Minutes of the VSS Board Meeting No 77

Board Meeting Type: Quarterly Board Meeting      

Wednesday 20 January 2021 at 10:30am

Remote – via Zoom



Board Members Present:

Oliver Wilkinson (OW)               Chair

Patricia Haren (PH)                   Board Member

Bertha McDougall (BMcD)         Board Member

Richard Solomon (RS)               Board Member


VSS Officers in Attendance:

Margaret Bateson (MB)             Chief Executive Officer

Andrew Walker (AW)                 Acting Head of Operations

Tara Lewsley (TL)                     Acting Head of Corporate Services

Bryan Leonard (BL)                   Head of Health and Wellbeing

Melissa McCartan (MM)             Business Support Officer (minutes)



A      Apologies


Apologies received from VSS Board member, Beverley Clarke.



B      Minutes of Previous Meeting


The minutes of the previous Board meeting held on 09 December 2020 were approved.

C      Action Points


TL provided an update on the outstanding actions points. The following key points were noted:


31.03.20 AP1: Board to review structure and mix of skills of Health and Wellbeing Committee. TL advised the Board that the HWB Committee is currently working towards appointment of a specialist member to bring additional clinical experience.

30.07.20 AP1: HCS to research online training for Board members. TL advised training has been scheduled to take place in February 2021. This AP has now been completed.

21.10.20 AP1: VSS Board to issue letter re: HIA risks to the Department ahead of meeting on 23.10.20. This AP has now been closed.


21.10.20 AP2: Secure gateway to be set up for VSS Board members. TL advised the Board that the gateway system has been identified and testing will take place January 2021.

10.11.20 AP1: SMT to draft 2020/21 Board Objectives and issue to VSS Board for approval. It was noted draft has been agreed by VSS Chair.

In relation to MSFM Ref 4.4.3, Ministers shall meet with the Board formally each year, it was noted MB will seek an update on this.


D      Conflict of Interest


D1    Supplier List / Agenda Items


The Board noted this paper.


D2    Declaration Form


No conflicts of interest were declared.


E      Chairman’s Report 


The Chairman provided the Board with details of his recent engagements and correspondence received during the quarter.


It was noted VSS Chair and CEO continue to meet regularly with the Commission of Victims and Survivors.



F      Quarter End December 2020


F1    CEO/AO Exception Report


MB provided an update on the current progress against business plan targets and delivering on outcomes.


The Board noted one new risk added during the quarter, which relates to a potential gap in funding between the Peace IV and Peace Plus programme. It was noted VSS have provided TEO with monthly costs to sustain the programme should any gaps arise and that VSS will continue to monitor the situation and engage with TEO around funding opportunities for the continued support of victims and survivors and employment of staff.


The Chair asked for an update on STG59, Persistent Pain - Home Heat. MB advised VSS has put in place operational procedures to make risk assessment payments to vulnerable clients with a demonstrated and verified history of spending their full Home Heat award. It was noted receipts have been sought from clients assessed as higher risk in advance of the second payment being made.  The Board noted that there is no risk to public funding with the approach discussed and agreed to review at next Board meeting.


There was discussion around self-directed assistance and acknowledgement for the Bereaved. MB advised Ministers have approved the submission in principle and TEO officials now need to agree an implementation plan with ministers.  It is anticipated that payments will be issued in April 2021, with an annual payment thereafter.  


F2    Quarterly ALB Performance Report


The Board noted this paper.


F2.1   Annex 1 - Strategic Risk Register


The Board noted this paper.


F2.2    Annex 2 – Budget Report


The Board noted this paper.


F3    Quarterly Assurance Statement


The Board noted this paper.


F4    Quarterly Outcomes Based M&E 


The Board noted this paper.


G      Board Sub Committees


G1    Audit and Risk Committee Update


BMcD and RS provided an update on the most recent ARC meeting, held on Wednesday 13 January 2021.


There was discussion around the completion of the 2019/20 Annual Report & Accounts. BMcD raised a concern relating to NIAO’s request of documentation given the current Government guidance and restrictions. The Board noted this issue.


G2    Health & Wellbeing Committee Update


PH provided an update on the most recent Health & Wellbeing Committee meeting, held on Tuesday 11 November 2020.  


It was noted Committee members recently attended a workshop with an external facilitator to look at the effectiveness of the VSS HWB Committee. As covered within the AP’s, PH highlighted that the Committee is working towards appointment of a specialist member to bring additional clinical experience.


H      Board Workplan and Development


H1    Board Attendance/Work Plan


TL provided an update on the Board Work Plan. It was noted VSS Chair has agreed the VSS Board Objectives 2020/21 draft.


20.01.21 - AP1: VSS Board Objectives 2020/21 to be issued to all Board members and agreed via email.


H2    Board Training Update and Questionnaire


The Board noted this paper. 


H3    Board Self-Assessment Update                                   


The Board noted this paper. 


I       Standing Agenda Items


  I1     Compliance Update


TL provided the Board with an update on the three suspected fraud cases open at the quarter end. It was noted further contact has been made with CCNI in January 2021 in relation to the longstanding case. No response has been received to date.


Of the 2 active cases open at the quarter end, both have been referred on to TEO and GFIS, who have subsequently engaged the PSNI/Gardai.


Of the four debtor balances identified at quarter end, it was noted all cases are actively being sought by VSS, with one now referred on to legal. 

The Board noted that there was one whistleblowing allegation raised in respect of a funded organisation during the period. TL advised an initial investigation has found no evidence to substantiate these allegations.

There were no new Ombudsman complaints were received in the quarter.

There are no ongoing governance reviews at 31 December 2020 and no assembly questions received.

The Board noted two FOI requests were carried forward from the previous quarter and a further three were received in the quarter. A full response was prepared and issued for all requests. TL advised all requests are now closed.

It was noted that one complaint was made to VSS in the quarter. VSS have issued an acknowledgement and will provide a written response in due course.

TL provided an update on call handling for Q3 2020-21. It was noted call volumes were extremely high during the month of October, which was largely down to client queries in respect of their Home Heating award. 

It was noted that the percentage of missed calls is being closely monitored on a weekly basis and TL provided the Board with an update on a few key issues identified as being the root cause of this issue.


GDPR Update

No data breaches occurred during the period.

One Data Sharing Agreement is still outstanding from a VSP funded group. TL advised work is ongoing on this matter but existing data sharing agreements remain in place.


  I2   Client Risk Update


No client risk to note.

I3   Data Protection Update


Covered within compliance paper.  


 J     AOB


The Board reviewed risk STG50, which relates to VSS Board being under quota. It was highlighted that this is now a high level risk to VSS and the Board agreed to escalate risk from amber to red.


20.01.21 – AP2: Increase risk STG50, VSS Board under quota, from amber to red.


There was discussion around the implementation of the Victims Payment Scheme and the Governments response to the Committee’s interim report on addressing the legacy of NI’s past.


K     Date of Next Meeting


The next meeting of the Board is scheduled to take place on Tuesday 9th February 2021 via Zoom.