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  • 30 May 2023

Board meeting - 30 May 2023

The one hundred and eighty-sixth meeting of the Agency Board took place at 1.00 pm on Tuesday 30 May 2023 in the Boardroom, Angus Smith Building, 6 Parklands Avenue, Eurocentral, Holytown, ML14WQ.


  • Bob Downes (Chair)
  • Fran van Dijk
  • Nicola Gordon
  • Martin Hill
  • Craig Hume
  • Julie Hutchison
  • Harpreet Kohli
  • Philip Matthews
  • Nicole Paterson (CEO) (items 1-15 and 21)

In attendance

  • Lin Bunten - Acting Chief Officer, Compliance and Beyond (items 1-20)
  • Jenny Faichney - Unit Manager CLT and Board Support
  • Kieron Gallagher - Head of Governance (items 1-20)
  • Martin Grey - Head of Communications and Marketing (items 1-20)
  • Laura Hamilton - PA to Chief Executive (items 1-20)
  • David Harley - Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy (items 1-20)
  • Jennifer McWhirter - Clerk to the Board
  • Angela Milloy - Chief Officer Finance (Acting CEO for items 16-20) (items 1-20)
  • David Pirie - Executive Director, Evidence and Flooding (items 1-20)
  • Jennifer Russell - Acting Chief Officer, People and Property

Safe SEPA @ Board

The Clerk to the Board reminded Board Members of their role in providing scrutiny and to challenge fellow board members, the CEO, and senior management team as appropriate. When doing this in a public session of a meeting, Members were advised that even if there are no members of the public in attendance, anything said is being said in the public domain and will be included in the Minutes of that meeting. Members were reminded to think about how they express their views, opinions and/or challenges accordingly and that this also applies in virtual meetings when using app functions such as MS Teams Chat. Further general information can be found in the Model Code of Conduct and in the Standards Commission advice and guidance.

1. Chair’s opening remarks

The Chair welcomed everyone to the meeting, including Kieron Gallagher, deputising for the Acting Chief Officer for Performance & Innovation, Bridget Marshall; Jonathon Frost from Discovery Coaching; and Kirsty Paterson, the newly appointed Chief People Officer joining SEPA on 14 August 2023.

The Chair confirmed that there was no fire alarm test scheduled that day and advised what to do if the alarm did go off.

The Chair informed the Board that the meeting on 25 July 2023 is now going to be virtual. It was confirmed that the Board meetings on 27 June, 25 July and 26 September 2023 will all be online via MS teams and the Board Planning day on 6 September 2023 will be in person in Glasgow.

The Clerk to the Board informed the Board about the UK Government Boardroom Apprenticeship Pilot Programme for 2023-24 funded by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC). The Clerk advised that applications are now being sought from public bodies operating in Scotland with a view to becoming host Boards. The next phase of the project for participants and boards runs from January to December 2024. Host Boards are asked to identify an individual from the Board to support the shadow person whilst on the programme and to allow the participant to attend Board meetings. The closing date for Boards to request an interest is 30 June 2023. Board members were supportive of this initiative and were asked to advise the Clerk as soon as possible if they are interested in volunteering so she can take this forward for SEPA.

Action: Clerk to the Board

The Chair confirmed that a 5-minute break had been scheduled before the private session.

The Chair confirmed that no members of the public were in attendance and that SEPA had received no approaches in advance of the meeting.

2. Apologies for absence

Apologies for absence were received from Nicky Chambers and Bridget Marshall.

3. Order of business

The order of business was as outlined on the agenda, subject to one change; bringing forward agenda item 21 to take place before the Chemicals discussion under item 16.

4. Declarations of interest

No declarations of interests were made.

5. Approval of minutes of meeting of 25 April 2023

The minutes of the meeting held on 25 April 2023 were approved as an accurate record of the meeting.

