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  • 21 March 2023

Strategy meeting - 21 March 2023

The fifty-first meeting of the Strategy Board took place on Tuesday 21 March 2023 in the Boardroom, Angus Smith Building, 6 Parklands Avenue, Eurocentral, Holytown, ML1 4WQ.


  • Bob Downes (Chair)
  • Nicola Gordon
  • Harpreet Kohli
  • Fran van Dijk
  • Craig Hume
  • Nicole Paterson (CEO)

In attendance

  • Tannith Allinson - Specialist II Energy Function (item 9 only)
  • Donna Brodie - Acting Business Strategy Unit Manager (item 8 only)
  • Lin Bunten - Acting Chief Officer, Compliance and Beyone
  • Sophie Cheney - CLT and Board Support Officer
  • Kieron Gallagher - Head of Governance
  • Martin Grey - Head of Communications and Marketing
  • Laura Hamilton - PA to the CEO 
  • Andrew Malby - Senior Air Modeller (item 9 only)
  • Bridget Marshall - Acting Chief Officer, Performance and Innovation
  • Martin Marsden - Head of Environmental Quality (item 9 only)
  • Fiona Mactaggart - Head of Workspaces and Environment (item 10 only)
  • Jennifer McWhirter - Clerk to the Board
  • Janice Milne - Head of Function (Energy) attending for David Harley Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy
  • Angela Milloy - Chief Officer Finance
  • David Pirie - Executive Director, Evidence and Flooding
  • Jennifer Russell - Acting Chief Officer, People and Property

1. Chair's Opening Remarks

The Chair welcomed everyone to the meeting and confirmed that Janice Milne was deputising for David Harley, and that Sophie Cheney, the new CLT and Board Support Officer, was also in attendance.

The Chair advised that the meeting is close to not being quorate with some Board members not in attendance, but with good reasons provided for absence.

The Clerk to the Board confirmed that there was no fire alarm scheduled and advised of the action to take should the alarm sound.

The Clerk to the Board also advised that SEPA’s Equality mainstreaming report is due to be tabled at the April Agency Board meeting, but the draft will be put on Diligent Boards with a date specified for members to provide feedback before it goes to the Board. She also advised of an update to the Board planner, confirming that the May Board meeting will not be in Ayr, but will instead involve a WEF site visit to Garrel Burn, Kilsyth followed by the Agency Board meeting at the Angus Smith Building (ASB). Further details will follow.

2. Apologies for Absence

Apologies for absence were received from Martin Hill, Philip Matthews, Julie Hutchinson, Nicky Chambers and David Harley.

3. Order of Business

The order of business was as outlined on the agenda.

4. Declarations of Interest

No declarations of interests were made.

5. Approval of minutes of meeting held on 13 December 2022

The minutes of the meeting held on 13 December 2022 were approved as an accurate record of the meeting.

6. Matters Arising

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

Action 154: Now on Diligent Board. Proposed closed.

Action 155: Craig Hume’s name has been added to the Board Buddy Register for the Performance Measure Group. Proposed closed.

Action 156: Risk was discussed at the Audit & Risk Committee that morning with a further update to be provided at the June Strategy Board meeting. Ongoing.

Action 157: A plan came back to the Board on 21 February 2023 with a further update due in June 2023. Work will continue with Board Buddies. Ongoing.

In response to a question from a Board member regarding Action 99, the Clerk to the Board confirmed that the action can be closed and assured the Board that the work
will be picked up as part of the development of the new corporate plan.

7. Board Work Programme

7.1 Board Engagement Activity

No comments were made in relation to Board engagement activity.

7.2 Board Buddy Register

The following updates were provided for the Board Buddy Register:

Finfish aquaculture - a meeting was due to be planned for early 2023 but had not yet been arranged. It was agreed that David Pirie should replace Ian Buchanan as the CLT lead for this group. David Pirie agreed to arrange a meeting date in April 2023.

It was confirmed that Julie Hutchison has stepped down from the finfish group and will join a new Board Buddy group on Water Scarcity.

Performance measures - the terms of reference are currently being finalised and a board buddy meeting will be arranged by June 2023 to help inform work on SEPA’s
new corporate plan.

Regenerative SEPA – the group is being reviewed to assess how often it needs to meet. It is likely that it will meet on an ad hoc basis once or twice a year to help keep
track as transition plans change. A date for the next meeting will be arranged.

Direct commissioning - the Board agreed that this group should be put on hold and
meet as required on an ad basis.

Regulatory Report – the board agreed that this group has completed its activity and has closed.

Net Zero Targets - a meeting will take place after Easter. The SEPA CEO will identify a new CLT lead for this group.

8. Annual Operating Plan and Corporate Plan Development - STRAT 03/23

The Chief Executive introduced the report advising that the 2023-24 Annual Operating Plan (AOP) is a more streamlined plan to be considered as a bridging document for the upcoming corporate plan and that delivery plans are being produced that will tie into workplans. She also informed the Board that feedback had recently been received from Scottish Government confirming that they are happy with the AOP text and clarity it provides, and recognising that work is in progress on the development of
performance indicators. SEPA managers have agreed with Scottish Government that SEPA will continue to measure using the revised approach presented and use PuMP
for the corporate plan.

