Department for the Economy Board minutes 2020 - 28 May 2020

Minutes from the Departmental Board meeting - 28 May 2020



  • Mike Brennan, Chair
  • Colin Lewis (Chair from 12.45pm)
  • Richard Rodgers
  • Heather Cousins
  • Diarmuid McLean
  • Paul Grocott
  • Stephen McMurray
  • Colin Woods                                
  • Lisa Morgan (NICSHR)
  • Colm McKenna (Independent Board Member)
  • Fiona Keenan (Independent Board Member)

Apologies: Wendy Johnston

In Attendance: 

  • Name redacted (Item 8)
  • Name redacted (Pulse Survey)
  • Name redacted (Secretariat)


Declaration of Interests

Chair referred to the potential conflict of interest raised at April’s Board meeting and confirmed this has been recorded and will be managed for all future Board meetings.


Chairman’s Remarks


The Chair updated the Board on the following issues:

  • Inclusion of the Department’s Economic Recovery Roadmap paper for discussion at 28/5/20 Executive Meeting.
  • The Department’s response to the Review of Health Regulations, including templates on the easement of lockdown.
  • Advised that the ‘R’ number has increased to 0.9 and, therefore, the margin for error is very slim.
  • CCG has been stood down from daily engagement and it is anticipated that the NI Hub will be stood down in the near future.
  • DOC will continue on a limited basis from 3 teams to eventually 1.
  • Sit Reps are produced on a daily basis at present, although this may reduce in the near future. Any reduction will have implications for staffing levels and potential redeployment.  A discussion will take place on this at the next Leadership Team meeting.
  • Frustration has been expressed at Permanent Secretary Group meetings iro operation of the Executive, eg tightness of deadlines, inefficiency of functioning, expectation of Ministers, etc.
  • University of Ulster – update on procurement of external consultants in advance of any money being released and an update on the Graduate Medical School.
  • HMS Caroline – (see note of substantive discussion under AOB)


DB 41/1 Action Points from 30 April 2020 Departmental Board Meeting

The minutes were agreed without amendment.


Departmental update re COVID-19


Economic Impact of Covid-19

Paul Grocott gave an analysis of the economic impact of Covid-19 and provided an insight on the economic future, including:

  • The latest data on the uptake of Universal Credit.
  • The potential for redundancies due to the gap between the Executive’s policy on which businesses are still unable to open and the UK Government support schemes.
  • The importance of ensuring the Executive recognises the significance of the economic recovery package.
  • Current activity within the Department around an economic recovery plan.


Colin Lewis provided an update on current staffing arrangements, iro remote working, availability of staff for redeployment, etc and advised that 97% of staff now have full connectivity through laptops and conversion of desktops.

Lisa Morgan provided an update on the latest position with regard to vacancy management and recruitment, including the work currently being undertaken as part of an NICSHR Resource & Recovery Plan to identify priority/business critical vacancies aligned to DfE’s business plan and priorities.

Business Support

Diarmuid McLean updated the Board on the current position iro the various grant schemes being administered by the Department, including the number of applications, payouts to date and associated costs. 

He also advised the Board that a pre-action for a JR has been lodged against the Department iro non-payment of multiples.  The Department has responded and is awaiting further communication.

The Board recognised the significant level of correspondence being dealt with by officials in Diarmuid’s Group and the massive achievement of administering the various schemes within a very short timeframe.


Agenda Item

Actions Arising From Discussion

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

DB 41/2 Monthly Finance Update (including Budget 20/21). Also papers on PMS and June Monitoring



Stephen McMurray provided the Board with an update on:

  • The work currently being undertaken by Finance Division including the Department’s 2019-20 Provisional Outturn performance and 2020-21 Opening Budget Allocations
  • June Monitoring exercise and the Board was asked to consider possible reallocations and bids.  The Board agreed to the recommendations set out in the paper
  • The impact that Covid-19 has had on the repayment of the balance of the Department’s loan facility to the Presbyterian Mutual Society. The Board noted the current position and accompanying letters from the Department’s advisors on PMS.


DB 41/3 Review of Internal Delegations for Caseworks


Colin Woods updated the Board on the review on the internal delegation frameworks for casework.  The Board agreed the recommendations in advance of seeking the Minister’s agreement.


DB41/4 ARAC Annual Report 2019-20


Colm McKenna updated the Board on the work undertaken by the Departmental Audit and Risk Assurance (ARAC) Committee during the course of the 2019/20 year.  The Board noted the paper.


DB41/5 Board Effectiveness Evaluation

[Name redacted] provided the Board with an overview of the responses to the recent Board Effectiveness annual review.  The Board agreed to receive a presentation on key areas at each meeting by other Departmental officials, at all grades, as appropriate.  The Board also agreed to consider ‘Observers’ at Board meetings for specific items, as appropriate, and at the discretion of the Chair.  A discussion also took place around Board diversity and succession planning, including consideration of recruiting a third NEBM with commercial expertise.


The Board Secretariat to review responses to the annual assessment and recommendations outlined above for future Board meetings.










Board Secretariat

DB41/6 RHI

Richard Rodgers updated the Board on the latest developments on RHI, including the latest on the Tariff Review corrections. 



DB41/7 Draft DfE Board Agenda 25 June 2020


The draft agenda was agreed, however, it was acknowledged this may be amended in advance of the June Board meeting.


DB41/8 New Departmental Governance Arrangements for COVID-19 and Transition Readiness – introducing a Strategic Oversight Group (SOG) and COVID-19 and Transition Readiness Programme

Paul Grocott provided an update on the Department’s preparation for the end of the transition period and its ongoing response to the COVID-19 crisis in parallel and sought the Board’s endorsement to establish a Strategic Oversight Group and two support Programmes: the EU Exit Transition Readiness Programme, and the COVID-19 Policy Response Programme.  The Board agreed to the establishment of groups, however, following discussion it was agreed that the TOR should be developed further.


TOR to be developed further and circulated via correspondence for agreement.








Paul Grocott/ Colin Woods


A discussion took place about HMS Caroline, both in terms of the historic business case and next steps/options for the attraction going forward.  The Board registered its concern around all of this, and in particular the need for accounting expertise.


Colin Lewis advised the Board the Corporate Risk Register was being reviewed in light of Covid-19 and would be brought to the Board in due course.

[Name redacted] provided an update on the Pulse Survey of Staff. [Name redacted] advised 54% of staff had responded and gave a brief overview of the huge volume of comments received. 


Results of survey to be discussed at forthcoming Leadership Team meeting with a view to issuing a communication to all staff on the findings.













Leadership Team Secretariat

Date of Next Meeting – Thursday 25 June 2020 at 10.30 am

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