The following clarifications on the minute were provided:

The Board support team has recorded the Board’s interest in holding a joint seminar session with Scottish Water to develop relationships and understanding once Scottish Water’s new CEO has settled in post. This will be added to the action sheet and an appropriate date found.

Action: Clerk to the Board/Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy

Under the Safe SEPA @ Board update, the Clerk to the Board had asked that Board members provide feedback to her on progress with the learning modules for Board members available on a Scottish Government hub and confirmation if the modules have been completed. Board members asked if they could be resent the link to the modules, and receive a briefing on what was expected of them, including whether the training was mandatory. The Clerk to the Board agreed to follow up on this with Scottish Government.

Action: Clerk to the Board

6. Matters arising

The Clerk to the Board provided an update. The following updates to the actions were noted:

Action 736 - SEPA has been liaising with Scottish Government and the MoD. The MoD contractor is currently reporting physical works to be completed in late June or early July. Successful remediation can only be declared by SEPA and is dependent on the MoD contractor demonstrating successful completion to SEPA, with liaison ongoing. An engagement plan is in development, working with Scottish Government and MoD; the Agency Board will be kept updated and afforded an opportunity to participate in any planned event(s). Ongoing to June 2023. Further updates will be provided to the Board when available.

Action 737 - Briefing uploaded to Diligent Boards. Proposed closed.

Action 738 - Further detail about SEPA’s work with Scottish Water is provided in Appendix A in the paper on Water Management tabled for this meeting (SEPA 26/23). Proposed closed.

Action 739 - A new approach is to be piloted. Ongoing to Sept 2023.

Action 740 - Linked to action 738. As above, further detail about SEPA’s work with Scottish Water is provided in paper SEPA 26/23. This was too soon to be used as a pilot for a new format of Board papers. Proposed closed.

7. Chair’s report – verbal

The Chair provided a verbal update on his activities since the last Agency Board meeting in April 2023. The focus of the Chair’s activities has been on appraisals for Board members which are now all complete. Approval is currently being sought from Scottish Government on the re-appointments of the four members who want to continue from January 2024.

The Chair advised that he continues to put in requests to Scottish Government to progress the recruitment process for new Board members, including in a letter to the Cabinet Secretary and in his appraisal with the Director for Environment & Forestry.

The issue of Board recruitment has also been followed up by SEPA’s CEO with the Deputy-Directors, and the Clerk to the Board with the Sponsor Unit in Scottish Government. Little progress has been made and the search is continuing for independent panel members to assist with the recruitment exercise. SEPA has provided suggestions for advisors for this panel and had input to the Job/Person Specification. There are currently no further updates to report.

Following a query on whether Board members can talk to potential interested individuals who may wish to apply, the Chair confirmed that they should do so. SEPA is also preparing communications that can follow once the adverts and timeline for appointments have been released by the Scottish Government’s Public Appointments Team. A “coming soon” message will also be considered for SEPA’s website on Board Recruitment to alert interested parties that information on recruitment will follow soon and refer to the Public Appointments website.

Action: Clerk to the Board/Head of Communications

Other activities undertaken by the Chair since the April 2023 Board meeting included a positive meeting with COSLA which the CEO is following up on with a meeting with SOLACE in the coming weeks. Other external meetings attended during the period included with Stephen Boyle, the Auditor General for Scotland, which provided a good sense of the practical aspects of government policy. The Chair also referred to a meeting he was attending the following day, 31 May 2023, for all the Chairs of public bodies in Scotland on public sector reform.

In closing this item, the Chair again referred to Board Recruitment being his focus and invited Board members to let him know if they had any thoughts to help with this.

The Board noted the update.

8. Management reports

8.1 Chief Executive’s Report (SEPA 24/23)

Chief Executive’s Report - SEPA 24/23

The CEO introduced the report, commenting on how much has been achieved in the short time since her April 2023 report to the Board. She highlighted the following key areas of work:

  • The launch of SEPA’s Annual Operating Plan.
  • Work underway on SEPA’s new corporate plan and new approach to regulation (covered in a separate agenda item in the private session of this meeting).
  • External meetings she has held with other CEOs, including at Loch
  • Lomond & Trossachs National Park.
  • Internal staff meetings.

