Department for the Economy Board minutes 2023 - 29 June 2023

Minutes from the Departmental Board meeting on 29 June 2023.


  • Mike Brennan (chair)
  • David Malcolm
  • Mark Lee (deputising for Heather Cousins)
  • Shane Murphy
  • Sharon Hetherington
  • Richard Rodgers
  • Paul Grocott
  • Alan Russell
  • Fiona Keenan (non-executive board member)
  • Michael McKavanagh (non-executive board member)

In attendance

  • Name redacted (CMB)
  • Name redacted (CMB)
  • Name redacted (CMB secretariat)
  • Moira Doherty (board observer)
  • Name redacted (for risk/strategy session)
  • Professor Paul Bartholomew (For Ulster University presentation)
  • Professor Malachy O’Neill (For Ulster University presentation)
  • Professor Neal Cook (For Ulster University presentation)
  • Professor Daniel Kerr (For Ulster University presentation)


  • Michelle Bell,  (name redacted) and Heather Cousins

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: Ulster University Presentation & Tour of Magee Campus

Ulster University (UU) Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Bartholomew welcomed the Board to Magee Campus and presented.

  • Introduction to UU strategy. Values are placed at its centre - inclusion, integrity, enhancing potential and collaboration.
  • Purpose is, as a multi-campus university, they are transformative, unlocking the potential of people, place and partnership to build sustainable futures for all.
  • Academic activity spin outs equate to 36,000 jobs.
  • UU is second for research impact in UK.
  • Average benefit to cost ratio is 5.1 in UK and 7.1 for UU.
  • UU 3 aims were discussed.
  • UU 9 commitments were discussed.
  • From strategy to action:- 1 strategy with subsidiary operational plans; strategy deliberately concise, not exhaustive; each operational plan will cover strategy and will be much more specific; 4 levers we can use to enact change.
  • The overlap between DfE, economy, universities and society was discussed.

Professor Malachy O’Neill, Director of Regional Engagement, Professor Neal Cook, Head of School of Nursing and Paramedic Science and Professor Daniel Kerr, Head of School of Health Sciences led a tour of the campus.


Agenda Item 2: Board Register of Interests/ Conflicts

No new interests declared.


  • Heather Cousins will be transferring to Department for Education and the board wished to thank her for her work in DfE.
  • Moira Doherty was welcomed to the board and will be replacing Heather from August.

Agenda Item 3: Minutes of the meeting of 25 May

Agreed without amendment.


Agenda Item 4: Strategic Issues

Mike Brennan presented:-

Political talks in advance of any restoration of an Assembly

  • These have been paused until after the summer holiday break.


  • Any additional UKG funding may be conditional.

Further Education pay

  • This is proving difficult. Awaiting an update from the colleges.

Invest NI

  • A permanent Chair is now expected in Jan/Feb 2024 with plans for a new permanent Chief Executive by Christmas.
  • Restructuring of their Executive Leadership Team is being discussed at their Board meeting today.

Joe Kennedy US Special Envoy

  • Mr Kennedy visited for two days which involved a good spread of the economy.
  • Many requests to meet him have been received for his next visit in September. We have identified key strengths and how he can assist NI. We are ensuring that our asks are consistent with our strategy and the right people are involved.
  • We engaged with him on the community wealth model and energy delivery.

Security of electricity supply

  • There was a discussion on security of electricity supply margins.
  • Flows through the interconnector from the south are under pressure due to supply constraints and there will be more tension in the system this winter. We are working with the Utility Regulator and GB to minimise any impact.
  • Comms to the public are being developed for the coming winter about use of electricity at peak times.

Agenda Item 5: Budget Discussion

Sharon Hetherington presented.

  • There has not been much change since last Board meeting.
  • Our budget proposals are out to consultation.
  • 10 responses have been received to date and will be considered before the budget is finalised.
  • We will publish a response after 4 weeks, and then after the further 8 week period. Responses in the second phase will be used to inform any in-year funding decisions.
  • We need to think collectively about mitigations.
  • We may redirect any available funding to areas that have had significant cuts.
  • DoF intend to commission an information gathering exercise on capital DEL.


