Department for the Economy Board minutes 2023 - 13 December 2023


  • Ian Snowden (Chair)
  • David Malcolm
  • Moira Doherty
  • Shane Murphy
  • Paul Grocott
  • Richard Rodgers
  • Sharon Hetherington
  • Alan Russell
  • Fiona Keenan (non-executive board member)
  • Michael McKavanagh (non-executive board member)

In attendance:

  • Name redacted (CMB)
  • Name redacted (Corporate Governance secretariat)
  • Name redacted (for ODT item)
  • Louise Watson (for FE review item)


Michelle Bell, Moira Doherty and name redacted. Name redacted now attends quarterly.

Agenda items:

Agenda Item

Actions Arising from Discussion

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

Agenda Item 1: Board Register of Interests/ Conflicts

No new interests declared.




Agenda Item 2: Presentation from Belfast Met & Tour of Campus

Louise Warder Hunter, Principal and CEO presented:

  • Louise discussed the long and prestigious history of Belfast Met. They continue to adapt and demonstrate they are relevant. They constantly stay at the cutting edge.
  • Their Strategic Economic Drivers are a 10X Economy and the Skills Strategy. They recognise they must be aligned to Government policy.
  • All NI FE colleges are socially inclusive.
  • Louise discussed the impact of Belfast Met in 2021/22 including; income/expenditure/employees, details of enrolments & apprenticeships, learner satisfaction, achievements & awards and numbers of their graduates who progressed into employment or further learning. She also discussed their contribution to the economy.
  • Belfast Met is the largest of the six FE colleges in NI. They have four campuses across NI and Titanic Quarter is the flagship one.
  • Their vision is to be the college of choice for learners, employer of choice for talent and partner of choice for employers & business.
  • They align their curriculum with key skills priorities.
  • Further education is not a second choice and that mantra needs to change.
  • Their learner satisfaction survey shows good results. They make people feel welcome and are a designated college of sanctuary. Their employer satisfaction survey also shows good results but would like this to improve.
  • There are a number of challenges due to the need to make financial savings. These include a redundancy program and possible closure of the Castlereagh campus which is out to public consultation.
  • They are seeking new partnership arrangements with the other colleges and DfE, based on mutual respect and trust.

Fiona Dempsey, Head of Belfast Business School, led a tour of the campus.


Agenda Item 3: Review of FE Delivery Model

Louise Watson presented:

  • Louise advised the purpose of the review is to ensure that the FE sector is operating as effectively as possible and has the agility and flexibility to deliver its critical role in meeting the skills needs of both learners and employers and in delivering on the 10X Economic Vision and the new Skills Strategy.
  • As part of the Stage 1 of the review (October 2021 to March 2023), a benchmarking study was undertaken by the Tribal Group and exploratory engagement with stakeholders.
  • There has been a decrease in enrolments but there are opportunities including alignment with Departmental priorities. FE is not broken but could do better.
  • A wider discussion ensued. There is no evidence that a one college model would result in savings and could create other issues. We need a solid platform of evidence before making important decisions. The benchmarking study hasn’t given a solid platform to make decisions on – not publishing it has hampered things. The FE staff exit scheme under consideration is a means of helping with the affordability of the sector and re-setting its cost base.  Monitoring and control measures will be in place were the business case to be approved. The review needs properly scoped.
  • What are we doing to assure that the Terms of Reference are correct for the next stage?
  • What does the change need to be and what is the strategic intent. What is the roadmap to get there? What can be achieved in the meantime?

Agenda Item 4: Minutes of Previous Meeting

Minutes of the meeting of 30 November will be available for approval at the January meeting.


Agenda Item 5: Strategic Issues

Ian Snowden presented:

Political Talks - finance

  • The ongoing political talks with the Secretary of State on a financial package upon restoration of an Executive have been difficult.
  • DoF will start the budget process for next year shortly which is expected to be flat cash.

Agenda Item 6: Budget Discussion

Sharon Hetherington presented: 

  • DfE remains on target in the current year to spend Resource DEL and Capital DEL. It is important that money is spent and spent wisely.
  • DoF is commissioning an information gathering exercise, modelling two and five percent reductions to the 23/24 position.
  • DfE think we have inescapable pressures of £25m, including pay pressures and pressures arising from apprenticeships due to EU funding stopping.
  • The inescapable pressure mean we need to model circa five and eight percent reductions for DfE overall.
  • Capital is zero based. No indication of allocations but expect it to be challenging.
  • We switched Resource DEL to capital DEL for research, which will be presented as inescapable to DoF.
  • Some additional CDEL for Research and Development for Invest NI will need funded due to EU funding stopping.










Agenda Item 7: Papers for Approval

RHI Lessons Learned

  • Alan Russell explained that this relates to an internal RHI action plan.
  • There are only two outstanding actions, both well in hand and expected to be completed in the next two months.
  • The Board agreed that this is the final update to them.


Agenda Item 8: Papers to Note

City Deals

  • The Graduate Medical School is an issue.
  • The CADRIC project needs to demonstrate more industry partnership.
  • A paper will be presented to Board soon on where more effort needs made on net zero.

Contracts register

  • No questions.

November EF Act DfE summary report to NIO

  • No questions.

November ARAC minutes

  • RHI Ofgem situation – we are engaging constructively with the Utility Regulator and have a project plan.

Agenda Item 9: ODT Agenda

Board members convened a Programme Board meeting.



Agenda Item 10: Any Other Business

There was no other business.




Date of next meeting: Thursday 25 January 2024 at Adelaide House in Belfast. 

Back to top