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Agenda and minutes

Venue: Tewkesbury Borough Council Offices, Severn Room

Contact: Democratic Services Tel: 01684 272021  Email:  Democraticservices@tewkesbury.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

31.

Announcements

When the continuous alarm sounds you must evacuate the building by the nearest available fire exit. Members and visitors should proceed to the visitors’ car park at the front of the building and await further instructions (staff should proceed to their usual assembly point. Please do not re-enter the building unless instructed to do so.

 

In the event of a fire any person with a disability should be assisted in leaving the building.

Minutes:

31.1          The evacuation procedure, as noted on the Agenda, was advised to those present. 

32.

Declarations of Interest

Pursuant to the adoption by the Council on 26 June 2012 of the Tewkesbury Borough Council Code of Conduct, effective from 1 July 2012, as set out in Minute No. CL.34, Members are invited to declare any interest they may have in the business set out on the Agenda to which the approved Code applies.

Minutes:

32.1          The Committee’s attention was drawn to the Tewkesbury Borough Council Code of Conduct which was adopted by the Council on 26 June 2012 and took effect from 1 July 2012.

32.2          There were no declarations made on this occasion. 

33.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 158 KB

To approve the Minutes of the meeting held on 18 September 2019.

Minutes:

33.1          The Minutes of the meeting held on 18 September 2019, copies of which had been circulated, were approved as a correct record and signed by the Chair. 

34.

Audit and Governance Committee Work Programme pdf icon PDF 252 KB

To consider the Audit and Governance Committee Work Programme.  

Minutes:

34.1          Attention was drawn to the Audit and Governance Committee Work Programme, circulated at Pages No. 10-16, which Members were asked to consider.

34.2          It was noted that a report on the findings of the Food Standards Agency audit would be brought to the next meeting of the Committee on 25 March 2020 and that a new Money Laundering Policy would be coming forward in July 2020 for the Audit and Governance Committee to consider and make a recommendation to the Executive Committee; both items had been included on the Work Programme.

34.3          It was

RESOLVED          That the Audit and Governance Committee Work Programme be NOTED.

35.

Counter Fraud Unit Update pdf icon PDF 144 KB

 To consider the six monthly update from the Counter Fraud Unit.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

35.1          Attention was drawn to the report of the Head of Finance and Asset Management, circulated at Pages No. 17-22, which provided assurance over the counter-fraud activities of the Council.  Members were asked to consider the six monthly update from the Counter Fraud Unit.

35.2          The Counter Fraud Unit Manager advised that, during quarters two and three, the Counter Fraud Unit had been tasked with undertaking the investigation of alleged fraud and abuse in relation to the Council Tax Reduction Scheme.  The team had received nine referrals and had closed eight cases; this had resulted in civil and criminal penalties and three prosecutions.  In addition, joint working with the Department for Work and Pensions on the investigation of cases involving housing benefit and council tax reduction had continued.   Appendix 1 to the report provided an update on the corporate/strategic work plan which included completion of the work on the serious and organised crime checklist with training delivered to staff in November/December 2019 and publication of the fraud transparency data.  It was noted that the report on the small supplier payment review would be available at the end of the quarter and work on enforcement was about to commence with Planning which would be included in the next report to the Committee.

35.3          It was

RESOLVED          That the Counter Fraud Unit six monthly update be NOTED.

36.

Whistleblowing Policy pdf icon PDF 208 KB

To recommend to Executive Committee that the updated Whistleblowing Policy be approved. 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

36.1          Attention was drawn to the report of the Head of Corporate Services, circulated at Pages No. 23-37, which asked Members to recommend to the Executive Committee that the updated Whistleblowing Policy be approved.

36.2          The Counter Fraud Unit Manager advised that the Whistleblowing Policy had been refreshed to make it more applicable to Tewkesbury Borough Council and to ensure that guidance and links were up to date.  It was noted that the Counter Fraud Unit had run awareness sessions for staff with almost 100 people attending to date and further mop-up sessions planned so there was assurance that staff were familiar with the policy and able to come forward if necessary.  A Member queried how many staff had come forward within the last 12 months and was advised that these statistics would be held by HR but the Counter Fraud Unit had not received any directly, although the training had only been delivered recently and that could sometimes prompt people to come forward.  The Head of Corporate Services did not believe that any whistleblowing allegations had been put to HR, or anyone else in the organisation; however, that may be due to a lack of understanding which was why the Counter Fraud Unit had revised the policy and promoted it to staff. 

