Paul Clarke (Internal Audit Manager) introduced the item, explaining the Internal Audit Team provided an independent reassurance for services across the Council. The report provided a summary of the monitoring reports considered by the Committee throughout the past financial year. There was a strong degree of openness and transparency evidenced during the year and a clear and recognised expectation that any issues identified should be brought into the open for further consideration. Although some issues had been raised, none of them could be considered as major systemic failings. In cases where issues had been raised, action plans had been formulated and implemented and more details on this would be available at the next Committee meeting.
Responding to a question from Councillor Cooke about assurances, Paul Clarke said the level an issue would be assigned took into account the number of issues that had been found and also their severity. For example if a number of significant weaknesses were identified, or more than four significant recommendations were made, then limited assurance would be applied. Guidance was provided in the auditors’ manual to provide consistency. Paul Clarke said he was happy to discuss this with Councillor Cooke outside the meeting.
Responding to a question from the Chair, Paul Clarke said the team was not fully staffed with permanent employees but any vacancies had been filled with agency staff. A new auditor had started in the last few weeks but vacancies remained, and it had been difficult to recruit.
Councillor Kettle noted that fewer cases of moderate or low assurance were recorded in the graph in the report. Paul Clarke said this was a summary overview of the year and the same elements were not reviewed each year, so it was not necessarily possible to do a like-for-like comparison with previous years. Areas of known risk would be audited and other areas where issues had been identified would be monitored through the agreed action plans. These would be revisited later if significant issues continued to be identified once the action plans were embedded.
Councillor Feeney noted a school was mentioned in the report as being of limited assurance, and asked what work was being done to make sure schools took on any recommendations. Paul Clarke said it was not possible to audit all schools due to resource constraints. Priority was being given to schools where there was a significant change, such as a change of headteacher or governing body. Sarah Duxbury said officers in the education team would also flag up if there were any issues within a certain school, or if there was a thematic issue that had been raised that would be highlighted through the Headteacher briefing sessions to raise awareness. The Chair said it was important to encourage schools to have episodes of critical self-examination, but also for schools to feel they could ask for support. Councillor Gifford said he found the level of detail in the internal audits to be very useful and they would be helpful to school management.
Paul Clarke said the traded services draft report was nearly finalised and it was not anticipated there would be major changes before being brought to the July Committee meeting. Councillor Kettle asked if a future paper would be able to report if any concerns raised in previous years’ audits had been addressed.
The Chair said he was pleased with the report and hoped it accurately reflected the work that had been carried out over the past year.
Members noted the contents of the report.