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  • 27 June 2023

Strategy meeting - 27 June 2023

The fifty-second Board Strategy meeting took place at 1.00pm on Tuesday 27 June 2023 via Microsoft Teams.

Present

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

In attendance

  • Lin Bunten - Acting Chief Officer, Compliance (items 1-13)
  • Nat Chalamanda - Specialist (item 10.3 only)
  • Vincent Fitzsimons - Head of Hydrology and Flooding Services (items 7,8 and 9 only)
  • Kieron Gallagher - Acting Chief Officer, Performance & Innovation (items 1-13)
  • Martin Grey - Head of Communications and Marketing (items 1-13)
  • David Harley - Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy (items 1-13)
  • Kath McDowall - Unit Manager (item 10.3 only)
  • Jennifer McWhirter - Clerk to the Board
  • Angela Milloy - Chief Officer Finance (items 1-13)
  • Collin Morrow - Unit Manager (item 10.3 only)
  • David Pirie - Executive Director, Evidence and Flooding (items 1-13)
  • Jon Rathjen - Deputy Director for Water Policy & DECC Operations, Scottish Government (item 7 only)
  • Jennifer Russell - Acting Chief Officer, People and Property (items 1-13)
  • Janet Wade - Unit Manager (item 10.3 only)
  • Gary Walker - Manager, Waste and Landfill Tax (item 10.3 only)

1. Chairs opening remarks

The Chair welcomed everyone to the meeting including Kieron Gallagher in attendance as delegate for Bridget Marshall, Martin Grey, and Laura Hamilton, CEO PA assisting the Clerk to the Board. Kirsty Paterson (the new Chief Officer People) is joining at 2pm.

2. Apologies for absence

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

3. Order of Business

The order of business was as outlined on the agenda.

4. Declaration of Interests

No declarations of interests were made.

5. Approval of Minutes of meeting held on 21 March 2023

The minutes of the meeting held on 21 March 2023 were approved as an accurate record of the meeting with one minor amendment.

6. Matters Arising

The Clerk to the Board provided an update.  She advised that there were no outstanding actions from the minute.

7. Scottish Government Water Industry Related Policy Update

The Chair highlighted that this item was here for strategic high-level discussion on water management and not about getting into the detail as this is operational and needs to be discussed by the Corporate Leadership Team (CLT).

The Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy provided background referring to the water and sewerage bill and the opportunities that may arise depending on how it progresses.

The Deputy Director for Water Policy & DECC Operations Scottish Government introduced the item with SEPA’s Head of Hydrology and Flooding Services observing.    He thanked SEPA for the opportunity and explained that this is about early engagement, recognising the pressures around resources and budgets across the public sector this is about longer-term work. Water resource planning and water management needs to become more holistic.  Legislation dates back to the 1960’s where there was a focus on drainage and sewage, then the 1900’s, followed by the formation of Scottish Water in 2002 and the more modernised approach including around hydro nation in 2019.  The management of drainage has been missing and there are more frequent changing weather patterns with longer periods of dry weather.  The public water supply currently dominates the hierarchy with abstractions being limited before household supplies for example washing the car.  We need to look at how to use water flows better and drainage has to become part of the overall picture.  Examples were given of what drainage water could potentially be used for and it was highlighted that if sewerage flows were better managed then there would not be the same need for upgrades which tend to involve a lot of concrete. A Scotland wide approach is required. 

The Deputy Director for Water Policy & DECC Operations Scottish Government went onto to draw attention to the EU context where there will continue to be directives, advising that the Scottish Government has already said that it will keep pace with and keep aligned with Europe.  There needs to be a system to manage this. 

The presentation concluded by seeking reactions to the concept of water resource planning.

In response to a question about whether we know where our water is, who uses it, and for what, it was confirmed that we know how much water is needed to support the public supply and who uses it.  There has been a shift with increased working from home with more domestic use of water than there previously was.  SEPA knows who holds licences and where in respect of for example industry and agriculture. It was recognised that a lot is know but that the big picture view could be more unified.

The Board commented on the role of the consumer drawing attention to a German example where when it snows people change their car tyres and clear pavements, it is cultural with legislation sitting behind it. The Deputy Director for Water Policy & DECC Operations Scottish Government added examples from Africa describing the approach to a hand pump system in Malawi and a Spanish example of field irrigation being managed locally. Northern Europe is behind in respect of cultural importance as had not experienced water scarcity issues until recently. The different socioeconomic drivers were also discussed – where there is charging, low-income families use less but higher income ones use more as view it as cheap. Usage awareness or non-chargeable metering was suggested.

In response to a question about where investment will come from the Deputy Director for Water Policy & DECC Operations Scottish Government highlighted that consumer charges are the biggest factor but that increases were limited to being below CPI over the last two years with the cost-of-living crisis. 

