution are express legal requirements.  Other aspects require judgment to be applied and allow some discretion.  Once decisions are made, we can then work on producing comprehensive guidance for Members which will help to secure a smooth transition through dissolution.

2.0 Recommendations

2.1 Taking into account the consultation with Members and their support staff, it is recommended that for the 2011 election period:

  • support staff funded through Assembly allowances may work on on-going casework and general duties associated with the maintenance of an office during dissolution (see 3.4);

  • nominated support staff (including group staff) will be provided with office facilities in Ty Hywel during dissolution (subject to conditions) (see 3.5);

  • the notice period for support staff funded through Assembly allowances, and whose employing Member is standing down, should be a maximum of two months from the date of dissolution (see 3.6);

  • support staff may continue to work in Ty Hywel, subject to the programme for office maintenance, which will indicate when offices need to be packed (see 3.7); and

  • IT arrangements are recommended in accordance with those listed in section 4.

3.0 Legal and Accounting Officer Framework

3.1 The Government of Wales Act 2006 (“the 2006 Act”) is unequivocal – an Assembly Member’s term of office ends on dissolution of the Assembly Section 14.  For the purposes of salaries and allowances during dissolution, the 2006 Act enables the Commission to continue to treat those Members standing for re-election as Assembly Members Section 22(4).  This means, for example, that we can continue to pay support staff salaries and fund constituency and regional office costs (both of which are met from allowances) during this period, but not to provide services beyond that.

3.2 In addition to the framework laid down by the 2006 Act, the Chief Executive and Clerk as Accounting Officer is responsible for the management and organisation of the Assembly, the use of public money and the stewardship of its assets.  This includes propriety and regularity; prudent and economical administration; avoidance of waste and extravagance and efficient and effective use of available resources.  Value for money is especially relevant during times of financial stringency, when the Assembly will need to reduce its spending in line with the rest of the public sector in Wales.

Discussion and Proposals

3.3 The recommendations and proposals draw upon the legal and Accounting Officer framework set out above.  A briefing was issued to Party Group representatives, Members and support staff on 23 August.  The recommendations which the Commission is asked to approve today are set out again below, together with a summary of, and response to, relevant representations made by Members and their staff.

3.4 Support staff may work on on-going casework and general duties associated with the maintenance of an office (i.e. office duties) during dissolution.

3.4.1The proposal contained in the briefing paper suggested that support staff may only work on on-going case work during the dissolution period.  Feedback received suggests that this viewpoint is unduly restrictive.  The Labour Group and Conservative Group responses both advocate that it would be legitimate to allow support staff to engage in other tasks which are in no way connected to the election (e.g. administrative office tasks, research etc.), and that a more flexible approach should be adopted by the Commission.

3.4.2 In light of feedback received it is proposed that support staff may complete work associated with the general up-keep of an office (filing, routine maintenance) alongside on-going casework (including research related to case work matters).  This would comply with the legal advice received and this central principle underpins all resources available to support staff during dissolution proposed in this paper.

3.5 Named support staff will be provided with office facilities in Ty Hywel during dissolution (subject to conditions).

3.5.1 The briefing paper to all Parties highlighted that due to the transitional nature of the dissolution arrangements for 2011, support staff (including group staff) would be granted access to Ty Hywel subject to various restrictions.  This would be different to both Scotland and Westminster which suspends access for staff and Members from the date of dissolution.

3.5.2 Feedback from all Parties welcomed this but commented that support staff who remain in Ty Hywel during dissolution should continue to have use of their existing office (subject to the program of office maintenance).  This would allow for privacy when completing on-going casework.

3.5.3 The recommendation is therefore to allow named support staff to remain in their office but they will not have access to other Assembly resources (Members’ Library etc), will not be able to sign in visitors (including their employing Member), and may be required to move to a different office subject to the programme of office maintenance.

3.5.4 The briefing highlighted that dissolution arrangements may form a clause in the introduction of the standard contract of support staff (recommendation 53).  All groups expressed concern surrounding consultation before this is introduced.  Any implementation of a standard contract of employment for support staff will be subject to Member and Trade Union consultation.

