Department for the Economy Board minutes 2020 - 26 March 2020

Minutes from departmental board meeting

26 March 2020


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

In attendance:

  • Michelle Bell (Central Management Branch)
  • Sharon Smyth (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 declared.


Chairman’s remarks

The Chair updated the Board on discussions held at CCG:

  • The Executive Office will be carrying out an audit of communications on Covid-19 by NI departments to identify inconsistencies/gaps between GB and NI
  • HSENI will be issuing detailed guidance to businesses on social distancing following agreement by FM/dFM. This will also issue to trade bodies and Brexit Stakeholder Group
  • additional regulations and directions due in the next few days following Coronavirus Act coming into power today.


Consideration to be given to appropriate means of certification for DfE key workers on essential travel as a result of additional regulations and significant emergency powers in the next few days following Coronavirus Act coming into power today (e.g criminal offence to leave home).













Colin Lewis

DB39/1 Action points from 27 February 2020 Departmental Board meeting.


The minutes were agreed without amendment.







Departmental update re COVID-19



Colin Lewis updated the Board on the closure of DfE buildings, with the exception of Netherleigh which will remain open for essential operational needs.

The Board also received an update on the steps being taken by the department to facilitate remote working and actions around redeployment of staff to essential services, both within DfE and to other departments.


Note to issue to staff providing reassurance on the department’s position and recognising commitment and willingness being shown by staff.

List of key services to be provided to Lisa Morgan in order to identify staff with relevant experience in order to redirect resources.

Consideration to be given to sharing daily sit reps with NEBMs.


Diarmuid McLean updated the Board on the development of the business grant schemes and provided an update on the supply chain position.

The Board recorded the nature of recent engagement between DfE/DoF officials in trying to find a deliverable solution. The Chair registered his concerns about the approvals process relating to the grant and indicated that he would formally write to DoF on the issue.

Paul Grocott advised the board of internal restructuring of the EU Exit Group/Economic Strategy Group to manage DfE’s response to the impacts to the economy of Covid-19, including a number of work strands.


Details of workstrands managing DfE’s response to impact of Covid-19 and their areas of responsibility to be shared with Board members when finalised.








Colin Lewis



Wendy Johnston/ Lisa Morgan

Michelle Bell













Paul Grocott

DB 39/2 RHI Update

Richard Rodgers advised the Board of an Energy Retail Market Forum taking place later today attended by all energy suppliers, the Consumer Council and the Utility Regulator.

The Board also received an update on the Tariff Increase, in particular the current position with regard to [the lack of] agreement/engagement with the Executive.

Richard also provided an update on the Judicial Review currently scheduled to take place in June 2020.

Inspections continue to be carried out in the form of desk top inspections/compliance.


A short paper from the Minister to the Executive reiterating the urgency of positive engagement/agreement on the tariff increase and emphasising the potential consequences to the Executive purse if no agreement reached.















Richard Rodgers

DB 39/3 Monthly Finance Update (including Budget 20/21)


Stephen McMurray provided the Board with an overview of the Departmental financial position as at the end of February 2020, and an update on the current Budget 2020-21 position.

A discussion took place on the potential implications for ALBs’ initial budget position for 2020/21.


Arrange meeting with the Minister to discuss an initial budget position for next year.


Letter to CEO Invest NI outlining that repurposing their budget post-Covid-19 will need to be addressed internally.







Stephen McMurray


Stephen McMurray

DB 39/4 Draft DfE Board Agenda 30 April 2020

The agenda for the April meeting will be reviewed in light of changing circumstances relating to Covid-19



Discussions took place on:

  • NIAO assessment of HMS Caroline
  • plans to temporarily remove staff from Killymead House in light of Covid-19
  • administration of Self Employed Grants
  • additional updates to NEBMs between Board meetings as a result of Covid-19 actions.


NEBMs to be kept informed every two weeks between monthly Board meetings on the work of the department in relation to Covid-19, both policy and operational.








Colin Lewis

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