In response to a question about the size of the challenge when people think that there is an abundance of water in Scotland and whether a lever could be the amount of energy needed to bring clean water through taps, the Deputy Director for Water Policy & DECC Operations Scottish Government advised that there have been campaigns highlighting the energy usage of kettles and showers but that there is a concern about the impact that this has on low income households when water is necessary for cooking and cleaning. In response to a follow up question around the energy cost of cold water, the Deputy Director for Water Policy & DECC Operations Scottish Government confirmed that it is quite cheap so is potentially an argument with diminishing returns particularly due to the increased use of renewables in the process.  

In response to a comment about the visibility of the whole cost of water in a building, the Deputy Director for Water Policy & DECC Operations Scottish Government highlighted that it is separated out for businesses but that this is an area that could be explored for domestic use, it would not change the bottom line. 

The Board discussed the eco homes being built and the potential to compare the data with that of non-eco homes which could feed into the potential for new design standards and regulations. The Deputy Director for Water Policy & DECC Operations Scottish Government advised that some trials had been undertaken in respect of eco housing but that more could be done and highlighted that new developments are not allowed to attach to sewerage systems with developers having to design what will happen to the drainage.

In response to a comment about treated water being used to flush toilets, the Deputy Director for Water Policy & DECC Operations Scottish Government advised that there needs to be a balance particularly in densely populated cities as treated water comes through thin pipes at the correct pressure.

The CEO commented that it is important to look at the roles of other agencies and to share best practice including bringing best practice from elsewhere in the world to Scotland.

The Deputy Director for Water Policy & DECC Operations Scottish Government drew attention to the drainage partnerships in Glasgow and Edinburgh, that SEPA sits on, but flagged that having more across the country will require more resource when resources are limited.

The Board thanked the Deputy Director for Water Policy & DECC Operations Scottish Government for his presentation and noted that timescales and a brief will be shared after the meeting.

Action: The Deputy Director for Water Policy & DECC Operations Scottish Government/ Clerk to the Board

The Board discussed that there needs to be clarity within the Corporate Plan around what we are prioritising and have resource to do.

The Board noted the presentation.

8. Flooding Update

The Executive Director, Evidence and Flooding introduced the report with SEPA’s Head of Hydrology and Flooding Services in attendance. He highlighted that climate change is happening, there are dryer summers and different types of flooding- more intense, frequent winter storms and flash floods in the summer. He reminded the Board that before Christmas he had highlighted the impact of these changes on flood warnings and staff, giving Brechin as an example.  He recapped on the four issues identified – roles and responsibilities of partners, getting information on flood assets and defences (heights, characteristics etc) from Local Authorities, the upgrading of gauging station infrastructure and the strength and depth of the flood forecasting service including staff and rotas.  The Board previously asked what it would take to resolve these issues.

Work has subsequently been done around the detail within each strand. Surveys have been undertaken, the experience of managers has been taken into account, external reviews by consultants, consideration of best practice and engagement with Natural Resources Wales following their 2020 lessons learned.  This has enabled the development of what is required in each aspect to manage the flooding experienced to date.  The Executive Director, Evidence and Flooding provided an update on discussions with Scottish Government on the four strands.

The CEO advised that this version of the Board paper be withdrawn to enable discussion by the Corporate Leadership Team (CLT) including the elements of risk verses resource and managing expectations as the Climate changes and such events are seen more frequently and more intensely.  The Chair advised that the Board is not being asked to approve an option today but is being asked for thoughts to be considered by CLT.

In response to questioning, the Executive Director, Evidence and Flooding advised that potentially vulnerable areas (PVAs) are broken down across Scotland and that these are the highest risk areas, but that they are not all of equal risk. 

The Board noted concern about the timescales of a year to think and plan then two – five years implementation as reflecting an old-fashioned approach and asked whether this could be done in a more agile way.  The Executive Director, Evidence and Flooding confirmed that there are three work programmes underway and making improvements to technology, maps, infrastructure and automation but that the approaches set out could be more agile and flexible. The CEO advised a full picture will be presented to a meeting of the Board, noting the progress in developing all four strands.

The Board discussed the consequences of different scenarios with the Executive Director, Evidence and Flooding and the Head of Hydrology and Flooding Services providing detail on the different systems of alerts and warnings, public expectations and the risks of potential changes to services including reputational.

The CEO advised that SEPA needs to think about how it can set itself up so that it can adapt to what happens in the future highlighting that the One SEPA Modernisation approach will focus on expertise and versatility so that resource can be moved and grow.

In response to a question about the need to match up resource to consequences and then look at prioritisation the CEO advised that this is one of the key challenges CLT need to consider. A prioritisation exercise has been underway over the last eight months considering resource and management expectation highlighting by way of a practical example that aspiration needs to be balanced against reality. 

