Department for the Economy Board minutes 2020 - 24 September 2020

Minutes from the Departmental Board meeting - 24 September 2020



  • Mike Brennan, Chair
  • Colin Lewis
  • Heather Cousins
  • Diarmuid McLean
  • Richard Rodgers
  • Shane Murphy
  • Wendy Johnston
  • Sharon Hetherington
  • Colin Woods
  • Lisa Morgan (NICSHR)
  • Colm McKenna (Non-Executive Board Member)
  • Fiona Keenan (Non-Executive Board Member)


  • Paul Grocott

In attendance:        

  • Michelle Bell (Permanent Secretary's Office)
  • Name redacted (Secretariat)


Agenda Item

Actions Arising From Discussion

Action Owner and Current Position (to be completed prior to the next Board Meeting)

Declaration of Interests

No new interests were declared.




Chairman’s Remarks


The Chair updated the Board on Departmental priorities


  • The main priorities will be Brexit and Covid Recovery.
  • Major challenges to deliver both.
  • It was recognised that there is a balance to be achieved between health and the economy. Need to ensure that the “Economic” message is fully understood at all levels.
  • Vital that the Department has the right level and mix of staff to deliver.











DB 44/1 Action Points from 30 July 2020 Departmental Board Meeting

The minutes were agreed without amendment.


Action points were noted as complete or ongoing.


  • Chair is awaiting legal advice before speaking to Kieran Donnelly re HMSC


  • Need to get clarity in relation to the carry-over of Annual Leave

Action: Get a copy of the legislation from Colin Jack.














Wendy Johnston



Departmental update re COVID-19



Economic Impact of Covid-19

Shane Murphy advised that NI Growth forecasts were down by between 9 and 12.7%. This is likely to worsen if there is another Lockdown.


Footfall has shown an increase but less so in the bigger cities.


Consumer spending is almost back to pre-covid days but again this is not being seen in the big cities.















Economic Future


We are moving from “restart” to “recovery” but in the event of another lockdown we would be back to “restart”. If the DoH proposals are adopted there will be a need for further interventions.






There are currently 148 vacancies.


Of the 144 Business critical vacancies 135 have now been registered. 23% have been filled and 61% are being progressed.


Significant concerns raised regarding pace of NICS HR recruitment and need for corporate prioritisation. To be discussed at NICS Board.

Action: Lines to take to be prepared for the  for the Chair


Performance Management has improved but there are still almost 30% of End Year Reviews not yet completed. With mid-year reviews due to commence at the start of October there needs to be action taken urgently.



To be discussed at SMT on 25th.

All Grade 3s to update SMT on progress in 2 weeks.


The People Strategy is be discussed at NICS Board – focus must be on recruitment.


It was noted that sick absence figures for the Department, and the wider NICS had improved with “home working”.


Board was advised that 35 staff would like to return to office based working. Arrangements being made to have individual risk assessments carried out.


Board also advised that work on the reinstatement of the Reception area in Netherleigh was on target.


The Chair advised that he was considering some minor changes in divisional responsibilities.

Action: revised organisation chart to be circulated for discussion















Lisa Morgan











All Grade 3s
























Departmental Priorities


Colin Woods advised the Board that an exercise was to be undertaken to establish Departmental priorities going forward.


The exercise would be carried out in 3 phases and Ernst and Young has been contracted to deliver:


Generate Data – this will involve interviewing all Grade 7s and above in the Department;


Relative Prioritisation – aiming to have around 10 key tiers; and


Analysis – Are we actually spending time and money on the best priorities for the economy.


It was agreed that the importance of the exercise needed to be emphasised to all Grade 7s.


It was agreed that this shouldn’t focus overly on Central functions which were fundamental to the successful operational delivery of the department and sound governance.



To be raised at SMT on 25th;


To be registered with the Minister at the next Business issues meeting and be a key element of the Away Day with the Minister.


TU side to be kept informed


































Colin Woods






Wendy Johnston

DB 44/2 CITB NI Business Plan and Strategic Plan


Paper was noted


DB 44/3

Skills and Education update

Heather Cousins provided an update. Following the A level regradings both Universities have advised that they are likely to stay within their MSN.


Stranmillis and St Mary’s may need additional places.


FE enrolment is significantly down.


It may be necessary to revisit the new apprenticeships programmes in light of the Kickstart initiative which appears more generous.


Skills Focus has now been opened up to the 3rd sector.


There may be a need for additional funding for students struggling to cope with University.


The Board noted the update



DB 44/4 Monthly Finance Update (including Budget 20/21)



Sharon Hetherington gave an overview of current activity:


  • Department bid for £87M and has been allocated £37.4M
  • Bids are to be resubmitted in October monitoring
  • The financial tails with Apprenticeships have not been guaranteed
  • A submission is being prepared for the Minister in relation to the CSR
  • Annual report and accounts have been laid


The Board noted the Finance paper and agreed the October monitoring proposals in advance of seeking the Minister views and submission to DoF.



DB 44/5 DFE Response to RHI Inquiry Report

Colin Woods updated the Board.


Everything within DfE’s gift is being done. Checks and balances have been increased.


The Board


  1. Endorsed the analysis of the findings and recommendations presented in this paper;
  2. Agreed the recommended further actions at Paragraph 17; and
  3. Endorsed the Draft DfE Governance Strategy as an integral part of DfE’s wider response to the RHI Inquiry.

















DB 44/6 Draft DFE Governance Strategy

Colin Woods advised the Board that it was necessary to properly resource Corporate Governance to take forward the strategy.


The Board endorsed the Strategy and agreed it should be taken forward subject to resourcing.



DB 44/7 ARAC June Board Minutes

Colm McKenna updated the Board on the 4 August ARAC meeting.


The Board noted the Paper




Wendy Johnston updated the Board and highlighted a potential risk to Trading Standards in relation to Data Sharing in the event of a no deal. DOF are leading on this within the public Sector.


The Board noted the work that had been carried out, the way forward and the current risks


DB 44/9 October Monitoring


Sharon Hetherington provided an update.


The Board noted the contents of the paper and agreed the October monitoring proposals in advance of seeking the Minister views and submission to DoF



InterTradeIreland 2020 Business Plan and 2020-2022 Corporate Plan


The Board noted that the plans had been submitted to the Minister for approval





The Board agreed that a new Corporate Risk on “staffing and capacity” should be added to the Risk Register





Date of next meeting – Thursday 29 October at 10:30 am.


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