Following consideration by the Audit and Standards Committee, this report sets out the key issues highlighted by the Council’s external auditors and provides the Council’s response and action plan for approval.
Portfolio Holder – Councillor Peter Butlin
Councillor Peter Butlin (Deputy Leader, Finance and Property) reminded Cabinet that as part of the 2020/21 external audit a new Annual Audit Report had been received from the external auditors that included their opinion on the Council’s accounts and value for money judgement. The report had been presented to Full Council in December 2021 and contained several recommendations from the external auditors for the Council to consider. As indicated to Full Council, this report set out the management response to what had been a positive report on the Council’s position and the recommendations had been minimal. The draft management response had already been considered and endorsed by the Audit & Standards Committee on 25 March 2022. Councillor Butlin advised that there had been one key recommendation linked to the SEND area inspection, for which the relevant actions had already been completed and of the seven improvement recommendations, as set out in the report, it was considered that two could be met in different ways to the External Auditors recommendations and the remaining five recommendations had been acknowledged and appropriate plans put in place.
In response to a question from Councillor Jerry Roodhouse about whether the response would be considered by Scrutiny and, if not, how elected members could monitor the achievement of the recommendations, Councillor Butlin advised that questions could be raised with him at overview and scrutiny.
Also in response to a question from Councillor Roodhouse, Councillor Butlin advised that a methodology on reporting on delegated budgets was shortly due to be announced. Councillor Seccombe added that a member seminar on delegated budgets was taking place in the near future which would demonstrate the system in place.
That Cabinet approves the draft plan, attached at Appendix A to the report in response to the Annual Audit Report from the external auditors.
Members began by reviewing the management responses and proposed actions set out in Appendix B of the report. Regarding the management actions on page one, the Chair asked who was overseeing the operation of the Special Educational Needs & Disabilities Written Statement of Action steering group. Virginia Rennie said the programme was being led by Nigel Minns, with support from John Coleman and Chris Baird. The makeup of the steering group would be confirmed and sent to members.
There were no comments from members in relation to the responses and actions listed on pages two and three.
Regarding the management response and actions on page four, Councillor Chris Kettle noted the statement that more work needed to be done relating to this section of the plan and asked what timescales were being worked to. Rob Powell (Strategic Director, Resources) said a lot of the work had already taken place, with some tweaking of the controls relating to staffing and budgetary needs taking place in order to better understand the changing shape and size of the organisation. Rob Powell said recruitment had been challenging for local authorities, particularly for specialist roles, and there was a concern that skills shortages could impede the Council in its ability to make the changes it wanted to.
Regarding the management response and actions on page five, it was confirmed that the highlighted section should have been deleted from the document. It had been intended for it to be replaced with the words in the second paragraph on the page.
There were no comments from members in relation to the management response and actions listed on pages six and seven.
Robert Zara said he had not yet been provided with the training materials available on the Council’s intranet that were referenced on page 102 of the report. Members were told that a refresh of member training was taking place. The Chair said it would be useful for all members to undertake critical self-assessments to help them better discharge their duties as a Committee. It was agreed that training for members would be looked into and discussions would take place in due course regarding what was available and could be delivered.
Responding to a question from Councillor Chris Kettle regarding budget monitoring and budget statements, Rob Powell said all accounts were prepared in line with the agreed CIPFA code and Warwickshire was no different to any other local authority. Avtar Sohal said an EFA summary was provided in each set of financial statements, which looked at budgeting information. This would be reconciled prior to being published and shared with members to ensure consistency in what was recorded. Any errors would also be reported to members and commented on. Andy Felton said the information shared at Cabinet and Full Council would be presented in such a way that it could be easily understood. He explained that a lot of technical adjustments that were made, but did not have a direct impact on the quality of the information being ... view the full minutes text for item 4