The Chair reminded the Board that they are being asked to agree the AOP version being presented today for design.

Donna Brodie presented on the AOP design, reminding Board members of the brief and ambition for the plan. It was hoped that more design samples could be provided
but there had been a delay with the external company and Board members would instead receive this shortly on Diligent Boards. The Chief Executive highlighted to the
Board that the new SEPA branding has been included in the AOP design.

Donna Brodie advised that an exert had been provided to Scottish Government and that some of the wording would be updated to incorporate comments received.

A question was raised regarding the use of the term “flood risk” instead of “water risk” in response to the Flood Risk Management bullet points presented (slide 4). The Chief
Executive reaffirmed that the AOP being presented is a bridging document and that is why the “buckets” presented remain the same as referred to in the current corporate plan, but will be reviewed during the creation of the new corporate plan, including wider reference to water management to ensure it is more comprehensive to a public audience. The Board noted that other aspects of water management are currently presented elsewhere in the AOP, for example water scarcity under “Regulation”.

Donna Brodie covered the “Organisation” bullet points in the presentation (slide 5), explaining that the wider setting for the organisation and associated narrative will be in the corporate plan and these points highlight what SEPA will focus on in 2023-24. A request was made by a Board member to add “resilience” to the 4th bullet point.

Regarding slides 6 and 7 on “Measures”, the Chief Executive reminded the Board that SEPA still has work to do in respect of key measures. For the 2023-24 AOP, the focus has been on language and making sure it is appropriate for a public audience. SEPA has agreed with Scottish Government it will have a core small number of meaningful measures.

In response to a question regarding the “we will” statements used in the document and if SMART objectives would be a more appropriate way of measuring, the Chief
Executive advised that the intent is to use SMART targets for the corporate plan and that the focus for the AOP is on broad themes that act as statements of intent. Alongside the AOP are the 74 delivery plans forming the second tier of delivery documents that will link to team and individual plans. It was acknowledged that the 2024-25 AOP will be sharper, and work is being delivered to get SEPA to that place. Bridget Marshall highlighted that the narrative SEPA is using aligns with other NDPBs and that the “we will” statements align with the Programme for Government. The statements are not intended to be KPIs as SEPA has KPIs at a lower level. Scottish Government (SG) has also been asked what “good” looks like and to share good
practice across NDPBs so that all can look to improve.

Additional points raised by the Board during the discussion included making the wording stronger on how SEPA is delivering for Scotland, highlighting SEPA’s achievements more; and that a lot of Sustainable Development Goals are currently listed against deliverables but that having more is not necessarily better - three or four goals should be picked for each one. The Board also indicated an interest in the EQIA (Equality Impact Assessment) for the Plan and suggested that there should be text in the AOP to cover what SEPA intends to do in the new Corporate Plan. 

In concluding the discussion on the item, the Board commented that it is encouraged by the direction of the plan and success measures, the level of conciseness, and asked the Executive to ensure that the momentum continues.

Donna Brodie was thanked by the Board for her work on the AOP and Corporate Plan during 2022-23 whilst acting as Business Strategy Unit Manager. It was confirmed that
Anne Turner will return to her substantive role as Business Strategy Unit Manager from 1 April 2023 and will help CLT and the Board focus on the delivery of the AOP and performance management.

The Board agreed the version for design and noted the future thinking/horizon scanning work relating to the development of the Corporate Plan.

9. Air Quality - STRAT 01/23 & Presentation

David Pirie introduced the report with Martin Marsden, Andrew Malby and Tannith Allinson in attendance. He highlighted that colleagues in attendance were there at short notice due to unforeseen circumstances impacting on the report authors’ availability that day.

David Pirie highlighted that Air is a different subject to other matters that come to the Board but it is as important; we breathe it and it is around us all the time. He spoke about the different causes of air pollution, not just being man-made; highlighting that natural air pollution can occur from sea-spray, volcanic dust and sand dust. However, he acknowledged that man-made air pollution is the biggest source with most of it coming from traffic. He highlighted that it is the biggest environmental risk to health in the UK and a silent invisible killer.

David Pirie highlighted that SEPA has achieved a lot in this area over the last ten years since it was first introduced into the corporate plan in 2012 following Board discussion. David Pirie confirmed that the presentation included a recap of what SEPA has achieved, future work planned, and questions for the Board on what the ambition should be to help inform work on SEPA’s new corporate plan.

Tannith Allinson introduced the presentation and provided detail and background on SEPA’s roles and responsibilities, the strategic approach, and the current strategy which is due to be reviewed. Examples were provided of some to the work SEPA is doing in this area and the various groups SEPA sits on, including for Cleaner Air for Scotland 2.

In response to a question regarding Environmental Standards Scotland’s involvement in the next iteration of Cleaner Air for Scotland, Tannith Allinson advised that the last strategy was independent but had 84 actions so Scottish Government is currently looking at what will ensure that the new strategy is as effective as it can be. 

