Department for the Economy Board minutes 2021 - 21 January 2021

Minutes from the Departmental Board meeting on 21 January 2021



  • Mike Brennan, Permanent Secretary (chair)
  • Richard Rodgers
  • Heather Cousins
  • Paul Grocott
  • David Malcolm
  • Shane Murphy
  • Sharon Hetherington
  • Colin Woods                                
  • Lisa Morgan (NICSHR)
  • Colm McKenna (independent board member)
  • Fiona Keenan (independent board member)

In attendance:

  • Michelle Bell (agenda item 5)
  • Fiona Ruddell (Permanent Secretary’s Office)
  • 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 were declared.


Agenda Item 1: Perm Sec Update


The Chair updated the Board on a number of issues discussed at the recent PSS meeting including:


  • A ‘fit for purpose’ review of Whitehall Departments in a post-Covid world.  The review doesn’t formally include NICS, although Whitehall officials may be invited to visit NI in this capacity.
  • An update on determination of key workers within Departments.   
  • Letter from FM/dFM to Speaker on Machinery of Government pressures.
  • Roll-out of vaccines.
  • Update on MoD providing medical technical to assist in hospitals in NI.

The Chair also provided an update on recent developments on Project Stratum and he will keep the NEMBs updated.















Minutes from 26/11/20 and 17/12/20 Board Meetings

Both sets of minutes were agreed without amendment.


Agenda Item 2: G3 Updates


Covid-19 Support Schemes

Paul Grocott updated the Board on the current position on the DfE-led support schemes, including those already live and those about to launch.  He emphasised the massive achievement realised in completing the policy work on all of the schemes within a short time.  Paul outlined associated risks, namely:


  • Pressures on deliverablity.
  • Potential underspends at the end of the financial year.
  • Expectations around what more could be done in a post-Covid ‘wash up’.

Following queries from Colm McKenna, a discussion took place on support for the Tourism and Hospitality sectors and future plans for the deferred High Street stimulus scheme. 


Economic Recovery

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



Paul to share draft economic recovery paper (Vision Statement/Action Plan) with NEBMs.


Colm McKenna asked if the targets outlined in the recovery action plan were too ambitious and would, therefore, raise expectations. 


A discussion also took place on the NI Protocol being viewed as an opportunity in the context of economic recovery.


Colm also asked about the impact on current resources of delivery of both the economic recovery piece and the support schemes.  Paul advised that the current level of resource was not sustainable. The Chair advised that the use of external resources may be a consideration and a discussion would have to take place with the Minister on the level of expectation on the department’s current resources.



Richard Rodgers provided an update on the following:


  • Public Accounts Committee meeting on NIRO Report.
  • Publication of the Renewable NI KPMG report into small-scale wind turbines.
  • RHI consultation and next steps.
  • Significant number of energy issues arising from the Trade & Co-Operation Agreement.

Student Support in HE/FE

Heather Cousins updated the Board on the latest position and way forward on Vocational Qualifications.  Heather also advised of the knock on impact on the issue of University admissions this year.


Fiona Keenan asked how the team in the Skills Group are coping under the pressure.  Heather advised it is a fantastic team who all support each other and resilience is good but there are pinch points and more resources are needed.


EU Exit

Shane Murphy provided an update on the Protocol and Trade Agreement, and also the issues and implications around the grace periods.































Paul Grocott














































Agenda Item 3: Finance Update




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


  • January Monitoring Round
  • Budget 2021/22

and outlined the Departmental pressures going in to the next financial year.


The Board noted the contents of the paper and the approach to the 2021/22 Initial Budget.  


Colm McKenna asked what budget cover is the Department expecting to receive to cover NDNA commitments.



Sharon to follow up re NDNA commitments.




















Sharon Hetherington




Agenda Item 4: EY Project Update/

Strategic Approach 2021/22

Colin Woods provided an update on the current position with regard to this project, including findings to date as a result of consultation, feedback and interviews with staff.  The Board noted the contents of the paper and a discussion took place on the short, medium and long term priorities for the Department, as well as succession planning and the implications on staff resources to deliver all of this.


The Chair saw 3 parallel strands to deliver this:


  • Economic Recovery piece.
  • Reconfiguring the Department to ensure delivery of key work.
  • Machinery of Government project to ensure efficient processes.

Fiona Keenan queried whether the Department had considered a full organisational review and offered to share some organisational reviews which have already been carried out and which might be of benefit.


Colm McKenna advised on the importance of cross-departmental working, as well as considering work which may be ongoing within the Department’s ALBs, to avoid duplication.  Colin Woods advised he is presenting this piece of work to a forthcoming Permanent Secretaries Group meeting.




Agenda Item 5: HR Update


Lisa Morgan provided an HR summary report to the Board, including the Department’s current resourcing position and the NICS recruitment position.  Lisa provided an update on the current status of the G7 competition and advised Tranche 3 of the DP & SO competitions have been temporarily suspended due to Covid-19.  Lisa also provided an update on the Temporary Promotions within the Department and the Department’s sickness absence rates.


Agenda Item 6:

Machinery of Government Project

Michelle Bell gave a presentation to the Board on the MoG Project, including an outline of the project’s aims and objectives and an overview of the approach.



Agenda Item 7:

Risk Register/ Business Plan



David Malcolm provided an update to the Board on Quarter 3 progress updates to this year’s business plan and updates to the corporate risk register.  David also outlined the planned approach in the development of the 2021/22 business plan and risk register.


The Board:


  • noted the Quarter 3 business plan progress and risk register updates; and
  • agreed to the broad process outlined for the development of the 2021/22 business plan.




No items were raised under AOB.



Date of next meeting: Thursday 25 February 2021 at 10.30am.


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