Agenda and minutes

Audit and Standards Committee - Friday 25 March 2022 9.30 am

Venue: Committee Room 2, Shire Hall. View directions

Contact: Andy Carswell  Democratic Services Officer


No. Item



Additional documents:


The Chair welcomed the Committee’s new independent panel member, Robert Zara, to the meeting. Robert Zara said he had been a solicitor in Coventry for many years before being appointed as a district judge, and felt his skillset from his previous employment would suit him to being a panel member.


The Committee was also introduced to Avtar Sohal of Grant Thornton. Avtar Sohal said he had recently been added as a signatory for Warwickshire County Council and the Pension Fund. He said he had 14 years’ experience working in local government audit and said he was looking forward to working with members.



Additional documents:


Apologies were received from Councillors Parminder Singh Birdi, Bill Gifford, John Horner and Andy Jenns.


Disclosures of Pecuniary and Non-Pecuniary Interests

Additional documents:


There were none.


Minutes of the previous meeting pdf icon PDF 147 KB

Additional documents:


The minutes of the meeting of the Audit and Standards Committee held on 4 November 2021 were agreed as an accurate record to be signed by the Chair.


Warwickshire Pension Fund - External Audit Annual Plan and Risk Assessment 2021/22 pdf icon PDF 291 KB

Additional documents:


The Chair noted that on page 20 it stated the Audit and Standards Committee was charged with governance of the Warwickshire Pension Fund; he said this should be amended to state the Committee shared in the governance. The Chair also noted that on page 25 it stated the primary responsibility for the prevention and detection of fraud lay with the Committee and management; he said this should say that responsibility lay with management. Councillor Chris Kettle said the Pension Fund relied on the expertise of auditors to help with the process of identifying and uncovering risks and fraud. He said was keen for the Committee to push back against any attempts made by an auditor to shirk its responsibilities in verifying the data, otherwise there was no point in having an auditor. He said it was an area the Committee needed to be careful about, but said there was nothing in the wording of the report that caused him concern. Andy Felton (Assistant Director, Finance) said there was an obligation for the Fund to provide as full a body of evidence as possible regarding governance, and this would be supplemented by the external auditor. He said the fact the auditor had not found anything of material concern should reassure members, and it was for the members of the panel to satisfy themselves that the information they had been presented with made sense.


Responding to a question from Robert Zara, Andy Felton explained that Border to Coast was a cooperative of 11 Pension Funds that had been pooled together, The Funds manage more than £50billion of assets collectively with around £35bn managed directly by Border to Coast. All local authorities were expected to be a member of a pension pool. Responding to a query made by Councillor Chris Kettle, Andy Felton said although a majority of the Funds that were part of the Border to Coast pool were based in the north, there are Funds spread across the country. Warwickshire’s membership was not based on geography but a shared strategy and ethos amongst the 11 members. He said although there were some pools based on geography, these had not tended to work as well due to conflicting philosophies between Funds. Additionally Border to Coast has a very strong reputation and is a top three performing pool.


Robert Zara noted that inflation had not been referenced in the report, and stated his belief it was a fairly significant risk and could have perhaps been worthy of inclusion. Andy Felton said inflation was more of an issue for future liabilities and contribution rates, it doesn’t impact the Fund in the same way it would the Council’s accounts, hence not being flagged as a risk around the closure of accounts information for the last year. He said Warwickshire’s funding was nearly 100 per cent compared to some partners having funding rates of 110 or 115 per cent, whilst others are lower, so Warwickshire is in a good position. It was currently unclear if the  ...  view the full minutes text for item 2.


Warwickshire County Council Audit Risk Assessment 2021/22 pdf icon PDF 286 KB

Additional documents:


Virginia Rennie (Strategy and Commissioning Manager, Strategic Finance) introduced the item and said the only material change from the risk assessment reviewed by the Committee last year was the introduction of the ‘Going Concern’ section at pages 69-73. She explained this piece of work had always been produced as part of the final accounts working papers but was now being included as part of the upfront risk assessment. Members noted the contents of the report and considered the responses were consistent with their understanding of the County Council.


Annual Audit Report 2020/21 pdf icon PDF 278 KB

Additional documents:


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.


