To receive a report highlighting the planned improvements in financial management during 2022/23 and to consider the Council’s assessment of its compliance with the Code and future improvements planned.
The Committee received a report outlining the progress made on the delivery of the planned improvements in financial management during 2022/23, attached as Appendix A to the report. In addition, the report included an updated Council self-assessment which reflected the changes made and detailed the improvements planned for 2023/24, attached as Appendix B.
Andy Felton, Assistant Director - Finance, introduced the report and explained that this document set out the minimum standards the local authority was expected to comply with. The financial management standards helped assure everyone that the Council was making good financial decisions and was delivering good value for money. He highlighted that CIPFA and the Council’s external auditors, Grant Thornton, expected the Council to reach these minimum standards, in order to produce good quality accounts and to comply with the code. However, it was stressed that the Council continued to strive to deliver better than the minimum standards expected and go beyond what was being asked for.
Robert Zara requested assurance and clarification on why the level of activity through the two investment vehicles detailed on page 42, Warwickshire Recovery Investment Fund (WRIF) and the Warwickshire Property and Development Group (WPDG), had been lower than anticipated over the past two years. Andy Felton explained the governance processes involved in the separate schemes and the circumstances which led to changes in timescales, investment levels and the level of interest being achieved.
Members noted that the main driver for the WRIF was to respond to the market and deliver deals that were right for the Council and which would stimulate the appropriate developments for Warwickshire. The investment profile had not been as envisaged due to subsequent economic and global factors impacting the market, interest rates and inflation. In relation to the WPDG, the Committee were assured that the governance arrangements were very solid, had a good level of Member oversight and necessary controls at all stages.
Following a question from Councillor Kettle, Andy Felton outlined who had access to financial information, explained the forecasting and budgeting process, how this was overseen, managed and monitored and the various training packages delivered.
The Chair asked how officers decided the level of standards to aspire to. In response Rob Powell explained that the authority had invested a lot in improving financial performance, resulting in the ability to deliver savings and run cost-effective services. He assured the meeting that the Council was well-run and officers were not over-complying or gold-plating.
Councillor Kettle raised a query relating to the Corporate Board ‘Quarterly Stocktake’ as he hoped that the updates were being provided more frequently than every three months and Andy Felton advised that there were ongoing monthly financial reports to Corporate Board, as well as the more strategic quarterly stocktake of the Council’s overall portfolio of work. The Chair queried the reporting process for the quarterly stocktake and was advised that these papers flowed into the reports considered at Cabinet, and so would be visible to the Committee through the public Cabinet papers.
Rob Powell expanded on the wider purpose of the Quarterly Stocktake and explained how the evolution of this had flowed from the LGA Peer Challenge last year. He gave an example of one of the issues that Corporate Board was looking into in greater detail which had led to the Home to School Transport Member Working Group being set up.
Councillor Hammersley stated that he was satisfied with the information contained in the report and due to the extensive responsibilities of the officers, he had confidence they were competent in their roles.
Having considered the report, the Committee
1) the progress made on the delivery of the planned improvements in financial management during 2022/23, is noted; and
2) the Council’s assessment of its compliance with the CIPFA Financial Management Code and the improvements planned for 2023/24 have been considered and are noted.