Reference was also made to the appointment of the new Chief People Officer, Kirsty Paterson, starting on 14 August 2023 and the private session on the agenda later in the meeting (item 21) on potential changes to the structure of the Corporate Leadership Team (CLT).

The CEO reflected on the variety of work over a short period and the stories captured in her report on what SEPA is achieving in partnership.

The Acting Chief Officer for Compliance drew the Board’s attention to an error under section 2.13 of the report and asked that this is corrected before the report is published on the website, apologising that this had not been picked up in advance of being sent to the Board.

Action: Clerk to the Board

SEPA’s role with respect to the recycling of end-of-life wind turbine blades was clarified in response to a question (section 2.13).

Following a query on section 2.1, it was confirmed that SEPA staff do wear body cameras when undertaking certain duties, including investigating alleged illegal waste sites.

In response to a question on section 2.5, it was clarified that the cost-recovery work presented under the Mossmorran Air Quality Network is currently funded through Grant-in-Aid, but may be reviewed as part of SEPA’s wider consultation on Charging to follow later this year. Under this section, Board members also commented that they were pleased to see engagement with the National Health Service.

The Board noted the CEO’s engagement with staff and that it was good to know that staff are speaking up and engaging at senior level.

Lastly, reference was made to section 4.5 of the report which provided an update on IT systems, with detail sought on where SEPA is on the journey. The Executive Director Evidence & Flooding reported that the technical side is progressing well but that the system side is slow, confirming that he could provide further information in the future.

Action: Executive Director Evidence & Flooding

The Board noted the report.

8.2 Quarter 4 Performance Report (SEPA 22/23)

Quarter 4 Performance Report - SEPA 22/23

The Head of Governance (as delegated for the Chief officer Performance and innovation) introduced the report highlighting that three of the previous ambers are now green, with two remaining red.

In response to a question about the potential interest, including by the media, in respect of the greenhouse gas emissions target and whether it is achievable if SEPA cannot make its target, the CEO advised that the explanation in the report is important. She advised that the target was unsustainable due to hybrid working and acknowledged that SEPA needs to move faster to modernise and give people the tools they need. She drew attention to the journey the organisation is embarking on with Silvan House and Glenrothes closing and the move to a new hub in Edinburgh. It provides staff with a city centre location, good train links and meeting space.

In response to a question in respect of Regulator measure 3 – increased monitoring,and the continued reference to the cyber-attack, the CEO advised that the language will be revisited as we are moving forward, and the report updated prior to publication.

Action: Clerk to the Board

In response to comments on the wellbeing measure and the pulse survey results, the CEO advised that the single question asked depends on how an individual is feeling at that time, but not why and what the cause is. The wider People Survey planned for later this year will give more insight.

The Board commented that information on workload and knowing how often and when individuals are opening emails and logging onto the SEPA systems could help with targeting the circulation of surveys.

In response to a question about there not being any people risk on the corporate risk register when we are a people organisation and whether having this would give it more prominence, the Head of Governance advised that there is a draft risk around people as this is something the Board has mentioned previously and has been discussed by the Risk Management Group. The People Committee is also discussing the risk around specialist staff and recruitment on 20 June 2023.

The Board asked for more visibility of the process and next level of the risk registers as not all risks make it onto the corporate risk register.

Action: Acting Chief Officer Performance & Innovation

The Board noted the report.

8.3 Quarter 4 Financial Monitoring Report (SEPA 25/23)

Quarter 4 Financial Monitoring Report - SEPA 25/23

The Chief Officer Finance introduced the report highlighting that the Audit & Risk Committee had scrutinised it on 11 May 2023 in advance of its submission to the Board. The year end timetable is still being worked through therefore the report remains in draft. She highlighted that the interim audit preparation had begun with no issues raised at the moment, advising that this cannot be confirmed until sign off.

