Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Stormont and the Mystery of Room 401

Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust
The Thursday Club
Room 401

We contribute regularly as speakers on Common Purpose training programmes, and corporately Stratagem is represented on the board of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust by Katherine McDonald and the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce Council by GrĂ¡inne Walsh.
Stratagem, We are Northern Ireland's First Dedicated Lobbying Company

I should imagine that few people will have heard of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust (NIABT).

As an independent, neutral and self-financing educational charity, NIABT organises programmes for Assembly Members and Business representatives involving exchanges, seminars, visits and fellowship placements.

NIABT looks more like a networking club for parliamentarians and businessmen than a charity, an old boys and girls club. Have any of its members, past and present, or their clients received government funding or been awarded or sought government contracts?

The Charity Commission/Charities Act 2006 definition of charitable purposes

Charitable purposes can be grouped under four main headings: the relief of financial hardship; the advancement of education; the advancement of religion; certain other purposes for the benefit of the community.

In all cases it is essential that the purposes are also for the public benefit. This means it is for the benefit of the community (or a significant section of it). ...

In general, a purpose is not charitable if it is mainly for the benefit of a named person or specific individuals. It will also not be charitable if the people who will benefit from it are defined by a personal or contractual relationship with each other. For example, if the beneficiaries are related or connected to the person who is setting up the charity, or where they are defined by common employment or by membership of a non-charitable body, for example, members of a professional institute.

Is NIABT self-financing as claimed? According to the membership form, business fees range from £50 to £1,250, depending on company turnover. I can find no mention of fees for the Munificent Seven Parliamentarians or for the Trades Union representative who sit on the NIABT's Board of Trustees. Also, I can only see three of the seven names on the MLA Register of Interests.

Mr Butler: Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Since devolution, a total of £45,299·45 has been spent on visits by MLAs on behalf of the Assembly Commission, the Assembly Business Trust and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

So the taxpayer makes a contribution to the 'self-financing' NIABT. Does the Trust pay for the use of Room 401 and any associated administrative services or is that also billed to the taxpayer?

The NIABT Newsletter III contains the following reference to Declan O'Loan, member of the Board of Trustees and North Antrim MLA:

As part of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust’s Fellowship Programme, Declan O’Loan MLA spent a day at Mivan Ltd., specialists in bespoke interiors, property development and contracting.

Declan found the experience to be very worthwhile, commenting that ‘It gave [him] an excellent insight into a very successful company at the high end of the construction industry’. Declan has expressed an interest in undertaking further Fellowship schemes.

The membership form asserts that NIABT is non-partisan and non-lobbying yet there would appear to be excellent opportunities for, er, lobbying.

Adds October 9

There would appear to be opportunities for hospitality too. Imagine not knowing whether you're in Belfast or Birmingham - without the Charltons on a leash :)

Northern Ireland Assembly Business Trust

Rt. Hon. Lord Mandelson, First Secretary of State, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills, Lord President of the Council
Birmingham, 06 February 2009

Mr Speaker, Minister, Members of the Assembly, Ladies and Gentlemen, first let me begin by saying how honoured and chuffed I am to be here.
I loved my time here and always wanted to return.
It was Harry Truman, who advised “If you want a friend in politics get yourself a dog.”
And some of you may be disappointed, or perhaps - depending on your own memories of meeting them - a little relieved to see I’m not joined tonight by Bobby and Jack, the two dogs that accompanied me for so much of my time here as Secretary of State.

Northern Ireland Assembly and Business Trust - Roles and responsibilities of the NI Assembly - a one day conference

SPBE, the Scottish version of NIABT.