Department for the Economy Board minutes 2023 - 26 October 2023

Minutes from the Departmental Board meeting on 26 October 2023.


  • Mike Brennan (Chair)
  • David Malcolm
  • Louise Watson (deputising for Moira Doherty)
  • Shane Murphy
  • Richard Rodgers
  • Alan Russell
  • Michelle Scott (deputising for Paul Grocott)
  • Fiona Keenan (non-executive board member)
  • Michael McKavanagh (non-executive board member)

In attendance:

  • (Name redacted) (CMB)
  • (Name redacted) (Corporate Governance Secretariat)
  • Victor Dukelow (board observer)
  • Lisa Morgan (for ODT)
  • (Name redacted) (for IT item)
  • (Name redacted) (for Invest NI item)
  • (Name redacted) (for Invest NI item)
  • (Name redacted) (Boardroom Apprentice)


Michelle Bell, Moira Doherty and Paul Grocott. Marlene McIntyre 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: ODT agenda



Board members convened a Programme Board meeting.


Agenda Item 3: Review of IT systems across DfE

(Name redacted) presented: 

  • Recent cyber-attack on a major supplier. Subsequent investigation of DfE systems shows it is in a position of weakness.
  • A lot of smaller systems are out of support. One of the larger systems has issues which need to be addressed promptly. 1 system is 20 years old, out of support and needs updated.
  • Looking at other NICS solutions to replace unsupported smaller systems. Want to replace some using low code solutions which can be rapidly developed.
  • AI will drive efficiency but needs done in a secure manner.
  • The Board agreed that any new IT development projects are supported centrally within DfE,
  • The Board approved a scoping exercise to identify what the additional resource requirements are for this solution.
  • The insolvency application has been health checked and a medium risk identified – AP: A report to be produced on the detail of this.
  • It was noted that the final payment on the domestic RHI system will be made this year.













Name redacted





Agenda Item 4: Minutes of the meeting of 28 September

Agreed without amendment.


Agenda Item 5: Strategic Issues

Mike Brennan presented:


  • The NICS overspend for 2023/24 is currently estimated at slightly over £1.4bn.

Joe Kennedy Visit

  • This comes to an end tomorrow. Thanks to Shane’s team for their work.

Invest NI

  • Kieran Donoghue will be the new Chief Executive.
  • The Chair competition has launched.

FE Reform

  • An update was given to the current position of a severance scheme.
















Agenda Item 6: Budget Discussion

Sharon Hetherington presented:

  • DfE have commissioned the final budget exercise for 2023/24.
  • There is a plan in place to use up to £15m RDEL. Need to plan how to spend any further funding if it becomes available as there could be some significant easements/ underspends.
  • We should be able to utilise any CDEL.
  • Assurances have been received that Shared Prosperity funding will be spent.
  • Nothing received from DoF on future years budgets. An internal information gathering exercise will probably be commissioned.
  • Annual Report and Accounts – Auditors think C&AG may have these signed off by the end of November.

Agenda Item 7: Invest NI Review

(Names redacted) presented: -

  • The Action Plan has been published. 35 strategic actions across 17 areas. Each action underpinned by a delivery plan.
  • Stakeholder calibration & pre-launch engagement included HOCS endorsement, political engagement, Local Government engagement and external calibration with the Independent Review Panel, Frances Ruane, NI Business Alliance and Solace NI.
  • Mixed reactions to the Action Plan have been received.
  • Immediate actions taken were discussed.
  • Invest NI have a new written purpose.
  • Next steps to target outcomes will involve a DfE led Implementation Oversight Group and an Invest NI programme.
  • Immediate Priorities are: Enhanced oversight and assurance; Invest NI’s delivery structures, Implementation Oversight Group meeting 16th November and Quarterly assurance reporting from January 2024.
  • 45 staff from Invest NI have been identified to be redeployed to implement the Action Plan.




Agenda Item 8: Papers for Discussion

Resourcing and People Committee

David Malcolm led a discussion on vacancies:


  • We know where vacancies are but not if they are needed. Only line managers know the reality.
  • Some work areas are much busier than others. How important is the work that is being done? Are jobs being done by the wrong grades?
  • We need to challenge if there are genuine gaps, to be led by G3 down. AP: RPC need to be advised to challenge requests to fill vacant posts.
  • There has been concern that some Skills Academy staff didn’t have a job description or PPA for their post.


Results of 2023 NICS People Survey

David Malcolm led a discussion on the results of the survey; -

  • Disappointing results compared to last survey but DfE results above NICS average in all areas. A good response rate.
  • Leadership results surprisingly poor. Pay is an issue.
  • A lot of people want less hybrid working.
  • ODT work hadn’t factored in as the responses to the survey were 6 months ago.












David Malcolm











Agenda Item 9: Any Other Business


  • DfE are in front of the NI Affairs Committee in two weeks.
  • Business case being revised after being through Casework.
  • Plans for legislation are progressing. This needs to be through Parliament Q1 2024.

G3 Session 27/10/23

  • This is a 3-hour session. It is not clear what the agenda item is.

Date of next meeting: Thursday 30 November 2023, Adelaide House, Belfast.

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