Minutes of the VSS Board Meeting No 82

Board Meeting Type: Quarterly Board Meeting      

Tuesday 27 July 2021 at 10:00am

Europa Hotel, Belfast



Board Members Present:

Oliver Wilkinson (OW)               Chair

Patricia Haren (PH)                   Board Member

Bertha McDougall (BMcD)         Board Member

Beverley Clarke (BC)                  Board Member (via Zoom)

Richard Solomon (RS)              Board Member (via Zoom)


VSS Officers in Attendance:

Margaret Bateson (MB)             Chief Executive Officer

Andrew Walker (AW)                Acting Head of Service Development

Tara Lewsley (TL)                     Acting Head of Corporate Services (minutes)

Bryan Leonard (BL)                   Head of Health and Wellbeing



A      Apologies





B      Minutes of Previous Meeting


The minutes of the previous Board meeting held on 08 June 2021 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. MB advised the Board that the HWB Committee is currently working towards appointment of a specialist member with consideration being given to an Expression of Interest across the NICS via TEO

21.10.20 AP2: Secure gateway to be set up for VSS Board members. TL advised the Board that the original gateway system has been deemed unsuitable and testing of an alternative system will take place now in Q2 2021/22.  

08.06.21 AP1: Head of Corporate Services to review Audit and Risk Committee ToR in line with Board ToR. This review has been completed and necessary changes in respect of membership of the committee ahead of the public appointments process for new board members will be made in October 2021.

In relation to MSFM Ref 4.4.3, Ministers shall meet with the Board formally each year, MB advised there is no further update.


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 June 2021


F1    CEO/AO Exception Report


MB provided an update on the current progress against business plan targets and delivering on outcomes.  It was noted that all targets remain on track at this point in the year.


MB provided an update on the payments of Home Heating awards to eligible victims and survivors for 2021/22 with the Ministers having approved a policy change to allow the scheme be a self-directed assistance (cash based) award, hence no longer requiring receipts. Unfortunately the policy was not retrospectively changed for 2020/21 and so payments of the 21/22 awards were to date currently contingent upon receipts being provided for the 2020/21 award, with £80k of receipts (16%) remaining outstanding. MB advised the Board that a risk analysis was being undertaken currently to assess this continued need to chase receipts. A decision on the payments of the 2021/22 Home Heating awards to all eligible clients would then be for the VSS Accounting Officer.


The board noted that there was continued engagements between VSS, TEO and COSICA with key practical issues remaining under discussion.


MB provided an update on the co-design process in respect of Health and Wellbeing Support Services for Mother and Baby Institutions, Magdalene Laundries and Workhouses. The board noted that VSS staff had engaged with 27 individual survivors as well as other agencies such as Adopt NI and that this engagement would continue throughout August. VSS have been asked by the Department of Health to prepare a business case for the provision of Health and Wellbeing services for survivors.


The board noted continued engagement in respect of the Regional Trauma Network with key stakeholders.


MB provided an update on the co-design process for the new victims strategy advising that AW was leading on this for VSS and encouraged the board to participate in any upcoming meetings for stakeholders.


MB then invited AW to provide an update in respect of the Troubles Permanent Disablement Payment Scheme (TPDPS). AW advised the board that the scheme is set to open on 31 August 2021.The Department of Justice (DoJ) will set the application form live on their website at this date and NI Direct will take calls on behalf of DoJ. VSS have added welfare offices across some funded organisations as well as staff internally to support victims and survivors in making these applications. The board discussed the scheme and drew some comparisons with the HIA redress board and lessons to be learnt there whilst recognising the differences including the volume of applications expected. 


MB updated the board that given the volume and complexity of work the organisation is now involved in, this leads to greater risks. Staffing structures need to be reviewed as part of the risk mitigation in respect of the identified risks to staff health and wellbeing. This review will be taken forward in late autumn. Alongside this, personal ownership of self-care will be promoted with staff.


The board noted that AW will be taking on the interim CEO role again whilst MB has a period study leave/annual leave.


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 provided an update on the most recent ARC meeting, held on Wednesday 21 July 2021. It was noted that this was the first meeting attended by Jonathan McCullough, newly co-opted to the committee.


BMCD & RS highlighted queries were raised to NIAO in respect of the audit fee increases for 2021/22 and that the committee have requested information in respect of the assessment of programme risk levels from NIAO.


G2    Audit and Risk Committee Annual Report 2020/21


        The Board noted this paper


G3    Health & Wellbeing Committee Update


PH provided an update on the most recent Health & Wellbeing Committee meeting, held on Tuesday 4 May 2021.   



H      Board Workplan and Development


H1    Board Attendance/Work Plan


The Board noted this paper.


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.


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


The Board noted there were no new whistleblowing allegations raised in the quarter and one allegation brought forward was closed.

There are no ongoing governance reviews at 30 June 2021. There were seven assembly questions received in the quarter ended June 2021 with a response provided to each.

The Board noted Three FOI requests were received, and a response was provided for two of these within the required timeframe. The response to a third request is currently being prepared and is expected to be released within the required timeframe.

TL advised five complaints were received by VSS during the quarter. Four of these complaints were received from VSS clients with one referred to a funded organisation as the complaint related to their service, not VSS. One complaint relating to a funded group was passed to the VSS Board, and remains open at the end of the quarter. All other complaints have been closed, with one complaint upheld, and another partially upheld.

The Board noted that were no Ombudsman complaints received in the quarter to 30 June 2021. Two Ombudsman complaints were carried forward from the previous quarter. One of these cases has since been closed, whilst the second case remains open with no response yet received.

TL provided an update on the call handling, noting incoming calls remained high in April 2021 due to the INP 21/22 launch and queries relating to the Troubles Permanent Disablement Payment Scheme and the reopening of the SDA Bereaved Scheme. It was noted that missed call percentages have increased in the quarter. Call data is being interrogated to determine the reasons for this.

GDPR Update

A revised Data Sharing Agreement has been agreed and is currently being finalised. This will then be shared with all funded organisations at the earliest opportunity.

No new data incidents were recorded during the period.


  I2   Client Risk Update


No client risk to note.


I3   Data Protection Update


Covered within compliance paper.  


 J     AOB




K     Date of Next Meeting


The next meeting of the Board is scheduled to take place on Tuesday 14 September 2021 via Zoom.