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 reported, would not be included in the final accounts as they were essentially meaningless to members for management purposes.
Councillor Chris Kettle said it would be comforting to know that the auditors were satisfied with the information presented to them, and robust processes were in place to provide an external reassurance the information on accruals was being presented on a consistent and accurate basis. He queried the consistency of the information provided to Corporate Board and Cabinet in relation to accruals. Andy Felton said managers were generally over-prudent on what they would forecast to spend and there would be accruals of expenses at year end. Although there had been some issues with forecasting and fluctuations, it was felt there were sufficient assurances in place to ensure consistency in the reporting of accruals and forecasts. Avtar Sohal said there was a robust system of reconciling accounting against CIPFA accounting that would ensure any discrepancies would be noticed, although he stated he was not able to comment on the processes in place at Warwickshire County Council as he was new to the role. He said the auditor would examine the accounts on the basis that the information was materially correct and in line with the financial statements, and would look at any errors that had been identified. Councillor Chris Kettle said he was not suggesting there were no robust systems in place, but said it would be comforting to know that there were external reassurances that nothing was being missed during the reconciliation process. It was suggested this process be looked at in more detail at a future meeting.
Members noted the contents of the report.