Audit Update Report pdf icon PDF 267 KB

Additional documents:


Avtar Sohal introduced the item and explained this report related to progress up to March 2022. More information relating to identified risks and completed risk assessments would be available at the next meeting. Avtar Sohal said the work relating to teachers’ pension certification had been completed.


The Chair noted there had been resource issues with the auditor last year that had led to a mismatch in expectations of when information would become available. He asked for members to be informed as early as possible if such a situation were to arise again this year. Avtar Sohal said this was now in the process of being looked at. He said the deadline for providing the financial statements had been extended to 30 November, which would allow greater capacity for the auditor to complete the required work. He stated his belief the final accounts would be completed ready for approval at Full Council in December. Rob Powell clarified this was a national deadline extension and staff at the Warwickshire Fund would aim to complete the audit as soon as possible to allow the auditor more time to complete its review.


Members noted the contents of the report.


CIPFA Financial Management Standards – 2021/22 Self-Assessment pdf icon PDF 292 KB

Additional documents:


Virginia Rennie introduced the item and stated there were no major updates to the report. The authority was complying with the required level of financial management standards, and it was following a process of continual improvement each year. The delivery of the 2021/22 improvement plan in the on-going difficult circumstances was a testament to the importance of financial management to the leadership and culture of the organisation.


Responding to a question from Robert Zara, Virginia Rennie said Power BI referred to in the report was a business intelligence system that pulled together information from a range of sources and presented it in an easy-to-understand manner.


Members noted the contents of the report and agreed with its recommendations.


Internal Audit Plan 2022/23 pdf icon PDF 1 MB

Additional documents:


Paul Clarke (Internal Audit Manager) introduced the item and informed members a draft plan of work for 2022/23 had been produced, which set out possible risks and the strategy for the year ahead. These risks were presented in Annex 1. The plan was kept under review over the course of the year as circumstances and priorities changed. Paul Clarke said it had not been possible to include all risks due to the level of resources available, but the strategy provided a good balance of work across many areas. Paul Clarke said the audit charter set out in Appendix B had been reviewed and no amendments had been deemed necessary.


The Chair noted the comment on page 185 of the agenda regarding schools continuing to experience financial difficulties, and that no individual school audits were planned. Paul Clarke said this was an ongoing area of work and a range of controls had been suggested in order to identify schools potentially at risk of financial difficulty as soon as possible. Andy Felton said a strategic action group, which included educational, finance, HR and legal professionals, has been established for a number of years to review the financial circumstances of particular schools. If any issues were identified then a specialist team would be put in place to resolve the problems with the school, and this team would have a range of powers, including the ultimate ability to remove people from school Governing Boards or leadership roles if necessary..


Councillor Brian Hammersley said there appeared to have been a recent exodus of headteachers from schools nationally, and this had been mentioned at a recent Overview and Scrutiny Committee. Andy Felton said he was not aware of an issue regarding headteachers in Warwickshire. However, he said Warwickshire was part of a group of councils towards the lower end of the spectrum in terms of funding for schools.


Responding to a question from the Chair about schools doing their own critical self-assessments, Andy Felton said this would be expected to occur through the annual Schools’ Financial Values Survey (SFVS). This would start the process of raising awareness of any financial issues but was dependent on the awareness and honesty of those undertaking the survey. Responding to a question from Councillor Chris Kettle about schools’ ability to accurately take part in the survey, Andy Felton said school finances were not managed by the County Council and the surveys would generally be compiled by a bursar or finance manager and has to be approved by the governing body. However, this was sometimes an issue in smaller schools where some members of staff had multiple roles.


Responding to a point raised by Councillor Sarah Feeney regarding the SEND Improvement Programme, Paul Clarke confirmed this was under consideration and work on the this would be taking place in the next financial year as it was top of the list of additional risks that had not been included within the current plan. Councillor Sarah Feeney said SEN requirements put additional financial  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.


Reports Containing Exempt or Confidential Information

To consider passing the following resolution:


‘That members of the public be excluded from the meeting for the items mentioned below on the grounds that their presence would involve the disclosure of exempt information as defined in paragraph 3 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972.’

Additional documents:




That members of the public be excluded from the meeting for the items mentioned below on the grounds that their presence would involve the disclosure of exempt information as defined in paragraph 3 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972.


Internal Audit Update Report


The Committee received a confidential update.