Venue: Kennet Room - County Hall, Bythesea Road, Trowbridge, BA14 8JN. View directions
Contact: Ben Fielding Senior Democratic Services Officer email: firstname.lastname@example.org
To receive any apologies or substitutions for the meeting.
Apologies for absence were received from Cllr Antonio Piazza.
Minutes of the Previous Meeting
To confirm and sign the minutes of the meeting held on 19 September 2023.
The minutes of the last meeting held on 19 September 2023 were presented for consideration.
After which, it was,
To approve and sign minutes of the last meeting on 19 September 2023 as a true and correct record.
Declarations of Interests
To receive any declarations of disclosable interests or dispensations granted by the Standards Committee.
There were no declarations of interest.
To receive any announcements from the Chairman.
· Accounts and Audit briefing note to all Members.
· Stone Circle Scrutiny.
· Independent Members on Audit & Governance.
The Chairman made the following announcements:
The Chairman outlined that the External Auditor was not currently in a position to finalise their opinion on the 2019/20 Accounts and any additional related commentary, and therefore the approval of the final accounts by this committee at this stage is not appropriate. It was planned that a full report would be brought forward at the meeting of this committee in February to request approval of the final 2019/20 accounts and accept the external auditors report. It is also planned at that committee that a further update on the Governments approach for clearing the national backlog of would be made.
A briefing note was sent out on 10 November 2023, which was to keep Members abreast of the position on the on-going delays to the conclusion and approval of the Council’s Accounts and Audit and set out the reporting made to councillors of these ongoing delays. It was noted that the position of significant delay in accounts and audit processes was seen across many councils nationally and the number of delayed audit opinions now stands Accounts and Audit backlog and delays at 918 with only 5 out of 467 local government audit bodies’ 2022/23 audit opinions issued.
The briefing note provided an overview of the reports and updates which had been presented to Members since 2023, with it noted that Officers continue to work with the current external auditors, Deloitte to ensure conclusions were drawn the outstanding accounts in the most efficient and effective manner, considering the regulatory requirements on both the council and the auditors.
Furthermore, it was acknowledged that longer term change was required to address the underlying issues and challenges to prevent a recurrence of backlogs in the future. This would include addressing workforce issues and ensuring proportionate financial reporting requirements, auditing and regulatory requirements were in place.
Following the announcement, there was a suggestion that the February meeting take place in the Council Chamber, with the hope that all councillors would be able to attend and have an opportunity to discuss the final audited accounts. It was agreed that officers would discuss the logistics of this move and approve if appropriate.
The Chairman noted that the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee had established a task group to consider the options for appropriate scrutiny engagement on Stone Circle. This work would begin with an online information briefing for members about Stone Circle on 29 November 2023. All members would receive an invitation. Following this, the task group will begin work, with its final report and recommendations then coming back to OS Management Committee, probably in the new year. Members interested in taking part in the task group should contact email@example.com, Democracy and Complaints Manager.
Following the announcement, concern was raised that the briefing was set to take place at the same time as a meeting of the Strategic Planning Committee, ... view the full minutes text for item 53.
If you would like to make a statement at this meeting on any item on this agenda, please register to do so at least 10 minutes prior to the meeting. Up to 3 speakers are permitted to speak for up to 3 minutes each on any agenda item. Please contact the officer named on the front of the agenda for any further clarification.
To receive any questions from members of the public or members of the Council received in accordance with the constitution.
Those wishing to ask questions are required to give notice of any such questions in writing to the officer named on the front of this agenda no later than 5pm on 15 November 2023 in order to be guaranteed of a written response. In order to receive a verbal response questions must be submitted no later than 5pm on17 November 2023. Please contact the officer named on the front of this agenda for further advice. Questions may be asked without notice if the Chairman decides that the matter is urgent.
Details of any questions received will be circulated to Committee members prior to the meeting and made available at the meeting and on the Council’s website.
There were no public questions or statements received.
Internal Audit Update
To receive the Internal Audit update from SWAP.
Sally White, Assistant Director (SWAP) presented an update on the Internal Audit provided by SWAP. The update was a routine update for the Committee, providing a reasonable opinion at this stage in the year. In addition, a limited opinion was issued regarding risk management and the review of procurement cards. It was outlined that three significant corporate risks had been identified, with a detailed follow up audit currently taking place on Pension Fund Key Controls, with a report set to be brought back to the Committee in late January.
A further significant corporate risk was reported on regarding the Payroll Reconciliation Project and that the outsourced project’s target completion date had been extended to the end of 2023. Furthermore, it was noted that no work had been undertaken on the ICT Network Boundary Defences, which had also been identified as a significant corporate risk and that full mitigations of the risk had been identified.
Attention was drawn to the report which provided tables outlining the SWAP Internal Audit Plan Coverage and that Members should also visit the live rolling plan dashboard on the SWAP Audit Board system for the latest data, which had changed slightly since the report was submitted.
Reference was made to page 3 of the report, which included a snapshot of the action dashboard and provided an overview of management actions by priority and whether actions were overdue. It was outlined that currently there were 30 open management actions by directorate.
The following points and questions were raised by Members of the Committee, with clarity provided that the 5 open management actions with revised due dates would now sit within the open management overdue actions. Further detail was also provided regarding the revised due dates, with it noted it was important to highlight these to the committee should trends occur. Assurance was provided to the Committee by officers that some of the overdue actions had been reliant upon the implementation of Oracle, which itself had seen slippage. Furthermore, it was noted that a number of the overdue actions related to the Pension Key Control work, which once signed off would close off a number of actions and would allow for an improved dashboard to be brought back to the Committee in January.
