Department for the Economy Board minutes 2020 - 25 June 2020

Minutes from departmental board meeting 25 June 2020



  • Mike Brennan, Chair
  • Colin Lewis
  • Richard Rodgers
  • Heather Cousins
  • Diarmuid McLean
  • Paul Grocott
  • Wendy Johnston
  • Sharon Hetherington
  • Colin Woods                                
  • Lisa Morgan (NICSHR)
  • Colm McKenna (Independent Board Member)
  • Fiona Keenan (Independent Board Member)

In Attendance:        

  • Shane Murphy (Item 5)
  • Name redacted (Item 7)
  • 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

Sharon Hetherington advised the Board of a declaration of interest. The Board noted this declaration of interest and agreed it could be managed on a meeting by meeting basis.


Chairman’s Remarks


The Chair updated the Board on the following issues:

  • The current functioning of the Executive and in particular the need for meaningful engagement at Ministerial level on major economic challenges facing NI
  • Pressure on staff resources across the entire department and in particular on current challenges facing the department in terms of Economic Recovery and Brexit
  • Economic Advisory Group
  • LRA Engagement Forum










The Board agreed that Energy, Brexit and Economic Recovery are to be treated as resourcing priority areas in order to manage recruitment planning.

Lisa Morgan

DB 42/1 Action Points from 28 May 2020 Departmental Board Meeting

The minutes were agreed without amendment.


DB 42/2 Draft Minutes from 21 May 2020 Departmental Board Meeting

The minutes were agreed with the exception of recording an apology from Wendy Johnston.


Departmental update re COVID-19



Economic Impact of Covid-19

Shane Murphy provided an analysis of the potential unemployment figures/claimant count and a slower than anticipated return of employees from furlough.

Richard Rodgers considered there was a unique opportunity within the Protocol for NI and its relationship with the EU for green growth and clean energy job opportunities.

A discussion took place on the importance of drawing the gravity of the situation to the attention of policy makers, stakeholders and the Executive.

Colin Woods offered the view that the 2020/21 Business Plan still contained a relatively large number of commitments and may prove hard to sustain; if the Board were to decide that prioritisation of tasks and resources was necessary, then transparency with stakeholders about why this was so, would be important and would allow further opportunity to emphasise the scale of the challenges facing the economy.
















Chair to raise with the Minister at Business Issues meeting w/c 29/6/20.



Colin Lewis updated the Board on discussions at the recent Resourcing and People Committee around the process and various methods being used to fill business critical posts.  Lisa Morgan indicated that guidance had been provided to managers on the next steps and actions required to move forward.

There are number of Accountancy vacancies and a discussion took place on the steps being taken to fill these posts.

Wendy Johnston advised the Board that a governance structure had been agreed to take forward the results of the Pulse Survey, using a light touch Project approach. Colin Lewis would chair the Project Board and the supporting Project team and task and finish groups would draw representatives from across Business Areas.  She also advised that LT had agreed the DfE post-lockdown operating model. The default position for the next 6-12 months will continue to be those who can work from home will continue to do so and that, in conjunction with the Pulse Survey response, enhancements will be out in place, where feasible, to further support home working, There will be a small number of Business Areas where a small number of some staff will require access to the workplace, eg OITFET and provision will also be made for those staff who for their mental well-being require to work in an office environment.

A note had issued from the Permanent Secretary to all staff focusing on health and wellbeing and encouraging all staff to avail of annual leave. The Board and entire leadership team within DfE were encouraged to lead by example and to also avail of periods of annual leave.

Lisa Morgan advised updated guidance on annual and special leave is to be issued shortly.

Business Support

Diarmuid McLean advised the three grant schemes are now closed and updated the Board on the current position of a small number of outstanding applications.

Diarmuid provided an update on the pre-action letters seeking Judicial Reviews against the Department.


DB 42/3 Monthly Finance Update (including Budget 20/21)



Sharon Hetherington gave an overview of current activity, namely:

  • the current financial position as a result of the Department’s 2020/21 June monitoring round and the Covid-19 reprioritisation exercise;
  • a request to the Finance Minister to increase the departmental cash requirement;
  • the impact of COVID-19 on the Presbyterian Mutual Society assets and the proposed extension of the loan facility for two to three years
  • the annual accounts progress.

The Board noted the paper.


DB 42/4 New Departmental Governance Arrangements for COVID-19 & Transitional Readiness

Following discussion at the May Board meeting, Paul Grocott provided the Board with revised governance structures to oversee the Department’s economic response to Covid-19 and the Department’s preparation for the end of the transition period. 

In response to a query from Wendy Johnston on the use of the Gateway process, Paul confirmed that appropriate programme management structures will be in place and Gateway will be considered as part of those structures.

The Chair informed the Board he was confident the dynamics of and relationship between the leadership team would ensure any resource issues would be identified quickly and remedial action taken if necessary.

The Board noted the revised structures; endorsed the establishment of the Strategic Oversight Group and agreed the revised Terms of Referenc (TOR) for this Group.


DB 42/5 Draft DfE Board Agenda 30 July 2020


The Board agreed to add the following to the July agenda:

  • Update on RHI
  • Minutes of ARAC Meeting




DB 42/6 DfE Annual Health and Safety Report 2019-2020


Wendy Johnston provided the Board with an update on the various Health and Safety (H and S)activities the Department has engaged in from April 2019-March 2020, including:

  • an update on the development of H and S procedures,
  • an overview of the work of the H and S Team, and
  • information on accidents which involved DfE staff, or occurred on departmental premises.

The Board noted the paper.

Wendy also highlighted the availability of online Display Screen Equipment Training and the availability of H&S guidance on the Department’s Intranet.










Date of Next Meeting – Thursday 30 July at 10.30 am 

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