3.6 The notice period for support staff funded through Assembly allowances, and whose employing Member is standing down, should be a maximum of two months from the date of dissolution.

3.6.1 For support staff whose employing Member is standing down it was proposed that the maximum time-limit on funding support staff through Assembly allowances to wind up office affairs would be one month from date of dissolution.  Following feedback, this was extended to two months in the briefing paper.

3.6.2 Feedback from the Labour Group highlighted that some support staff have an expectation of having longer than two months to wind up office affairs and decent exit provisions being regarded as part of the cost of attracting good quality staff to work as support staff.  Furthermore, some support staff have said that two months from the date of dissolution would not allow them sufficient time to confirm the details of the incoming Member to constituents who may want their cases forwarded to the former Member’s replacement.

3.6.3 The feedback received has been considered and the recommendation suggests a maximum amount of time for Members to wind up their affairs as two months from the date of dissolution.  Members who have announced that they are standing down at the election will clearly have more time to prepare for the end of their period in office compared to Members who are not returned.  In light of the recommendation, it is not anticipated that  support staff  whose Member is standing down will need to be paid pay in lieu of notice.  Any support staff normally based in Ty Hywel will have to agree with their employing Member an alternative place of work after the election.

3.6.4 The Labour Group has also suggested a threshold date so that if a Member announces their decision to stand down after a specified point, the support staff notice period would be the same as that for defeated Members.  However, this has not been proposed, as any threshold date introduced may lead to inconsistencies in the treatment of support staff.

3.7 Support staff may continue to work in Ty Hywel subject to the programme for office maintenance which will indicate when offices need to be packed.

3.7.1 The briefing paper to all parties suggested that Members will need to arrange to have their offices packed up prior to the election.  Any offices with no staff working during dissolution should be packed by close of play on the day of dissolution.  Those working within Ty Hywel during dissolution should be packed by polling day.

3.7.2 Feedback from all parties advocated a flexible approach to be taken by the Commission.  Previous elections were cited by the Labour and Conservative responses whereby defeated Members could pack up their offices during the weekend following the election.  The Welsh Liberal Democrat support staff feedback highlighted that access to ongoing case work files will be necessary during dissolution.

3.7.3 It is proposed that the recommendation represents a flexible approach.  Subject to the programme for office maintenance, support staff may continue to work in Ty Hywel but will be told about any scheduled maintenance by Estates and Facilities Management.  This may require offices to be packed earlier than polling day.  However, further detailed guidance will be issued in advance of dissolution.

4.0 ICT arrangements during dissolution

4.1 Assembly provided computers at Ty Hywel and constituency/regional offices can be used for existing casework or routine office matters only.

4.1.1 The original proposal highlighted that Assembly provided computers (with Word, Excel, Internet Explorer and Case Management System) could be used for on-going case work only.  However, feedback from the Labour Group indicated that Assembly-provided computers be allowed to be used for legitimate office matters not related to election activity.  This is reflected in the recommendation proposed.

4.2 Shared network access (H: and P: drive) will be withdrawn from all Members and support staff from 5pm on the day of dissolution.

4.2.1 The above recommendation received much feedback from individual support staff as well as the Labour Group response.  The Labour Group response argued that best practice would be to allow continued access to the shared network whilst individual support staff have highlighted that the Assembly would potentially be promoting unsecure access through allowing the downloading of entire folders onto a pen drive or CD ROM.  The Liberal Democrat Support Staff advocate having one or two nominated individuals to retain access to the shared systems to ensure a smooth handover to new Members.

4.2.2 Both Westminster and Scotland restrict access to shared networks from 5pm on the day of dissolution.  Access to a shared Assembly drive is a clear Assembly resource.  Members standing for re-election, and those standing down, will receive further IT guidance in advance of dissolution.

4.3 Access to Outlook accounts will be withdrawn from the date of dissolution.  Emails will be forwarded to a third party account where requested . Auto-forwarding or Out of Office messages will be the same for all Members.

4.3.1 Proposals surrounding access to Outlook accounts received much feedback.  The Labour, Conservative and Welsh Liberal Democrat responses have suggested that e-mails must be forwarded.  Furthermore, the Labour Group and Conservative Group responses have requested the ability to write their own out of office responses.

