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  • 13 December 2022

Strategy meeting - 13 December 2022

The fiftieth meeting of the Strategy Board took place on Tuesday 13 December 2022 at 1.00pm in the Boardroom, Angus Smith Building, 6 Parklands Avenue, Eurocentral, Holytown, ML1 4WQ.


  • Bob Downes (Chair)
  • Fran van Dijk
  • Nicola Gordon
  • Martin Hill
  • Craig Hume
  • Julie Hutchison
  • Harpreet Kohli
  • Philip Matthews
  • Nicole Paterson (CEO) (from item 7.2)

In attendance

  • Ian Buchanan - Chief Officer, Regulatory Reform and Build (items 1-13)
  • Lin Bunten - Acting Chief Officer, Compliance and Beyond (items 1-13)
  • Vincent Fitzsimons - Head of Hydrology and Flooding (item 10 only)
  • Kieron Gallagher - Head of Governance (items 1-13)
  • Martin Grey - Head of Communications and Marketing (items 1-13)
  • Laura Hamilton - PA, Chief Executive (items 1-13)
  • David Harley - Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy (items 1-13)
  • Bridget Marshall - Acting Chief Officer, Performance and Innovation (items 1-13)
  • Jennifer McWhirter - Clerk to the Board
  • Angela Milloy - Chief Officer Finance (from item 7.2 - item 13)
  • David Pirie - Executive Director, Evidence and Flooding (items 1-13)
  • Jennifer Russell - Acting Chief Officer, People and Property (items 1-13)

1. Chair's opening remarks

The Chair welcomed everyone to the meeting. He welcomed Jennifer Russell as Acting Chief Officer for People and Property while John Kenny is off and confirmed that Kieron Gallagher and Martin Grey are in attendance.

The Clerk to the Board confirmed that there is no fire alarm test scheduled today and advised that if the alarm goes please use the fire exit located on the main landing to the right. Assembly points A and B are situated at the rear of the building at the back of the car park. Both signs are clearly marked.

2. Apologies for Absence

Apologies for absence were received from Nicky Chambers, Vinay Mulgundmath and John Kenny.

3. Order of business

The order of business was as outlined on the agenda.

4. Declaration of Interests

No declaration of interests were made.

5. Approval of minutes of meeting held on 25 October 2022

The minutes of the meeting held on 25 October 2022 were approved as an accurate record of the meeting subject to minor text change under item 13 to remove the word “recent” from the sentence.

6. Matters Arising

The Clerk to the Board provided an update. She advised that:

Action 151 - Update on AOP Prioritisation – STRAT 10/22
The work to develop the narrative is ongoing as part of AOP development and, Reform and Build planning. Proposed closed.

Action 152 - AOP 2023/24 – STRAT 09/22)
This is being built into the planner coming back on 21 February 2023. Proposed closed but ongoing until that meeting.

Action 153 - Funding Update - Verbal
Verbal update will be provided at the meeting as formal offer has not yet been issued as we await SG Pay policy unit approval. Proposed that action remains open to allow for Angela Milloy to provide an update. This is also to follow the Deputy First Minister’s Budget statement to the Scottish Parliament on 15 December 2022. Ongoing.

7. Board Engagement Activity

7.1 Board Engagement Activity

Craig Hume and Nicola Gordon provided feedback from a Performance Measures Board Buddy group meeting held on 21 November 2022. The group discussed the use of the PuMP approach to performance management to help develop meaningful and simple measures for SEPA’s regulatory work. The Board Buddies also advised the SEPA team not to get stuck in the minutia; getting measures to 80% right at this stage is a great step (not looking for 85-95%).

Harpreet Kohli reported on his attendance at three sessions of AZETS Public Bodies Non-Executive Directors Forum on 5 December 2022. He will circulate a presentation he found of use from the sessions to the Clerk to the Board to share on Diligent Board.

Action: Clerk to the Board.

The Board noted the update.

7.2 Board Buddy Register

It was noted that Craig Hume is missing from the list of members of the Performance Measures Board Buddy group.

Action: Clerk to the Board.

The Clerk to the Board advised that the AMT and Board Support team will be producing a paper for the AMT in January reviewing the current Board Buddy register and asking AMT to consider what new AOP priorities for 2023/24 may need Board Buddies.

