Agenda and draft minutes

Audit and Standards Committee - Friday 24 September 2021 10.00 am

Venue: Committee Room 2, Shire Hall. View directions

Contact: John Cole  Democratic Services Officer

Media

Items
No. Item

1.

General

Additional documents:

1(1)

Apologies

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Apologies were received from Councillor Brian Hammersley; Councillor Sue Markham was present as a substitute. Apologies were also received from Councillor Sarah Feeney and Councillor Christopher Kettle.

 

1(2)

Disclosures of Pecuniary and Non-Pecuniary Interests

Members are required to register their disclosable pecuniary interests within 28 days of their election of appointment to the Council. ?Any changes to matters registered or new matters that require to be registered must be notified to the Monitoring Officer as soon as practicable after they arise.

 

A member attending a meeting where a matter arises in which they have a disclosable pecuniary interest must (unless ?they have a dispensation):

 

·       Declare the interest if ?they have not already registered it

·       Not participate in any discussion or vote

·       ?Leave the meeting room until the matter has been dealt with

·       Give written notice of any unregistered interest to the Monitoring Officer within 28 days of the meeting.

 

Non-pecuniary interests relevant to the agenda should be declared at the commencement of the meeting.

 

The public reports referred to are available on the Warwickshire Web https://democracy.warwickshire.gov.uk/uuCoverPage.aspx?bcr=1

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

There were none.

1(3)

Minutes of the Previous Meeting pdf icon PDF 222 KB

To confirm the minutes of the meeting held on 10 June 2021.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Resolved:

 

That the minutes of the meeting held on 10 June 2021 be approved as an accurate record.

 

Matters arising

 

The Chair welcomed Ciaran McLaughlin (Grant Thornton) to the meeting. Ciaran McLaughlin advised that he had recently been appointed as Grant Thornton’s engagement lead for WCC. The Chair asked that the Committee’s good wishes be conveyed to the outgoing engagement lead, John Gregory.

 

2.

Warwickshire County Council and Warwickshire Pension Fund Statement of Accounts 2020/21 - Progress Update pdf icon PDF 222 KB

The report and appendices are attached.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Jim McLarnon (Grant Thornton) introduced the external auditor’s Progress Report stating that, while it was Grant Thornton’s intention to deliver its audit findings by the deadline of 30 September 2021, it was evident by the end of July 2021 that this would not be possible. He apologised for the delay, stating that progress had been impeded by the impact of COVID-19 leading to delays of other public sector audits which preceded that of WCC and Warwickshire Pension Fund. This had been discussed with WCC management in July 2021 and a revised timetable had been agreed for audit completion by October 2021. He provided assurance that the Council would still be able to meet its statutory duty to publish its accounts by 30 September 2021 provided draft accounts were published on-line alongside a note stating that the audit had been delayed.

 

Jim McLarnon reported that, in recognition of regulatory changes which required Grant Thornton to undertake a more detailed assessment of value for money arrangements, a revised deadline had been set for certification of work in this area. Resources would be focused on the delivery of opinions on the financial statements; the extended deadline for value for money assessment would be no more than three months after the date of the opinion on the financial statements. He advised that audit findings would be reported to the Audit and Standards Committee at the meeting in November 2021. The Auditor’s Annual Report, including a commentary on arrangements to secure value for money, would coincide with the anticipated date for audit sign-off in December 2021.

 

The Chair stated that the agreement for delivery of audit findings had been reached on an understanding that Grant Thornton was adequately resourced to complete the work.

 

In response to the Chair, Ciaran McLaughlin (Grant Thornton) advised that Grant Thornton had recruited intensively over a three-year period, including appointment of graduate trainees. He stated that the firm was among the largest employers of Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) qualified personnel nationally. However, he advised that there was a shortage of individuals with the requisite skills to undertake public sector audit work. This was an acknowledged problem affecting suppliers across the market.

 

Ciaran McLaughlin advised that Grant Thornton had benchmarked its offer to prospective employees against other firms in the sector to ensure that it was competitive within the recruitment market.

 

The Chair requested that the Committee’s concerns be raised with the external auditor’s Regional Director. He recognised the challenges faced by the engagement team, stating that ultimate accountability for the failure to meet agreed deadlines rested with the Regional Director.

