Department for the Economy Board minutes 2020 - 26 November 2020

Minutes from the Departmental Board meeting - 26 November 2020



  • Mike Brennan, Chair
  • Richard Rodgers
  • Heather Cousins
  • Paul Grocott
  • David Malcolm
  • Shane Murphy
  • Wendy Johnston
  • Sharon Hetherington                 
  • Lisa Morgan (NICSHR)
  • Colm McKenna (Independent Board Member)
  • Fiona Keenan (Independent Board Member)

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 a number of issues discussed at the recent PSS meeting including the appointment of Lianne Patterson as Temporary Permanent Secretary in DE; the removal by DoF of staff car parking facilities in Belfast City Centre and discussions on pay policy.  The Chair also advised the Board of a letter sent to the Department by the C&AG in relation to the grant schemes.



The Chair to send the C&AG letter to the NEBMs (and the subsequent departmental response.)














Perm Sec Support



DB 46/1 Action Points from 29 October 2020 Departmental Board Meeting

The minutes were agreed without amendment.


Departmental update re COVID-19



Economic Impact

Shane Murphy provided an update on the economic impact of Covid-19, including the impact of the current restrictions.


Policy Response

Paul Grocott provided the up to date position in relation to the DfE-led support schemes and outlined progress on new schemes, including the Self Employed and Company Directors scheme, Traditional Pubs and the High Street Stimulus Scheme.


He also outlined work ongoing in the department to develop actions which will help lead towards economic recovery.


Following a query from Colm McKenna, a discussion took place on the DoF approach to end year flexibility and the potential risks if this is not an option.



It was agreed a Video Blog featuring the NEBMs would issue to all staff in the New Year, providing an external perspective on the work being done by the Department and in support of the Leadership Team.



Lisa Morgan updated the board on the latest position with regard to resourcing, including an update on the number of vacancies within the Department, the current position in relation to both the DP and SO competitions and also the DP Accountant competition, all of which should address some of the vacancies within DfE.



All Board members were encouraged to issue a reminder to managers within their Groups of the importance of completing in-year reviews and to use it as an opportunity to discuss wellbeing, remote working and workloads.




Wendy Johnston updated the Board on the number of DfE staff currently available for work, the number on sick leave due to Covid-19 and the level of sickness absence within the Department generally.


Wendy provided an update on the Pulse Survey and confirmed that a further reminder will issue to staff to complete before the closing date. 


Wendy also advised the DfE staff support hub has been launched which includes Corporate DfE information, including ‘Inform You’ guides.


Wendy also updated the Board on the closure of DfE buildings over the Christmas period.


EU Exit

Shane Murphy provided an update on the current negotiations and business readiness.


A discussion took place on current position in relation to the UK Internal Market Bill and the Trade Bill.


Energy Strategy

Richard Rodgers provided an update on the Energy Strategy and also advised the Department has received a number of queries following the NIAO Report on NIRO.


Covid Skills

Heather Cousins updated the Board on positive response by Universities and Colleges to the current restrictions, including moving to online delivery as much as possible, unless practical face to face is needed.  Heather also updated the Board on the UK pilot at Queen’s University for student testing.  Mass testing on a voluntary basis has begun for all students in the Belfast area over the age of 18.


A discussion took place on the need for longer term provision for qualifications as a result of the implications of Covid-19, and the importance of a successor for ESF within a very tight timescale in order to facilitate apprenticeships.


Following these updates the Chair felt a discussion was required to highlight to stakeholders the importance of the work being done by the Department and the number of very serious concerns.  All Board members emphasised that all Groups within the Department are suffering from the Machinery of Government function.










































All Board members





































DB 46/3 Monthly Finance Update




Sharon Hetherington provided an update on the current financial position, including


  • The Spending Review
  • January Monitoring Round
  • Revised Covid Bids

The Board noted the contents of the paper and agreed to the January monitoring proposals in advance of seeking the Minister’s views and submission to DoF.


Sharon also updated the Board on the development of a working group for accountants across the Department with a view to improved connectivity/  communication between this group.  A survey has been developed which will issue to accountants to try to establish what works well/not so well and the results of this will help to inform a way forward.



This group is to engage with Wendy Johnston and Trade Unions as appropriate.

























Sharon Hetherington


DB 46/4 ARAC Board Minutes

These are to follow, however, Colm McKenna gave an overview of the current focus of the ARAC Board.




DB 46/5

Draft Agenda 28 January 2020


The Chair asked members to consider the draft agenda and provide any additional items in advance of the next meeting.



DB46/6 Resource Alignment Paper



Lisa Morgan provided an update on the delivery of the Resource Alignment Project, being led by Colin Woods, which is currently ongoing within the Department.  Lisa advised that the project is proceeding according to schedule and early themes emerging from interviews with G7s include resilience shown by staff and the Department, resourcing/vacancy pressures and succession planning.











Date of next meeting: Thursday 28 January 2021 at 10.30 am 

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