The Board noted the update. 

8. AOP Direction Check - STRAT 12/22

Bridget Marshall introduced the report. Reference was made to two recent successful workshops held with the AMT and the proposed approach for developing the AOP 2023/24.

The Strategy Board noted a change in approach to the development of the next AOP with significant steps taken to make it more strategic. The new AOP will be more aligned to SEPA’s statutory purpose, recognising where SEPA has come from, particularly in terms of environmental protection and improvement, and where the organisation is going, with a focus on delivery for Scotland.

The Board also noted that the thinking for the AOP will feed into the work on development of SEPA’s new corporate plan and organisational “reset”. Following a comment from the Chair of the Audit & Risk Committee on the need for prioritisation and creating a more outward facing document, the CEO reflected on the challenge of keeping the AOP strategic and outward-facing, while still providing clarity, without also over-promising and under-delivering. She gave an example that reference to Flooding and Regulation from an external perspective is very inward focused.

Strategy Board members also commented on the need for the AOP to reflect the climate emergency, doing more than just environment protection, and seeing SEPA’s work through a different lens. Emphasis was again made on the AOP being a public facing document. Members encouraged the use of visuals to explain the journey of the EPA, building on what has gone before.

The Strategy Board noted the report.

9. Corporate Plan Development - STRAT 13/22

Bridget Marshall introduced the report. She recapped that initial ‘kitchen sink’ discussions were held with the Agency Board at its seminar session on 29 November 2022, followed by a more ‘bathtub’ discussion with the AMT. It was emphasised that the development of the new Corporate Plan will take a lot of planning and delivery and the 2023 Board planner will reflect additional sessions for the Agency Board and Strategy Board. A substantial session will be held on 18 January 2023 on Horizon Scanning at the Agency Board training day. It was noted that the SEPA team is exploring with Fran van Dijk the potential of consultancy support to work on horizon scanning and drivers for change do help provide focus to the plan and avoid reinventing the wheel.

During discussion, emphasis was made on the corporate plan as a public document; visual representation was important; and the need to consider equalities at each stage of the plan development rather than as a separate equality “tick box”. The Chair noted that the timing was right to be “curious” on the thinking for the corporate plan and “look left and right of where thinking of going”. He also emphasised the importance of customers and not to lose sight of the young people element, suggesting approaching individuals from Young Scot and the 2050 Climate Group to provide input to the plan development, without overburdening the groups.

The Strategy Board approved the proposed approach for the development of the Corporate Plan.

10. Learning from Recent Floods in North East Scotland – STRAT 11/22 & Presentation

David Pirie introduced the report with Vincent Fitzsimons in attendance. The session consisted of a short presentation and discussion. The presentation recapped on the role SEPA played and the issues SEPA officers faced during the severe flood event on 18 November 2022 as a case study to illustrate the problems with the resilience of SEPA’s flooding service and early thinking on solutions. It was noted that this was also an update to the presentation at the Agency Board meeting on 29 November 2022.

The Chair commended the team on their extraordinary work and leadership during the November 2022 flood event.

The SEPA team asked for advice from the Strategy Board on the opportunities and risks from their proposed approach to put the flooding service on a more sustainable footing.

It was explained during the presentation that SEPA’s statutory flooding role is enshrined in the Flood Risk Management (FRM) Act of 2009. SEPA summarises its roles as “Avoid”, “Protect” and “Warn”, with each having different time pressures on SEPA staff to help with advice and information on dealing with flood risk. By the time you get to “Warn”, during intense floods, staff have minutes to make potentially life and death decisions. SEPA would like to provide as much guidance and advice under “Avoid” as it can to take the pressure off staff, and stabilise activities under “Warn” otherwise staff will be lost. There are c100 people on flood related duty rotas throughout the year, but the rota is currently operating at around 50% due to staff lost, including due to stress. This is unsustainable and a small core of trained staff are needed to help address this.

David Pirie summarised the actions needed to progress long-term flood risk management as:

  • ensuring all partners have the guidance, information and understanding they need;
  •  building resilience in the service and working through the infrastructure/kit required, including as part of SEPA’s new Future Flood and Incident Messaging Service (FFIMS) and next generation; and
  • an ambitious programme of staff training and exercises, looking at how other resilience partners, e.g. fire brigade, undertake this using a combination of specialised roles and existing resource.

