Department for the Economy Board minutes 2020 - 29 October 2020

Minutes from the Departmental Board meeting - 29 October 2020



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


  • Shane Murphy

In attendance:

  • Beverley Harrison (Item 10)
  • 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 welcomed David Malcolm to his first DfE Departmental Board meeting and thanked both Colin Lewis and Diarmuid McLean, in what is their last Departmental Board meeting, for their hard work over a number of years in the Department, and in particular over the last year.


The Chair provided the Board with an update from PSS/NICS Board, including the impact of the absence of a HOCS.


Colin Woods updated the Board on the recent meeting of CCGNI.


A discussion took place on the recent media attention on a number of issues including HMS Caroline, grant payment schemes, wind turbines and anaerobic digestors; and the Department’s media handling around all of this.  Richard Rodgers highlighted recent engagement with stakeholders, including Renewable NI, on the report into NIRO, and with the anaerobic digestors sector.



















DB 45/1 Action Points from 24 September 2020 Departmental Board Meeting


The minutes were agreed without amendment.


Departmental update re COVID-19



Economic Impact of Covid-19

The Chair welcomed the Chancellor’s Job Support Scheme, however, he expressed reservations on the current lockdowns and the disruption to businesses and civic society in general.


Economic Future

Paul Grocott advised the Board that the picture looks bleaker than it did in Spring/ Summer 2020 and analysis is currently being prepared to determine the impact to the economy of this latest lockdown, including job losses.



Lisa Morgan updated the board on the latest position with regard to resourcing which was agreed by NICS Board, including the four areas to be prioritised – NDNA, Covid-19, EU Exit and addressing the resourcing pressures within a number of Departments, including DfE.


Lisa also advised the Board on the next phase of recruitment planning, including confirmation of Departments’ funded vacancies over the next 3 months.  This will then form the basis of a recruitment plan to be presented to NICS Board in November.


Heather Cousins to emphasise the importance of completing this exercise within deadline, when she attends the forthcoming NICS Board meeting.


Lisa Morgan updated the Board on the current state of play with the current G7, DP and SO recruitment competitions.  A discussion took place on the resourcing pressures within DfE, including current vacancies, the implications of these vacancies and the expectation of when/how these will be filled.


David Malcolm highlighted a disconnect between the number of vacancies in the Department against those cited on a paper to be discussed at a forthcoming NICS Board meeting.



Lisa Morgan to review the figure quoted for DfE in the paper and liaise with NICS HR to ensure the number of vacancies in the Department is accurately reflected


Lisa also provided an update on the number of long term absences within the Department, reasons being given included anxiety around the Covid-19 pandemic, and encouraged managers to communicate with their staff and colleagues on a regular basis.


The Chair advised the Board that Performance Management within the Department was moving in the right direction and stressed the importance of maintaining a good position.  Heather Cousins advised of difficulties of doing this in certain areas within her Group and Paul Grocott highlighted the business impacts of both vacancies and temporary redeployments within the Department, including redeploying personnel to administer the various schemes.



All members to encourage their staff to complete performance management functions in good time.


The Chair left the meeting at 1112hrs and Colin Lewis resumed the Chair.



Wendy Johnston advised the Board that the DfE operating model remains in place and concurs with the new restrictions.  Staff who can work from home continue to do so with only 2-3% of staff in the DfE buildings at any one time. 


Three people across three DfE buildings have tested positive for Covid-19.  This was dealt with quickly, following HSENI/PHA advice, including deep cleaning, with no need to close any buildings.


Wendy advised an update on feedback on the People Survey will shortly be available on the Intranet.  One element of the feedback – a note on email etiquette – had already issued.



Wendy Johnston to send the note to the Independent Board Members for information.


Wendy advised ‘knowledge bubbles’ for new G7s/DPs were taking place, giving new staff the benefit of mature and experienced support.


Fiona Keenan congratulated the Senior Management Team in achieving all of this in a hugely difficult environment.



Paul Grocott updated the Board on the delivery of various grant schemes, including the Covid Restrictions Business Support Scheme and the development of two further schemes.  Following a query from Colm McKenna, Paul confirmed full funding for these schemes had been guaranteed by DoF.  Paul highlighted administration of these schemes is at the cost of meaningful development of other economic recovery work. 


Giulia provided an update on EU Exit and advised that officials were working with NI Business Info to provide communication and information on EU Exit preparations.


Energy Strategy

Richard Rodgers advised the Department is still working towards consultation on the Energy Strategy by the end of March 2021, with a Strategy developed by late 2021/early 2022.  He stressed the importance of continuing to deliver on Departmental priorities.


Covid Skills

Heather Cousins updated the board on interventions in FE/HE/Apprenticeships in response to Covid-19.  She advised Queen’s University is to become a pilot testing centre for mass testing. 


Heather advised that the consultation on the new Skills Strategy is planned for after Christmas.


































Heather Cousins






















Lisa Morgan


























All members




























Wendy Johnston

DB 45/2 Monthly Finance Update (including Budget 20/21) & October Monitoring Round



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


  • The bids submitted as part of the October Monitoring Round, including revised bids submitted, as requested by DoF, in light of recent restrictions;
  • Non ring-fenced pressures and easements identified from an internal review in light of increased restrictions;
  • The cost of developing a number of grant schemes;
  • Confirmation from DoF that the Spending Review will now be a one year budget for 2021/22.

The Board noted the paper.



DB 45/3 ARAC Board Minutes

Colm McKenna gave an overview of discussions at the recent ARAC Board meeting.  Wendy Johnston highlighted a factual inaccuracy within the minutes in a reference to the public appointments process.





Wendy Johnston agreed to provide amendment as appropriate.


Mike Brennan returned at 1218hrs and resumed the Chair.











Wendy Johnston

DB 45/4  Delivery Committee Report



David Malcolm gave an overview of the Delivery Committee Report, including Business Plan, Risk Register and Paused Work Register.  He highlighted the importance of a business plan which could be delivered within DfE resources.


A discussion took place on the lack of progress on the Shared Prosperity Fund, particularly given the level of funding received by the Department through various EU funding streams, including funding for the majority of posts required to deliver EU Exit.



Consideration will be given to formal contingency planning on this.


















Maeve Hamilton

DB 45/6

Draft Agenda 26 November 2020 Meeting


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





Beverley Harrison gave a presentation to the Board on the role of the Further Education (FE) sector and the challenges facing both the Department and the sector in the immediate and longer term.  The Chair considered a discussion should be held with the Minister on the way forward.


Wendy Johnston advised the Board that Michelle Bell will take up a temporary G6 position, carrying out a six-month project looking at the machinery of government process within DfE.
















Date of next meeting - Thursday 26 November at 10:30 am 

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