The Board noted the update and agreed that the report would be withdrawn with a subsequent position statement being shared at the appropriate time. The Board acknowledged that further discussion is required by CLT.

9. Water Scarcity

The Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy updated the Board with SEPA’s Head of Hydrology and Flooding Services observing.  He drew attention to the three briefings that had been shared with Board members and highlighted that water scarcity is becoming an issue earlier each year.  There has been a significant deployment of staff and strong communications as well as regular engagement with the Minister.  It has been a showery week, but the north still remains a problem.  He concluded by describing the approach being taken to licences.

The Board noted the update.

10. Corporate Plan

10.1 Timetable for Corporate Plan

The Acting Chief Officer, Performance & Innovation introduced the presentation highlighting that it has been a few months since the last update on the timetable had been provided and reminding the Board about the range of discussions that had taken place connected to the Corporate Plan over the last six months.  The context and direction from these sessions is important in informing the Corporate Plan with the learning and outputs being built into the next phase of development.

He drew attention to the next steps, highlighting that September 2023 is key with the final approval being sought from the Board in February 2024 in respect of both the Corporate Plan and the Annual Operating Plan.

In response to a question about when the Board will get a clear idea about what can be done in respect of resourcing, the Acting Chief Officer, Performance & Innovation advised that the broad shape and direction will be clearer in September but not the full detail.  The Chief Officer Finance advised that over the next few months finances will be mapped to get a finance-based outcomes lens then a clearer picture to map into the Corporate Plan.

The Board congratulated the team on the thinking and simplicity around the way we are planning to evidence the key logical priorities against costs. The Board asked that all priorities are included even if CLT determine that we cannot afford them so that the Board can see what an ideal world would look like.

Action: Acting Chief Officer, Performance & Innovation/Chief Officer Finance

The Board commented on the performance measures and queried whether the objectives for different parts of SEPA and for individuals would be mapped to them.  The Acting Chief Officer, Performance & Innovation confirmed that we need a golden thread to map the work of individuals to the Corporate Plan and Annual Operating Plan.

In response to a question about the sequencing of the equality impact assessment highlighting that it would be nice to have it completed in August to show culturally that social measures have been considered rather than as a tick box at the end, the Acting Chief Officer, Performance & Innovation advised that the reality is that it will be undertaken and built in as we go in the same way as consultation and engagement flagging that the equality specialist sits in the same area of the organisation that are leading on the drafting of the Corporate Plan. 

The Board thanked the Acting Chief Officer, Performance & Innovation and noted the presentation.

10.2 Water Management Ambition for Corporate Plan

The Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy introduced the report highlighting the ability to dial up and down around themes and having the ability to rally staff around outcomes.  SEPA is made up of many components and pieces of work and needs to have outcome themes in the Corporate Plan to be able to powerfully describe what we are achieving. 

He advised that SEPA is the lead public body responsible for monitoring, protecting and improving the water environment. In 2005/2006 the organisation was largely looking at water quality, chemicals in water and point source discharged.  By mid-2000 the focus was on water resources providing detail on the role of evidence, underpinning where we take action and demonstrating environmental outcomes.  The Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy drew attention to the progress during RBMP2 (2015 to 2020) and the action planned and outcomes for RBMP3 (2020 to 2027) giving specific examples. 

The Board commented that in future it would be good to include 0-50% in the graph to provide clarity. In response to a question about the varied role undertaken by SEPA from direct statutory responsibility for example issuing licences to the areas of influence, and how this is all set out, the Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy advised that the majority of what we do is underpinned by Regulation.  In response to a follow up question about influences, levers and the resource requirements, the Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy explained that there is exploration underway around diffuse pollution, highlighting that most of the work is focused on maintaining where we are with climate change, preventing deterioration, permitting, and planning. He gave an example of the work on the River Nith, the largest rural restoration project.

The Board commented that photographs are a clear, easy way to help measure outcomes and link into SEPA’s statutory purpose to show that work on a body of water resulted in economic activity and health and wellbeing improvements. The Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy advised that we have anecdotal information about how much better, safer and healthier an environment has become after the work has been completed giving the Garrell Burn (recently visited by the Board) as an example.  The Board suggested engaging further with public health Scotland.

The Head of Communications and Marketing advised that SEPA has been very focused on the environmental aspect of our statutory purpose but that the brand project contains pillars in the context of the environment but also economy and society.

The CEO highlighted the focus there needs to be on preventions and water safety not just harms. 

The Board noted the large amount of work achieved between 2015-2020 commenting that real acceleration will be needed to 2027. The Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy provided detail on different areas including the funding mechanisms associated with hydro, and the dependence on the Water Environment Fund funding.