Martin Marsden highlighted to the Board that Air quality is an area that SEPA should be proud of its achievements. It is SEPA modelling that has allowed local authorities to understand the consequences of low emission zones. SEPA has been working with local authorities to define priorities. He emphasised that SEPA has been a trusted source of information for partners across Scotland, including providing the tools to bus companies to help them understand the consequences of their routes. He highlighted that as we move from low emission zones to zero emission zones it will be SEPA information that is used.

Janice Milne drew the Boards attention to a report published by the charity Asthma and Lung UK earlier that day which shows a strong link between poor lung health and areas of deprivation and air pollution. She emphasised the drivers for continuing to improve air quality and the significant impacts of air pollution that still need to be addressed, adding that Scottish Government will continue to look to SEPA’s support. Janice Milne reminded the Board of the purpose of the session and asked them to note the work that has already been achieved and consider how it is reflected in the next corporate plan.

The Board acknowledged the public health impacts of the work and discussed how health boards and public health experts should be included in the work, for example in the working and delivery groups for low emission zones (LEZs).

In response to a question regarding partnership working, Tannith Allinson advised that SEPA has been working with Public Health Scotland, and whilst they have been focused on the COVID pandemic, SEPA is keen to now re-engage. The Board discussed the challenges of attributing deaths to air pollution and in respect of preventative health costs.

The Board discussed modelling that could provide specific information, including comparisons before and after LEZs are enforced, and the importance of having an evidence and science base. The resource intensive nature of modelling was recognised.

In conclusion, the Board emphasised that SEPA needs to take credit for the work that has been achieved and tell the story of partnership working in achieving outcomes for
Scotland, including as a case study in the new corporate plan.

The Board noted the contents of the report and presentation.

10. Strategic Approach to Our Workspaces - STRAT 02/23

Jennifer Russell introduced Fiona Mactaggart who spoke to the report, explaining the shift from a more traditional approach to estate management to a more dynamic and flexible approach to workspaces. Fiona Mactaggart reflected that the language is in-line with a more strategic approach from the CLT and that she is working with CLT to implement workspace outcomes which will be core to SEPA’s new corporate plan. She emphasised that the Future of Work vision document is fully aligned to Scottish Government’s estates document and the wider public sector approach to reducing carbon emissions. 

The Chief Executive further highlighted that the intent is to be radical, and this approach is a step change to what SEPA has been used to. She reminded the Board that it had previously agreed the strategic approach to SEPA’s workspaces and that the CLT has since considered the detail on what the future workspaces would look like. It was explained that the future workspaces presented in section 4 of the paper were not mutually exclusive; for example, the regional and local hubs would provide meeting spaces as well as an alternative to working from home, but the hubs may not necessarily be SEPA offices. There is a move away from a dependence on buildings. The Board acknowledged and praised the strategic approach and alignment with Scottish Government, noting also it was not being asked to agree the specifics today.

In response to a question about home working being part of the “estate” and how health and safety will be considered, and the approach to decarbonisation, the Chief Executive highlighted that the health and safety plans already in place for home working will continue and whilst net zero is part of the approach, SEPA needs to consider how far to take this.

Jennifer Russell highlighted to the Board that an electric vehicle lease scheme through salary sacrifice has just been approved by the CLT. The chosen supplier is currently offering preferred energy prices to Salary Sacrifice customers.

In response to a question regarding co-location of specialist laboratories with partner organisations, the Chief Executive confirmed that SEPA is looking at co-location and that ASB is an opportunity for a possible “Centre of Excellence” providing co-location for other labs.

The Board discussed the importance of providing assurance to staff whilst balancing reduced office workspace and the need to accelerate this work and provide the right tools for staff to do their jobs. The Chief Executive reiterated the need to include staff in the approach to workspaces, confirming that home working will remain an option for staff, but while SEPA is paying for buildings it is spending less on its people. She confirmed that staff would receive support as required with leadership provided by the CLT alongside good communications and support from the HR team.

Nicole Paterson also updated the Board on the business case with Scottish Government for Edinburgh.

In concluding the item, the Chair reiterated that this is a development of how people want to work whilst still taking responsibility and highlighted that SEPA can have strong teams who are not always co-located.

The Board approved and noted the report.

11. Action Note

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

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

Action 152 – AOP 2023/24 – STRAT 09/22 - This was built into the planner approved by the Board on 21 February 2023. Proposed closed.

Action 153 – Funding Update – a verbal update on pay is provided in the private session of the Board. The Grant in Aid Budget remains unchanged from the Budget approved at the previous Board meeting. Proposed closed.

Also refer to item 6 above for the update on Action 99.

12. Any Other Business

No other business was raised.

13. Date and time of next meeting

The next meeting will be held on 27 June 2023 at 1.00pm

14. Board members only private session

The Board met in private with the Clerk to the Board to receive an update on the Deposit Return Scheme and the Chief People Officer recruitment. The Chief Officer Finance also provided an update on Pay Policy.