 

Councillor Birdi highlighted the potential reputational damage to the Council caused by the delay. He emphasised the importance of preventing any reoccurrence of a failure to meet agreed deadlines. He suggested that contractual arrangements be revised to this aim; a punitive element for non-delivery of agreed outcomes could provide a means to incentivise improved performance.

 

Councillor Gifford emphasised the importance of conveying a message to Warwickshire  ...  view the full minutes text for item 2.

3.

Review of Overview and Scrutiny pdf icon PDF 234 KB

The report and appendices are attached.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Sarah Duxbury (Assistant Director, Governance and Policy) introduced the report, stating that an independent review had been commissioned to examine the Authority’s approach to scrutiny and to consider opportunities to improve upon current arrangements.

 

Sarah Duxbury advised that an independent report had been produced by Dr Jane Martin, a former Local Government Ombudsman, following engagement with members and officers. The report and recommendations had been shared with the chairs of the four overview and scrutiny committees prior to formal consideration by each committee. Feedback from the scrutiny committees had been incorporated within a finalised report. In September 2021, Cabinet resolved to support the proposals. Following consideration by this Committee, approval would be sought from full Council.

 

The Chair observed that the initiative to review scrutiny arrangements had been prompted by publication of statutory guidance on overview and scrutiny and the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny (CfGS) issuing an updated ‘Good Scrutiny Guide’. He drew members’ attention to case studies included within the CfGS document which highlighted the advantages of scrutinising performance by looking outside of an organisation.

 

In response to the Chair, Sarah Duxbury advised that when supporting scrutiny committees and task and finish groups, Democratic Services officers would seek to gather information from external sources, including examples of good practice elsewhere. This approach had proved to be effective, notably during task and finish group work examining GP services, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and special educational needs. Scrutiny recommendations emerging from task and finish group work had supported the development of proposals progressed to Cabinet. She advised that training was provided to members to support continued development of scrutiny skills. Case studies, such as those outlined by CfGS, would be made available to members as part of the ongoing training programme.

 

Councillor Horner highlighted the valuable role scrutiny could play in the development of policy, as evidenced by task and finish group work. However, there were inherent political challenges to overcome. He underlined the importance of external training for members, including opportunities for liaison with members of other local authorities to compare approaches to scrutiny. He stated that an overtly inward-looking approach could act as a barrier to effective scrutiny.

 

The Chair drew attention to the principle of ‘transparency’ recommended by the report, which stated that “the scrutiny function should shine a light internally and externally [as] an important vehicle for public consultation which should engage external partners, local people, and service users, and represent their views.” This was a positive step.

 

Councillor Gifford stated that the introduction of the scrutiny function alongside executive arrangements had been a retrograde step for local authorities. He stated that a committee system enabling a focus on individual service areas provided a more effective means of monitoring performance. However, task and finish groups provided a means to examine good practices outside of Warwickshire.

 

Councillor Birdi highlighted the importance of timetabling meetings to best support pre-decision scrutiny. This had been recognised in the recommendations of the report. He emphasised the importance of maintaining adequate  ...  view the full minutes text for item 3.

4.

Work Programme and Future Meeting Dates pdf icon PDF 182 KB

To consider items for the Committee’s Work Programme and the dates of future meetings to be held at Shire Hall, Warwick at 10am as follows:

 

·       4 November 2021

·       24 March 2022

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee noted the Work Programme and future meeting dates.

 

5.

Any Other Business

Additional documents:

Minutes:

In response to the Chair, Barnaby Briggs (Assistant Chief Fire Officer) advised that Warwickshire Fire & Rescue Service (WFRS) was aware of a number of low-rise residential buildings in Warwickshire which had been modified with external cladding material (notably by borough and district councils for the purpose of energy efficiency). He stated that there was no evidence of a theme of developing fires caused by the cladding.

 

The Chair asked if residents of these buildings were likely to be economically disadvantaged by the presence of external cladding. Rob Powell (Strategic Director for Resources) advised that a note would be provided to the Committee to provide a response to this query.

 

6.

Reports Containing Confidential or Exempt 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.’

Minutes:

Resolved:

 

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.

 

7.

Exempt Minutes of the Meeting of the Audit and Standards Committee Held on 10 June 2021 and Matters Arising

The minutes are attached.

Minutes:

It was agreed that the exempt minutes be signed by the Chair as a true record.

 

There were no matters arising.

 

8.

Internal Audit Progress Report

The report and appendix are attached.

Minutes:

The Committee received a confidential update.

 

 

The meeting closed at 11:00.