It was acknowledged that this will take time and money. The detail is not yet there, but a plan is intended to be developed for early 2023.

The following points were noted during discussion:

  • SEPA does very well at small and medium events, but struggles with big events, such as the November 2022 event, and there is a concern that future events might break the organisation.
  • SEPA did everything it could have done during the November 2022 event, providing a “textbook response”, but it exposed cracks in its service, stretching SEPA’s equipment and workforce, and putting excessive pressure on staff. It is the pressure on staff that is the priority that needs to be addressed urgently as SEPA was less prepared to deal with this.
  • It is not all SEPA’s responsibility and whole-system resilience testing, and training is needed, including with the Scottish Government (including on the timing and use of SGoRR (Scottish Government Resilience Room) meetings) to ensure all partners have greater clarity on roles and responsibilities.
  • SEPA is a Category 1 civil contingency responder and performs well in the resilience partnerships, but all operate differently at regional levels. The output from this Strategy Board discussion combined with the debrief/lessons learned from the November 202 event can help reinforce messages fed from SEPA externally to these partnerships. It is hoped that this will result in other agencies taking more of a lead at future events. 

Following a question from the Chair on whether if there was a major flood event next month, and concern about pressure on the flooding team, what would be different, it was confirmed that discussions are already underway with Scottish Government on resilience testing with recognition of the need for retraining on the Government side too.

The Board suggested approaching this as a project using project management expertise to anticipate future resource requirements and identify the skill sets of those on rotas (how specialised do staff need to be etc) and ensure a pipeline supply of people.

It was recognised that SEPA staff are not trained as crisis managers, and this incident exposed the reality of a crisis situation, but that staff may need to be trained, with partners, on crisis management and go through service simulations of dealing with a severe flood event. Nicola Gordon volunteered as a Board Buddy on managing major emergencies/crisis management and examining what needs to be tested by SEPA.

The Board asked why this did not appear on the corporate risk register given the seriousness of the situation; potential loss of life in a flood and pressure on staff. She added that the Board is “on watch”, this is a “near miss”, and there needs to be serious consideration of effective and impactful next steps with appropriate channels and avenues to support. This is something the team could explore with Board Buddies and could be helpful, given the opportune timing, to also include reference to this in discussions around the AOP to help tackle the issues raised. In response, the CEO proposed to take this away to consider further, including to incorporate as a strategic risk.

Action: CEO/ David Pirie

Concern was raised by the Board that regional resilience partnerships were not visible and the need for all involved to be invited to any discussions on resilience testing, again to ensure that all partners, including local authorities, are aware of, and accept, their responsibilities during major flood events.

The Board asked that further detail is provided on preferred, as well as minimum, requirements for the flooding service, including on the use of new technology such as satellite data. This would help provide a picture of what “good” looks like and a baseline.

Martin Grey commented that he had worked with Vincent Fitzsimons during the November 2022 flood event and to his credit, the stress and pressure didn’t show. He added that this was an outstanding example of good incident management that could be shared elsewhere in SEPA, to help deal with other, e.g. regulatory related events.

The Chair summarised by thanking the SEPA team for providing the rudiments of a plan and outlining minimal requirements. He asked that more detail is provided early in 2023 prioritising what is within SEPA’s responsibility and that consideration be given to what SEPA could do less of. He requested that plans also include timelines and resource requirements (such as new personnel), and examine potential opportunities including around relationships with partners and escalation routes. David Pirie confirmed that the team will come back to the Board and seek further advice as the plans develop.

Action: David Pirie.

The Strategy Board noted the report and presentation.

11. Action Note

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

Action 99 - Board Seminar session on 29 October 2019 and Board
Engagement Activity
A stakeholder mapping exercise will be conducted in Q1 2023, with an approach to external stakeholder engagement aligned with the 23/24 AOP being reported back to the Board. Ongoing.

Action 125 - Stakeholder Outlook – STRAT 11/20
This has been added to the Board planner to come back to the Board. Ongoing.

Actions 99, 125, 152 and 153 remain ongoing.

Action 151 is now closed.

12. Any Other Business

No other business was raised.

13. Date and time of next meeting

The next meeting will be held on 21 March 2023 at 1.00pm.

14. Board members only private session