Department for the Economy Board minutes 2021 - 25 February 2021

Minutes from the Departmental Board meeting on 25 February 2021



  • Mike Brennan, Permanent Secretary (chair)
  • Richard Rodgers
  • Heather Cousins
  • Paul Grocott
  • David Malcolm
  • Shane Murphy
  • Colin Woods
  • Michelle Bell
  • Johanna Park                              
  • Lisa Morgan (NICS HR)
  • Colm McKenna (non-executive board member)
  • Fiona Keenan (non-executive board member)


  • Sharon Hetherington

In attendance:        

  • Fiona Ruddell (Permanent Secretary’s Office)
  • John Murray (Secretariat)
  • name redacted (CMB)

Agenda Item

Actions Arising From Discussion

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

Agenda Item 1 Declaration of Interests

No new interests were declared.


Agenda Item 2: Perm Sec Update


The Chair updated the Board on a number of issues including:


  • The Functions of Government Bill and the likely changes to how we will work.
  • Concerns around the budget allocations – major challenges for the Executive. Call for Covid “ring fenced” money to be released now. 
  • The Programme For Government – concerns about the PfG process.














Agenda Item 3: Minutes 21/1/21 Board Meeting

Agreed without amendment.


Agenda Item 4: G3 Updates

Agenda Item 5: Monthly Finance Update (including Budget 20/21) & October Monitoring Round





Economic Impact of Covid19

Shane Murphy provided an update including:

  • Executive to debate re-opening of the Economy this week;
  • Executive Pathway to Recovery will be published next week – unlikely to have specific dates. This could impact on the grant packages.


Economic Future

Shane Murphy provided an update including:

  • Labour market statistics show slight fall in claimant count – there are however still large numbers of workers furloughed. It also doesn’t account for new school leavers/ graduates coming on in June/July.
  • Major concerns around resources going forward – particularly around Brexit and the Protocol.

Action: Consideration to be given to Greater recognition of Resource difficulties in the Risk register



Lisa Morgan provided an update including:

  • Dashboards now include details on vacancies being filled;
  • Vacancies are down to 259 and expect downward trend to continue at measured pace;
  • All bids for DP Accountants have now been met;
  • Slight improvement in Performance Management completion rates but more required, especially as approaching End Year Review stage.

Action: Chair to write to all staff to remind them of the importance of timely completion of performance management



Michelle Bell provided an update including:

  • There have been 1,308 plays of the NEBMs Vlog to date - the most played video featured in the past 2 years;
  • Chair has written to Staff re return to DfE offices early September - subject to review in June;
  • The Boardroom Apprentice Programme;  and
  • Ongoing work with other departments to run a recruitment competition for a third NEBM


Board agreed to have a Boardroom Apprentice from September; and

Agreed that an outreach programme should be undertaken to get potential Board members to apply.

More “junior” staff to be given the chance to attend/ present to the Board



Paul Grocott provided an update including:

  • Minister published the Recovery Action Plan this morning – feedback to date has been largely positive; Board expressed its appreciation for all the hard work put in to getting the Plan prepared;
  • Given the extension to current Covid restrictions most schemes are likely to come in on budget;
  • The large Hospitality Scheme is on track;
  • Audit Office plans to examine all schemes and this will need to be carefully managed to ensure that it does not delay payments.
  • The Minister’s plans for “Future Vision” is expected to be published in the next 2-3 weeks’

Action: Further discussion to take place with Chair, NEBMS and Paul Grocott


Energy Strategy


Richard Rodgers provided an update including:

  • Options paper to issue in 5 weeks;
  • Minister met with UFU officials – information being circulated by UFU is not accurate;
  • Need to have a firm date for the NIRO PAC.


Covid Skills


  • Minister keen to develop All Age Apprenticeships;
  • Student Support Regulations drafted and moving forward;
  • The bid for Skills recovery funds includes resources required to administer the scheme.


Functions of Government Bill

Michelle Bell provided an update including:

  • Bill expected to receive Royal Assent shortly;
  • Department is already working to have all necessary processes in place in advance of Royal Assent;

Action: Document summarises changes to be shared with NEBMs.


Governance Transparency

Colin Woods provided an update including:

  • Final EY report has been received and is being checked.

Action: Draft to be shared with NEBMS



NICS 2020 People Survey and Pulse Survey Results

Michelle Bell provided an update including:

People Survey

  • the DfE response rate was 57%, which is significantly higher than the NICS response rate of 45.8%;
  • DfE continues to produce results materially higher than the NICS average in all areas;
  • 94% of DfE respondents said they felt COVID-secure in the environment they have been working in during the pandemic - NICS average of 76%;
  • 90% of staff noted their home as suitable for working and 67% of respondents stated working from home has changed their overall quality of life for the better;


Pulse Survey

  • the response rate to the Pulse Survey was also 57% - up 3% from May;
  • 28.87% of respondents in the follow up  said they felt isolated compared to 38.83% in the May Pulse Survey;




the Board noted the results of both surveys and the proposed approach to address the surveys’ results.

Increases and decreases in scores to be shared with NEBMs























Colin Woods

















Lisa Morgan




















Michelle Bell


Paul Grocott/ Michelle Bell


Michelle Bell























Paul Grocott































Michelle Bell







Heather Cousins (actioned)

Agenda Item 6

Colm McKenna provided an update including:

  • Need to review the Risk register;
  • The Internal Audit plan for 2021/22;
  • The terms of the 2 independent members of ARAC are due to expire this year. 1 willing to accept extension but the second will need to be replaced: and
  • ARAC to do a “deep dive” on major issues


work to extend the term of 1 independent member and secure a replacement second member to be progressed as quickly as possible; and

Chair to discuss a programme of “Deep Dive” issues with CMcK












Colin Woods


Colm McKenna


Sharon Smyth from DOF to present Commercial Skills Presentation at Next Meeting.


It was agreed that, where possible NEBMS should be given early sight of briefing papers.


It was suggested that future Board meetings should start at 9.30 with a short break.

Action: Michelle Bell to consider feasibility










Michelle Bell

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

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