4.3.2 The recommendation will allow for the forwarding of emails to third party accounts where requested.  However, to avoid any distinctions being made between former Members, it is recommended that a standard message is prepared.

4.4 The Assembly Case Management System will be provided for on-going casework but no new casework may be entered during dissolution.  Users will not be able to send emails from the system.

4.4.1 This proposal received no feedback and no change is recommended.

4.5 Internet access will be provided to facilitate on-going casework and normal office duties.

4.5.1 Feedback from individual support staff centred on whether they would be able to sign into third party email accounts using Assembly internet access.  In accordance with the GF Network rules, named third party email accounts will be accessible on the network (subject to Members’ individual agreement).

4.6 Mobile phones may be retained but no claims for mobile phone charges (including rental, calls or associated costs) will be reimbursed during dissolution (except, where demonstrated, case work related costs).

4.6.1 This proposal received feedback from the Conservative Group asking for clarification on whether Members may retain their Mobile Phones.  The recommendation has been clarified accordingly.

4.7 Blackberry devices may be retained by Members and support staff although no charges (other than on-going case work related calls) will be reimbursed during dissolution.  Data services will also be disabled.

4.7.1 The proposal on access to Blackberry devices received little feedback except from the Plaid Group who asked whether support staff will be included.  The recommendation has been revised in accordance with their feedback.  Members will be responsible for all the charges resulting from that period of use and data services (sending/receiving e-mails) will be disabled at the point of dissolution.  The voice service (telephone calls) will be deactivated at 9am on the day after the election.

4.8 Office telephones may be used for ongoing casework and other routine office matters.

4.8.1 The original proposal outlined that no claims for office telephones calls will be reimbursed during the period of dissolution unless the Member can demonstrate that calls were incurred as a result of on-going casework or winding-up matters only.  Feedback from all Parties suggested that such a proposal was too restrictive and unreasonable.  The recommendation reflects the feedback and permits the use of office telephones for use on ongoing casework and other routine office matters.

4.9 Members standing down or standing for re-election must include a dissolution disclaimer on any Assembly funded website or privately owned blog.

4.9.1 Feedback from the Plaid Group asked for further clarification on websites that has ‘AM’ in the web page name.  As with any other website that a Member may own, a disclaimer explaining dissolution must be placed on the home page.  Former Members (whether standing down or seeking re-election) must avoid giving the impression that they are elected representatives during dissolution.

4.9.2 All links to Members’ websites will be removed from the AssemblyWales.org website at the point of dissolution and Member biographies will be moved to a new section on the Third Assembly.  Guidance will be issued nearer dissolution.

5.0 The above represent the main areas of concern raised by Members and support staff.  Feedback from all Parties raised further questions surrounding more detailed aspects of dissolution arrangements.  These questions will be addressed through prepared guidance on dissolution following the Commission’s decisions.  Such guidance will cover all ICT, Facilities and Casework related arrangements

6.0 Feedback to be noted on previously agreed decisions

6.1 New casework arising during dissolution may not be undertaken using Assembly resources (including support staff).

6.1.1 At its July 2010 meeting, the Assembly Commission agreed that Members would be able to use Assembly resources to conclude on-going case work only – not for any new case work that arose during the period of dissolution.  Members standing as candidates may undertake new casework during the dissolution period but only in a capacity as a private citizen.

6.1.2 This has produced strong feedback from the Labour and Conservative Parties who have each stated that by not being able to respond to legitimate casework requests, this may place standing Members at a disadvantage and threaten relationships that the Member has established with his/her constituents.  Their feedback has highlighted current practice in Westminster which allows offices to undertake new casework not generated by campaigning.  It has further been argued by the Liberal Democrat support staff feedback that to allow otherwise would leave constituents unrepresented during dissolution.