Concern was raised regarding the revision of dates and how issues didn’t seem to have been addressed, including being unable to meet demands with SEND and the failure of housing management developments. It was also suggested that there was a concern regarding environmental impact, which didn’t seem to have an audit, though it was a high priority of the Council. Assurance was provided that a climate change audit was currently being conducted. It was also highlighted to Members that going forward the report would demonstrate two years of audit coverage, rather than one year which was currently being shown as SWAP had recently joined onto a new software audit board. Furthermore, clarity was provided that audit work had taken place with SEND, however this wouldn’t ... view the full minutes text for item 55.
Risk Management Service Update
To receive a risk management service update following a limited assurance audit.
Perry Holmes, Director Legal and Governance and Monitoring Officer presented the Risk Management Service Update. The Monitoring Officer outlined that he was grateful for the work which had been undertaken by SWAP, including a comprehensive audit of the risk process with there an aim of making improvements. The audit was conducted at the start of the year, and it was reported in July that there had been significant progress against agreed actions.
It was outlined that a new version of the Risk Register had been launched as well as a first draft of the new risk policy. Work was progressing on other actions, with some areas set to be completed within timescale or ahead of schedule. The Monitoring Officer stated that next week the first meeting of the new Risk Working Group would take place, which he would chair and along with colleagues from the Extended Leadership Team, would respond to questions posed by the Committee as well as providing feedback on risk appetite and considering training. The group would review strategic risks and come forward with a new reporting protocol for reports, like what was previously seen at Cabinet. Significant progress had been made against concerns previously brought forward, with it outlined that an approach is being taken so that each action can be moved to a better place with an intention to look at best practice across the Local Government sector and HMRC.
The following points and questions were raised by Members of the Committee, including queries relating to procurement risks, having seen some failures in other corporate governance. Clarity was provided that there are bigger areas of risk exposure within contract areas with process guarantees, declarations insurance cover and certification required. Additionally, it was outlined that due diligence checks are carried out in an operational and financial capacity. The complexity of the contracting landscape was referenced, with differences between care and highways contracts cited. Reference was made to ensuring that the tender document evaluated the right criteria with experts evaluating responses provided as well as ensuring the correct legal process was followed. The importance of credit checks was cited as well as management indicators and mitigations to ensure contractual performance. Further clarity was cited that there is not a one size fits all contract and clauses in each contract will vary.
A question was raised as to whether it would be possible to set up an audit process on each cost input to identify where cost index risks might lie within contracts. The Section 151 Officer stated that there is a need for there to consider the balance of complexity when going through the procurement process and that it would leave the Council open to challenge should documents not be clear. It was also important to be mindful that each independent bidding company would have a different cost base and model. It was important to have a strong contract management process in place so that the Council was able to understand risk and have conversations with strategic ... view the full minutes text for item 56.
Anti-fraud risk update
To receive an update on anti-fraud activity.
Lizzie Watkin, Section 151 Officer, presented an update on anti-fraud activity. The report provided an update regarding activity undertaken relating to the anti-fraud, bribery and corruption policy, which had been adopted and approved by the Committee. Specific attention was drawn to paragraphs 8-12 which detailed activity. The report showed that when serious allegations are made, using SWAP’s counter fraud team as an independent investigator, action is taken.
The following points and questions were raised by Members of the Committee including whether there was training available relating to anti-fraud, bribery and corruption as well as how wide reaching this training would be. It was clarified that part of the policy is to ensure that relevant officers are adequately trained, and a session had taken place for officers and heads of services. Currently further work is being conducted by SWAP regarding a wider roll out of training and an assessment of the overall fraud position has been conducted.
Clarity was sought regarding the financial loss sustained through the case of fraud which took place involving the Pension Fund and what the process was when such incidents happen and how further activity could be prevented. Clarity was provided that SWAP undertake most investigations and present their findings to management, who then have the responsibility of adding additional controls to weaknesses. The Section 151 Officer had oversight of all allegations as well as a responsibility to ensure the control framework is still appropriate.
Regarding paragraphs 9-12 of the report, it was stated that the report showed that the Council does look at allegations and the mechanisms for reporting fraud do work, with the example cited of a whistleblowing allegation and how it was important that the whistleblowing policy provided staff and councillors with the confidence to raise concerns.
The responsibility held by the Council to investigate fraud was clarified by officers, with it stressed that the Council was only concerned with its own business and did not get involved with fraud impacting third parties.
The Chairman proposed the recommendation within the report to note the update on anti-fraud activity. This was seconded by Cllr Martin Smith.
After the conclusion of the debate, it was,
· To note the update on Anti-Fraud activity.
Forward Work Programme
To note the Forward Work Programme
The Forward Work Plan for the Committee was presented for consideration, with it noted that the final audited accounts should be added to the Forward Work Plan for the February meeting, which would take place before the meeting of Full Council.
After which, it was,
· To note the FWP with the addition of the 2019/2020 accounts in February.
Date of Next Meeting
To note that the next regular meeting of the Committee will be held on 7 February 2024.
It was announced that the next regular meeting of the Committee would be held on 7 February 2024 at 10.30am.
Any other items of business, which the Chairman agrees to consider as a matter of urgency.
There were no urgent items.