She drew attention to the £1.9m underspend linked to the pre-cyber debt recover and the £0.7m from Scottish Government for the pay award. The forecast was £2m – £2.5m so this has reduced. The variance around staff costs is due to the encouragement to take flexi and annual leave. The Civil penalties (section 4) are collected on behalf of the Scottish Government with SEPA receiving no admin support or fee for this. This will be followed up with Scottish Government. She concluded by highlighting the £4.5 m capital budget.

In response to a question about the additional charging income, the Chief Officer Finance confirmed that this is 100% cost recovery, we cannot profit.

The Chair of the Audit & Risk Committee advised that the Committee want to continue to see these reports at special one item agenda meetings.

In response to a question to the staff cost variance while service remains the same, the Chief Officer Finance advised that there has been quite a lot of staff churn early in the year and that the quarter two reports will show more detail.

The Board approved the report.

9. Water Management Overview (SEPA 26/23 and Presentation)

Water Management Overview - SEPA 26/23

The Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy introduced the report advising that before the deep dive into water management planned for the 27 June 2023 Strategy Board this is an outline of the framework, highlighting that the context of the Corporate Plan is important.

SEPA’s Water work is controlled/ influenced by the River Basin Management Plan (RBMP) produced 2 years ago. It describes the condition and classification of 3000 water bodies. For every water body that does not have good status there is a plan to improve it. There are multiple components to a classification.

The Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy advised that protect, adapt, improve is the language being used in the new Corporate Plan and provided detail on this. “Protect” takes up most of water management resource in SEPA including permitting, responding to incidents, and planning responses. “Improve”, with an example given of the Board’s visit that morning, uses different tools. It is underpinned by regulation, with Scottish Government funding needed to secure improvement. “Adaptation” is more important going forward. It has developed over the last ten/twelve years. Examples include rural and urban drainage and water scarcity and there is a big cross over with flooding work as well as the barriers work around biodiversity.

The Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy described the journey over the last ten to fifteen years, with the thinking about parameters with a focus on upgrades. Highlighting that the thinking now is more systemic - how we drain cities and about manage land for example. The public interest has also shifted to CSOs, water quality and bathing beaches.

The Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy drew attention to the Scottish Water information contained in the annex to the paper, as requested by the Board, and highlighted the forthcoming session with the Board in June 2023 and the aim to set environmental outcomes for the Corporate Plan. There are options to look deeper into some of the areas described in the paper, or to think about the presentation of this work as key outcome areas for the Corporate Plan. The Board commented that it would be good to see figures to get a sense of numbers and relativity about whether things are getting better or worse.

In response to a question about 2027 being the next measurement point what the most important levers are to secure a result by then querying whether it is a doubling of resource and effort, the Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy advised that there are two big areas. Diffuse pollution due to the complex nature of issues where we are taking a step back and reflecting on our approach. SEPA’s Farm visits are a European exemplar but is it making a difference. The second area is barrier removal and restoration where we do not have enough money to meet targets. It is WEF funded.

In response to a question whether there are other ways to achieve the outcomes without more money, the Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy advised that with barriers no, this is where the money is needed. The Chief Officer Finance advised that the Charging review could look at charging for diffuse pollution but that we would need to be clear who we were charging as at times it will be difficult to prove, acknowledging the polluter pays principle.

The Board commented that the paper was a good useful backdrop for further discussion but raised an issue with being asked to prioritise and suggest additional topics without knowing what the criteria used to prioritise is – is it policy, political imperative, costs etc. The Board noted the need to be informed when there is public interest, for example in relation to CSOs.