6.1.3 Legal advice received has expressly stated that Assembly resources may only be used to facilitate casework already in progress from the point of dissolution.  This arises from the terms of the Government of Wales Act 2006, which binds the Assembly but does not apply to Westminster.  Therefore, the proposed approach has not been changed.  Guidance issued will remind offices that Members standing for re-election may choose to undertake new casework during dissolution but must do so in their capacities as private citizens.  No Assembly resource may be used.  This includes the use of support staff who will be funded through the Members’ Staffing Costs Allowance throughout dissolution.

6.2 Accommodation will not be provided within Ty Hywel during dissolution for Members who do not currently have a constituency/regional office.

6.2.1 Feedback following the meeting of the Commission in July suggested that Members who do not have a constituency or regional office should retain access to Ty Hywel to undertake case work.  Responses from support staff who work for the Party Groups has centred on access to Ty Hywel.  Provided recommendation 3.6 (above) is adopted, this would answer support staff queries.

6.2.2 Whilst access for support staff will be permitted, to allow access for Members who do not have constituency or regional office would be inconsistent with the approach adopted for all other Members.  There is sufficient time for the affected Members to make alternative arrangements for the short dissolution period if they feel that this is necessary.Annex A

Dissolution 2011 – decisions made by the Assembly Commission 8 July 2010

  • Assembly resources can be used to conclude casework in progress at dissolution but not new casework arising during dissolution

The legal position on this point is clear.  The Assembly cannot support new casework during dissolution.  This is covered by the overriding principle (paragraph 1.2.1 of the Determination) that "Members may only claim the reimbursement of reasonable allowances and/or expenses necessarily incurred in connection with his or her role as an Assembly member."  Where a case was taken on before dissolution then continuing to deal with it is "in connection with his or her role as an Assembly member”.  But on the other hand, once dissolution takes place then the Member ceases to be a Member and cannot take on cases in the course of his or her role as an Assembly Member because he or she is not an Assembly Member.

If candidates for election are approached for help by constituents during dissolution then they can choose to take on the case as a candidate for election but they would not be doing so as an Assembly Member and, as such, Assembly resources cannot be used in such instances.

For those Members standing down at dissolution, or not re-elected, the Winding-up Allowance provides for existing cases to be concluded.

For casework in progress at the start of dissolution, Assembly services can provide support for that casework to be concluded.  The Members’ Research Service can provide guidance, prior to dissolution, on information sources that could be used during dissolution for any new cases that might arise.  This will be made publicly available to ensure fairness for all election candidates.

  • Current Members standing as a candidate for re-election will have their security access suspended at the end of the first day of dissolution.  This will prevent access to the non-public areas of Ty Hywel/Y Senedd suspended at the start of dissolution.

Note: Security access for Office Holders will continue, but only in relation to their Office Holder duties. This applies to the Presiding Officer, Assembly Commissioners, First Minister, Welsh Ministers, Deputy Welsh Ministers and Counsel General.

  • Members standing down at dissolution will have their security access suspended at the end of the first week of dissolution.

This extended access is to allow winding-up.

Note: Security access for Office Holders will continue, but only in relation to their Office Holder duties. This applies to the Presiding Officer, Assembly Commissioners, First Minister, Welsh Ministers, Deputy Welsh Ministers and Counsel General.

  • Candidates should not be given access to defined Assembly services and facilities during dissolution (as defined below).

Candidates for election and Members standing down and their staff will not normally be able to access Assembly services, such as the Members’ Research Service, Members’ Library, Brussels Office, Legislation Office, Committee Service etc. during dissolution.

Guidance will be provided on services that will remain accessible, such as the Members’ Business Support Team, and Members’ Research Service for casework already in progress.

Members’ offices will need to be packed and vacated at the start of dissolution, subject to any arrangements made for support staff accommodation.

  • Facilities should be provided to enable Office Holders to undertake their duties of office effectively during dissolution.

The 2006 Act provides for continuation of certain Offices; these Offices will be provided with appropriate support during dissolution in order to enable the Office Holder to undertake their Office Holder duties. The Offices are: the Presiding Officer, Assembly Commissioners, First Minister, Welsh Ministers, Deputy Welsh Ministers and Counsel General.

  • The Determination should be changed to reflect the 2006 Act in relation to Office Holders’ salaries and year-end arrangements.

A revised Determination was laid 22 September 2010.

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