In response to a question about incorporating relevant themes from Scottish Government into what SEPA is doing, the Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy highlighted the earlier presentation at item 7 confirming that we welcome that more could be done in respect of drinking water and in respect of the legislative framework around drainage and blue/green infrastructure.  SEPA has helped, encouraged and advised.  The Executive Director, Evidence and Flooding drew attention to the timings of the bill and the Scottish Government Flooding Strategy and the need for them to link in with each other.  In respect to a follow up question about whether we will see the levels of ambition in respect of the bill aligned to the positive SEPA would like, the Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy confirmed that we will in the urban context and potentially in the rural water supply context. 

The Board noted the report and commented that they would like to see the Corporate Plan being ahead not chasing the legislation.

10.3 Circular Economy Ambition for Corporate Plan

The Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy introduced the report with the Waste and Landfill Tax Manager; three relevant Unit Managers; and a Specialist I in attendance. He highlighted that this was another big theme that could be presented in the Corporate Plan and that since he had been in his interim post, he had seen the real potentials in this area.  Waste is the hardest and toughest area of SEPA regulation. The Waste and Landfill Tax Manager advised that Scotland has a material intense economy and that there are real opportunities to manage resources and reduce harms. As a country we use too much stuff and need to reduce our waste.  Industry is rethinking its use of materials to drive efficiencies. He also drew attention to market interventions including landfill tax, producer responsibility and the deposit return scheme.  Circular Economy and waste policy is a complex landscape.  He highlighted that SEPA’s role is broad and varied, described the role we undertake with partners and explained the background to, and work done in respect of the deposit return scheme, the producer responsibility system and digital waste tracking.   

In response to a question asking for an update on the digital waste tracking work, the unit manager explained that it is a four nations project led at a national level by Defra.  The system is being trialled with green list waste exporters before it is rolled out wider. 

In response to a question about whether going digital makes rogue traders less likely, the Waste and Landfill Tax Manager advised that the system needs to be fraud tested but that it has been designed to help users comply with the law. 

In response to a question about whether the expectation is that things will get better year on year once the system is in place, the Waste and Landfill Tax Manager highlighted that to have a truly circular economy it is about more than just the environment. SEPA needs to flag up other issues but cannot lead on everything.  The Acting Chief Officer, Circular Economy advised that in respect of producer responsibility, producers will need to pay local authorities for disposal of waste. This will make companies think differently about their waste for example the need for coloured packaging. SEPA’s role is to regulate. The Specialist I highlighted that it is about changing consumer behaviours including through the use of campaigns.  The four nations are developing polices but there are areas where there is freedom if Scotland wants to set more ambitious targets.

In response to a question about whether there is the potential to create more criminal activity, the Specialist I advised that yes there is the potential for rogue operators but that the digital waste tracking system will help with disruption and that brand owners will be relied on to the help influence those in their supply chain including manufacturers and even importers.  

In response to a question about when the Board will see more on this and how advanced it will be in respect of the Corporate Plan and AOP timescales, the Acting Chief Officer, Performance & Innovation confirmed that the Corporate Plan will be clear in terms of the focus for the next three years advising that the big blocks of work will be presented to the Board in September 2023 giving some clarity around objectives and outcomes.  This and the previous Board sessions in respect of the Corporate Plan now need to be brought together.

The Chair thanked those involved for the great presentation, highlighting that it was compelling and brings to life the wider aspects of being an Environment Protection Agency.

The Board 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 - Work on Green Finance and sector relationships have been reprioritised since this action was raised in 2020. Consideration of these issues will be incorporated with work undertaken in developing SEPA’s new corporate plan. Proposed closed.

Action 156 -Learning from Recent Floods in North East Scotland (STRAT 11/22) & Presentation - As discussed at the 21 March 2023 Audit & Risk Committee meeting, a new risk card is being produced in respect of 24/7 staff cover and incident response to flooding and other events to ensure resilience. An update is tabled for the Strategy Board meeting on 27 June 2023 and work will continue with Board Buddies. Proposed closed.

Action 157 - Learning from Recent Floods in North East Scotland (STRAT 11/22) & Presentation - A flooding update is tabled for the Strategy Board meeting on 27 June 2023, with a further update planned for the Agency Board meeting on 28 November 2023. Work also continues with Board Buddies.  Proposed closed.

All actions are closed.  

12. Any Other Business

The Board asked for an update on Chair and Board recruitment.  It was confirmed that both are progressing with dates for early engagement meetings currently being sought.

13. Date and time of next meeting: 24 October 2023 at 1.00pm

The next meeting will be held on 24 October 2023 at 1.00pm in person at ASB.

The Chair thanked the Clerk to the Board and the CLT & Board Support team for the new look agenda.

14. Board member only session

The Board met in private with the Clerk to the Board to receive an update on Future of Work.