Chris Norton (Strategy and Commissioning Manager - Treasury, Pensions, Audit, Insurance, and Risk) introduced the item and explained this was a draft report that would return to the Committee and to Cabinet before final ratification. It had also been considered by Corporate Board, statutory officers and an AGS evaluation panel. Chris Norton stated that although the Council faces a number of challenges the report had not identified any significant corporate governance failings that members should be made aware of.
Chris Norton said there was a corporate code of governance; however, responding to a question from the Chair about how employees are made aware of governance requirements, he explained that not all employees would read or be trained on the corporate code of governance directly. For example there may be certain employees whose job role required additional training in governance matters, and there were policies and procedures in place to ensure this took place. However, the Council has a code of behaviours that is provided to all employees on how they are expected to conduct themselves. Sarah Duxbury (Assistant Director of Governance and Policy) said there was a comprehensive suite of training and development available for new starters, which included elements of good governance, expected behaviours and the culture at Warwickshire County Council. More bespoke training would be available for officers working in areas such as finance, procurement, legal and data protection. These areas included more intensive training around good governance.
Councillor Feeney asked for an update on the Voice of Warwickshire panel, and queried whether there should be a reference to trade unions in the report. Rob Powell (Strategic Director for Resources) said the Voice of Warwickshire group had taken part in three exercises and there had been good levels of engagement with all three. The first was to gain insight into members’ knowledge of local government; the second related to climate change; and the third related to levelling up. Results of the first two engagement exercises were available online, with the responses to the third exercise due to be discussed at July’s Cabinet meeting. Regarding trade unions, Rob Powell said this was something that ought to be included and said he was happy for this to be added.
It was agreed the hyperlink to the code of corporate good governance included in the report would be amended after Robert Zara noted that it did not work.
Regarding the SEND inspection referenced in the report, Andy Felton (Assistant Director – Finance) said the internal actions relating to this were either completed or progressing. Additionally partner agencies were making good progress; for example the CCG had secured extra funding to help with mental health services. More information on this, and the HMICFRS fire inspection, would be included in the final version of the report. John Coleman (Assistant Director – Children and Families) said the SEND service was being monitored by the Department for Education and NHS England through monthly meetings. Targets had been broken down into four target areas and all of these were making good progress.
Regarding the HMICFRS report, Rob Powell said there had been a number of re-inspections in relation to the areas of concern that had been raised and considerable progress was being made. Cabinet had approved a new strategy relating to the areas for improvement.
Councillor Chris Kettle said he was encouraged to see the improvements being made; however he noted that in Principles A-F listed in the report there did not appear to be areas of reflection noted, whereas they were shown under Principle G. Rob Powell said this was because these were areas of improvement noted by external inspections. Any areas of concern raised internally were noted in Appendix A of the report.
Responding to a question from Councillor Feeney, Sarah Duxbury said a strategy for recruiting and retaining staff was being implemented. She said staff recruitment and retention was a national issue so attention was being given to considering what made Warwickshire County Council an attractive place to work to persuade potential recruits to join, such as the agile working offer.
The Chair noted the response to the enquiry on child sexual exploitation had been praised and recognised externally, and this was worth highlighting.
Councillor Bill Gifford noted that under the table for governance improvement actions the SEND inspection did not have an allocated action owner or target completion date, and the code of corporate governance review also did not have an action owner. Andy Felton said these had not yet confirmed in time for the draft to come to the Committee but would be by the time the final version came back for consideration. He added the action owner for the SEND report was likely to be Duane Chappell. It was also confirmed the name of the new independent commissioning service would be included in the final report. Responding to a question from Councillor Gifford, Andy Felton said the recommendations made from the capital programme were starting to be implemented and it was likely to be quarter 2 before they were in place.
The Committee endorsed the draft Annual Governance Statement for consideration by external auditors.