36.3           A Member queried the effectiveness of whistleblowing generally across other organisations which the Counter Fraud Unit dealt with and whether Tewkesbury Borough Council was doing enough to make it a natural reaction for people who had suspicions.  In response, the Counter Fraud Unit Manager felt that it was increasingly effective and people were being actively encouraged to report incidents; other partner councils were getting positive results and staff felt confident about coming forward with information as a result of action being taken.  It was noted that live examples from across the partnership were used in training to make it more relevant.  The Chair felt that building confidence among staff to report incidents was key.  The Counter Fraud Manager considered it beneficial that the Counter Fraud Unit was slightly removed from the Council as staff may find it easier to report incidents to her team as opposed to HR etc. 

36.4          It was

RESOLVED          That it be RECOMMENDED TO THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE that the updated Whistleblowing Policy be APPROVED.

37.

External Auditor's Progress Report pdf icon PDF 878 KB

To consider the External Auditor’s Progress Report.  

Minutes:

37.1          Attention was drawn to the external auditor’s progress report, circulated at Pages No. 39-52, which set out the progress that had been made in relation to the audit plan, together with any emerging national issues and developments that might be relevant to Tewkesbury Borough Council.  Members were asked to consider the report.

37.2          The Engagement Manager from Grant Thornton explained that there were two elements of the audit undertaken: financial statements audit and value for money.  In terms of the financial statements audit, it was very early in the cycle with work underway behind the scenes and, in the coming weeks and months, Grant Thornton would be meeting with relevant Officers and carrying out interim testing of individual transactions which would be reported as part of the audit plan update at the next Committee meeting in March, along with an update on the value for money audit.  Page No. 43 of the report contained a section on the certification of the housing benefit claim that had been undertaken at the end of last year.  The original deadline was the end of November; however, the Council had sought a short extension and she confirmed that the claim had been completed and certified by 13 December 2019 which was the extension agreed by the Department for Work and Pensions.  The main reason for the delay was because, as part of the initial tender for the work, Grant Thornton had agreed to do a lot of testing which had not been possible due to unforeseen circumstances meaning Grant Thornton had needed to find additional resources quite late on in the process.  She explained that a large number of errors had been identified due to the prescribed method of testing which meant that, for each error, another additional 40 cases were tested.  As such, it had been quite an achievement to meet the 13 December deadline.  The Engagement Lead and previous Engagement Manager had met with Tewkesbury Borough Council Officers earlier in the month to put a plan in place for next year to resolve some of the issues that had been identified as part of this audit in order to mitigate errors. 

37.3           The Engagement Manager went on to advise that the base level audit fee was set by Public Sector Audit Appointments (PSSA) Ltd. but, due to the changing scope of audit and the increasing pressure for external auditors to undertake more detailed work, there would be additional fees for 2019/20.  At the moment it was unclear exactly what those would be but Grant Thornton would write to the Section 151 Officer to alert him to the additional fees.  It was noted that some other authorities had seen a small increase on the 2018/19 fee but it was still less than the 2017/18 fee and therefore not significant.  Page No. 44 of the report listed all of the audit deliverables, some of which had already been completed, and when they would be reported to Committee.  The remainder of the report contained  ...  view the full minutes text for item 37.

38.

Internal Audit Plan Monitoring Report pdf icon PDF 124 KB

To consider the Internal Audit work undertaken and the assurance given on the adequacy of internal controls operating in the systems audited.  

Additional documents:

Minutes:

38.1          The report of the Head of Corporate Services, circulated at Pages No. 53-77, summarised the work undertaken by the Internal Audit Team since the last Committee.  Members were asked to consider the audit work completed and the assurance given on the adequacy of internal controls operating in the systems audited.