In response to a question about Scottish Government declaring a biodiversity crisis with wild salmon with salmon becoming scarcer and whether we can measure what is delivered to understand and address these issues, the Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy highlighted the impact of Climate Change on food source in the North Atlantic and that it is difficult to get a relative picture of the impact of our work on wild salmon. What degree we are helping to increase the resilience is difficult to quantify.

The Acting Chief Officer for Compliance drew attention to the launch of the consultation tomorrow (31 May) on the proposed framework for regulating sea lice, advising that it might start to tell us if the actions we are taking are having any impact on the return of wild salmon. It will take a long time to see impact of the action in the framework – 10 years.

The CEO drew attention to the work of Environmental Standards Scotland (ESS) on Barriers, reminding the Board of the update provided in April 2023.

The Chair concluded by highlighting that this was the right framework for discussion; choices have to be made as not everything can be looked at which is why deep dives are important. These can also take place away from Board meetings, using the Board Buddy groups or by putting updates in the Resource Centre on Diligent Boards

In response to a question about the filters that can be used to help decide on priority areas, the Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy advised that Ministerial objectives are important as we are required to do what is in plan. It is not our decision, but we can influence.

The CEO highlighted the opportunity for SEPA to take leadership as it has the science and expertise, and can help other agencies. We need to position ourselves.

The Board commented on the importance of clear outcomes to be able to explain the delivery to others – a clear narrative to underpin what we do.

The Board noted the report.

10. Ten years restoring rivers through the Water Environment Fund (SEPA 27/23)

Ten years restoring rivers through the Water Environment Fund - SEPA 27/23 & Presentation

The Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy introduced the report and presentation. He set out how to regulate to get improvement in the water environment including theneed for a licence as SEPA permit the work. This links into the “protect” item in the previous discussion (item 9). The “improve” element discussed at item 9 started circa thirteen years ago with the commencement of the Water Environment Fund (WEF).

Lessons were learnt during the first few years, and it was decided to keep it going. SEPA is a regulator, and this was the first time there had been a funding strand. Careful discussion had to take place as some activities had the potential to increase pollution or flooding. River Basin Management Planning (RBMP) is about upgrades, the WEF work includes climate change and adaption (again linked to item 9), joining initiatives and undertaking early work to change urban areas – blue/green cities and novel ways of reducing carbon. There are also big biodiversity gains and community benefits.

The Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy explained that WEF have not done many rural developments but gave an example of the Rottal Burn as well as urban examples: Stane Gardens, Tollcross, Garrell Burn and Lyne Burn, highlighting that urban restorations are more expensive and more complicated. He also gave examples of barriers work: the River Almond (where work on six of the seven barriers is complete), Gottar Weir, Gateside Mill and Bronie Burn.

He concluded by advising that the WEF team is supported by a range of other teams within the organisation and that the difference they are making is clear.

The Board noted that the presentation helped put the morning visit in context.

In response to a question about the health of individuals being missing as a benefit, the Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy confirmed that better measures are needed to articulate this benefit. The Board commented that the NHS could be a partner in respect of health.

In response to a question about the engagement with others such as NatureScot and Sustrans, the Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy advised that WEF has worked with Sustrans previously.

The Board commented on the link between funding and quality of life and queried whether there were opportunities around equality and the charity sector.

The Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy advised that the WEF funding is not guaranteed but that SEPA has indications from Scottish Government that they view it as important. There was an expectation a few years ago that the funding would double, but it did not due to the impact of the cost-of-living crisis. The Board noted that this should be a focus of the reform agenda.

The Board noted the report and presentation.

11. Board Work Programme

11.1 Report on site visit on 30 May 2023 - verbal

The Clerk to the Board advised that the Board had visited a Water Environment Fund (WEF) project - the Garrell Burn in Kilsyth. Francis Hayes from the WEF team led the visit with a representative from North Lanarkshire Council present. The Board thanked all those involved.

The Board noted the benefits of site visits in person and the importance of SEPA staff being aware about these success stories and having similar opportunities.