Agenda Item 6: Papers for Brief Discussion

Proposal for 2023/24 Inclusive Growth Plan in Line with 10x Objectives

Mark Lee led a discussion. Five recommendations were presented.

  • Recommendation 1 was agreed. 
  • Recommendation 5 was approved regarding an internal inclusive growth mini-survey.
  • Wording in recommendation 3 discussed – part time roles might be able to be accommodated. It was clarified that a guaranteed interview for those with disabilities means they would not be sifted if they meet basic criteria but not guaranteed an interview depending on panel capacity. 
  • A job share forum within DfE was discussed. AP- a specific proposition to be developed.
  • Re recommendation 3, it was agreed DfE should be an exemplar and we should be proactive.
  • AP – need to write to NICSHR about the way we want to go forward. Letter should say that principles should be embedded.
  • Board recommendation that we table a paper at next PSS and SOLACE Group meeting highlighting our intention to commit to the Belfast Promise and encouraging other Departments to consider doing the same.

DfE Annual Report on Staff Engagement & Year End Update on 2022/23 People Plan

  • We need to manage a message around this.
  • We need a performance indicator and accountability.




















Mark Lee






Mark Lee

Agenda Item 7: Papers to Note

HR Update

  • No questions.

Invest NI Review

  • There will be a full discussion next month.

City and Growth Deals

  • No questions.

CITB NI Business Delivery Plan 2023/24 and Strategic Plan

  • No questions.

MAY EF Act DfE monthly summary report to NIO

  • No questions.

ARAC Minutes 30 May 2023

  • Action point re impact of suppression of staff posts. Critical posts can be filled when required but loss of expertise is a concern.

Annual Health and Safety Report 2022/23

  • Due to flexible working there is limited opportunity for fire wardens to practice evacuations. A walkthrough for fire wardens was suggested. AP – to ask DfE H&S to consider.

10x Technologies

  • To note that only a sample has been given on the Board paper, not a full list. This gives a flavour of direction and travel.



















David Malcolm








Agenda Item 8: Organisational Development and Transformation

Board members convened a Programme Board meeting.  


Agenda Item 9: Any Other Business

There was no other business





Agenda Item 10:

Draft 10x Delivery Plan 2023/24

Paul Grocott presented.

  • Innovation is strong but we will not hit our targets.
  • A lot more work is needed to embed innovation.
  • Partner Organisations are listening to what we are telling them and responding.
  • We are publishing next week.
  • Going forward the Board will be interested in monitoring.
  • This needs to be more performance based using metrics developed.
  • Needs to be a collaborative effort with other NICS Departments.
  • This is a different approach to previous years – need to demonstrate differences and where the value is.



Agenda Item 11:Board Operating Framework Review

(Name redacted) presented.

  • Board Operating Framework should be reviewed every 2 years.
  • Currently amending so it aligns with 10x.
  • Recommendations of the last external review of DfE Board have been reflected in the Framework.
  • It was agreed that the current composition of the Board and its sub-committees did not need changed.
  • It was noted that good practice was for a Board meeting to be for 2 hours and never more than 3.
  • Appointment of a replacement, 3rd Non-Executive Board member is being considered. Someone with skills in transformation & change or science would be preferable.
  • Too many papers to note are coming to Board which can limit time. Going forward they will be circulated to members in advance and only appear on the agenda if discussion is requested.









Agenda Item 12: Risk Management

(Name redacted) presented.


  • The Framework has been updated very recently.
  • It was agreed to retain the 4 risk appetite levels.
  • DfE are hungry on strategy and risk averse.
  • All risks should only be recorded on Decision Time.
  • A checkpoint with Divisions annually is helpful but biennially at longest.



Agenda Item 13: Stakeholder Engagement Plan

(Name redacted) presented.


  • A plan was presented for the remainder of 2023 and Board members gave suggestions to be explored going into 2024.
  • The next Annual Risk/Strategy session will take place in January 2024 to get it back on cycle.



Agenda Item 14: Annual Evaluation of Performance of the Board

(Name redacted) presented.

  • An anonymised summary of questionnaires completed by Board members was presented for discussion.



Date of next meeting: Thursday 31 August 2023 at Adelaide House, Belfast.  

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