38.2          The Head of Corporate Services advised that the full details of the audits undertaken were attached at Appendix 1 to the report.  A list of audit recommendations that were due to be followed-up could be found at Appendix 2 to the report; of the 20 recommendations, 12 had been implemented, five partially implemented and three were yet to be implemented.

38.3          Members were advised that an audit of procurement cards had been requested by the Head of Finance and Asset Management to give assurance that the framework was working as it should be. During 2018/19, a total of £86,485 had been spent using procurement cards across all services within the Council; there were around 40 Officers with procurement cards which were used for low-level online purchases etc. so there was potential for abuse without careful monitoring.  The audit had found a satisfactory level of control with all card expenditure published on the Council’s website in accordance with the Local Government Transparency Code 2015.  Each cardholder had verified receipt of their cards and signed a declaration to agree to adhere to the guidelines for use and audit testing had concluded that purchases made using procurement cards were genuine with costs incurred in the course of official Council business.  All expenditure was made within the cardholder’s authorised spending limit and all statements had been appropriately authorised with the exception of one which had been authorised by the cardholder.  Procurement card statements were received on a monthly basis and adequate supporting documentation was provided in the majority of cases, although sometimes the appropriate invoice was not received which meant that VAT could not be reclaimed.  The Finance Team had already taken steps to address this issue and corporate business accounts had been set-up with a number of suppliers to ensure that VAT could be reclaimed on all future purchases.  The main recommendation arising from the audit was in relation to a reminder being sent to cardholders alerting them of their responsibility to retain invoices.  A Member questioned whether there was a set limit on the cards and was advised that the average was around £1,000.

38.4           Members were advised that an additional £55m funding had been allocated to local authorities in England for the provision of Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs) or social care projects, of which £141,363 was allocated to Tewkesbury Borough Council to be spent by the end of the current financial year.  The grant required the Chief Audit Executive to confirm by December 2019 that monies had been spent in accordance with the conditions of the grant and an audit had subsequently been carried out to provide that assurance.  The audit confirmed that money had been spent on the  ...  view the full minutes text for item 38.

39.

Corporate Risk Register pdf icon PDF 135 KB

To consider the risks contained within the Corporate Risk Register and assurance that the risks are being effectively managed. 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

39.1           The report of the Head of Corporate Services, circulated at Pages No. 78-99, asked Members to consider the risks contained within the corporate risk register and assurance that the risks were being effectively managed.

39.2          Members were advised that the corporate risk register was a high-level tool which helped management to consider what the corporate risks were and how they were being managed.  Days were allocated in the Internal Audit Plan to look at the risks in the register and test the controls to ensure they were effective and that action points were being addressed.  The register was attached at Appendix 1 to the report with changes since the last Committee highlighted in bold.  The key changes were also outlined at Page No. 80, Paragraph 3.1 of the report and particular reference was made to financial sustainability, which had been reviewed in its totality with the current risk score being increased to reflect the uncertainty around local government financing; emergency planning arrangements, which had been tested in the recent flood event; and safeguarding, which was included on the basis that an updated policy was due to be presented to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee in February 2020.  It was proposed to remove the risks around treasury management and fraud and corruption which were consistently reported as low risk but a new risk was proposed around the £8m Ashchurch Bridge project.

39.3          It was

RESOLVED          That the risks and mitigating controls within the Corporate Risk Register be NOTED.

40.

Monitoring of Significant Governance Issues 2018/19 pdf icon PDF 122 KB

To consider the monitoring report on the Significant Governance Issues identified in the Annual Governance Statement and to review progress against the actions.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

40.1          The report of the Borough Solicitor, circulated at Pages No. 100-105, set out the Significant Governance Issues and the action to be taken to address them as identified in the Council’s Annual Governance Statement.  Members were asked to consider the progress made against those issues.

40.2          Members were advised that the table set out at Appendix 1 to the report comprised the Significant Governance Issues and the proposed actions and timescale for completion, with a further column indicating the progress as at 30 November 2019.  The Borough Solicitor explained that there had been movement on all actions and there was no reason they would not be completed within the prescribed timescales.  It was

RESOLVED          That progress against the Significant Governance Issues identified in the Council’s Annual Governance Statement be NOTED