The Clerk to the Board advised that with her Corporate Solicitor hat on the Corporate Legal Services (CLS) team work closely with WEF and that the solicitors have had the opportunity to go out on site to be able to see what they are providing legal advice in relation to; this is hugely beneficial.

11.2 Board Member Engagement

Craig Hume advised that he had attended a community wellbeing talk about Local Authority procurement spend and the mapping out of how much is spent locally. The Chief Officer Finance advised that SEPA is spending locally where it can and offered to discuss with this further outwith the meeting.

11.3 Board Buddy Register

The Clerk to the Board advised that extra meeting dates for the Communications group have been set up since the register was circulated with the Board papers.

The Board noted the updates.

12. Board Committee Reports

12.1 Audit & Risk Committee note of Special meeting held on 11 May 2023

Nicola Gordon as Chair of the Audit and Risk Committee advised the Board on the positive feedback received from SEPA’s new external auditors, Audit Scotland, and advised that the Minute from the extra meeting on 11 May 2023 had been included with the papers.

The Board noted the updates.

12.2 People Committee update

Martin Hill as Chair of the People Committee advised that an extra People Committee meeting took place on 23 May 2023 where the Committee received updates on Pay and discussed with the CEO the proposed changes to the CLT structure. He noted that both these items are to be discussed in private later on this agenda (items 19 and 21).

Following brief discussion on the meeting minutes, the Board agreed that all Board members are to have sight of the final-approved and Chair-approved minutes of the People Committee meetings in a section on the Resource centre on Diligent Boards.

Action: Clerk to the Board

13. Action note

The Clerk to the Board provided an update to the action note:

Action 684 - A seminar session is scheduled in the Agency Board Planner for the Strategy Board meeting on 24 Oct 2023. Ongoing.

Actions: 684, 736, 739 are ongoing

Actions: 737, 738 and 740 are closed

14. Any other business

There were two items of AOB:

Performance Management - The Board discussed the suggestion that given the multiple previous discussions on performance management that a development event be arranged. In response to a question on whether the performance measures and matrix could link into the Corporate Plan, the Head of Governance advised that the timetable would come back to the Board in June 2023 and that a meeting of the Performance Measures Board Buddy group will be arranged in advance of it. The Board asked that the proposal worked up with the Board Buddies then be brought back to the Board.

Action: Acting Chief Officer Performance & Innovation/Head of Governance

People - The Board discussed a concern about the perceived distance between the Board and the organisation highlighting the twin benefit of learning more about what people do in SEPA, in the wider sense, and giving staff the opportunity to meet the Board and learn more about what it does. The Board also expressed an interest in attending frontline visits and acknowledged that Board Buddy groups are a great opportunity. The opportunities around going into departments to meet staff will be explored.

The CEO highlighted that this fits nicely with CLT increasing its visibility and the shift from formality and it having to be the CEO.

Action: CLT/Clerk to the Board

15. Date and time of next meeting: 25 July 2023 at 1.00pm

The next meeting will be held on 25 July 2023 at 1.00pm via Microsoft Teams.

5 minute break

The following items were considered by Board members and officers in private session

16. Chemicals – Emerging Issues and Threats (SEPA 23/23 and Presentation) - The Board noted the report and presentation.

17. Our Approach to Regulation (SEPA 29/23) - The Board noted and acknowledged the proposal to retire the current Regulatory Strategy and remove it from the website. The Board noted and acknowledged that the approval of the ‘Our Approach to Regulation’ is undertaken at the Executive level.

18. Consideration of New Risks (SEPA 28/23) - The Board noted the report.

19. Pay Update – Verbal - The Board noted the update.

20. Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) Update – Verbal - The Board noted the update.

The following item was considered by the Board Members and Chief Executive in private session

21. Corporate Leadership Team (CLT) Update (SEPA 30/23) - The Board noted the update.

The CEO left the meeting and delegated the CEO role to Angela Milloy for the remainder of the meeting.