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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

28.

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 (during office hours staff should proceed to their usual assembly point; outside of office hours proceed to the visitors’ car park). 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:

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

29.

Apologies for Absence and Substitutions

To receive apologies for absence and advise of any substitutions. 

Minutes:

29.1          Apologies for absence were received from Councillor D W Gray.  There were no substitutions for the meeting. 

30.

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:

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

30.2          There were no declarations made on this occasion.

31.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 104 KB

To approve the Minutes of the meeting held on 15 September 2021.

Minutes:

31.1          The Minutes of the meeting held on 15 September 2021, copies of which had been circulated, were approved as a correct record and signed by the Chair. 

31.2          Councillor Cody requested that it be put on record that she did not believe today’s meeting should be held in person given the latest government advice in relation to the Coronavirus pandemic and the mandate to work from home.  She recognised that government legislation required decision-making Committees to be held in person but the majority of the items on the Agenda were ‘to consider’ and, in her view, the meeting could have been conducted virtually.

32.

Audit and Governance Committee Work Programme pdf icon PDF 75 KB

To consider the Audit and Governance Committee Work Programme.  

Minutes:

32.1          Attention was drawn to the Audit and Governance Committee Work Programme, circulated at Pages No. 9-14, which Members were asked to consider.

32.2          The Head of Corporate Services explained that it had been intended to bring an Internal Audit Monitoring Report to today’s meeting and, although the Internal Audit team was now being resourced, there was no significant audit conclusion work to report so this would now be taken to the meeting on 23 March 2022.  He advised that one Member of the Internal Audit team remained in the business cell until at least the end of March and an interim 12 month post had been agreed via new burdens funding.

32.3          Accordingly, it was

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

33.

External Auditor's Progress Report pdf icon PDF 5 MB

To consider the external auditor’s report on progress against planned outputs.  

Minutes:

33.1          Attention was drawn to Grant Thornton’s audit progress report and sector update, circulated at Pages No. 15- 37.  Members were asked to consider the report.

33.2          The representative from Grant Thornton advised this was a high-level summary setting out the progress in relation to the annual audit cycle.  The two main areas of responsibility were the financial statements audit, which had been completed at the start of November, and the value for money audit which was underway and on track to be completed in December; the National Audit Office required the value for money audit to be completed three months after giving the audit opinion on the financial statements and Members were informed it was intended to issue the annual auditor’s report by the end of January 2022 and bring this to the Audit and Governance Committee in March.  Page No. 19 of the report set out the various other elements of work undertaken including the certification of the housing benefit claim; whilst it was planned to meet the deadline there was a slight risk this would not be achieved so Grant Thornton had applied to the Department for Work and Pensions for an extension which was expected to be granted without any issues given the huge resourcing challenges in the audit market currently.  In terms of audit fees, there was no change from previous discussions; the greater scope of work was the main driver for increasing the fee from the level experienced in recent years.  Page No. 20 of the report set out the audit deliverables in terms of dates reports would be brought to Committee.  It was noted that the audit plan for the forthcoming year would be brought to the Audit and Governance Committee in March.  The representative from Grant Thornton went on to explain that the Financial Reporting Council had published its annual report setting out the findings of its review of the work of local auditors and she was pleased to advise there had been significant improvement in Grant Thornton’s audit scores as shown in the tables at Page No. 21 of the report.  Pages No. 23-37 of the report provided Members with various sector updates giving a summary of emerging national issues and developments which may impact on the Council, wider local government and the public sector as a whole.

33.3          In terms of the sector updates, a Member asked if there was any learning which would be useful for Tewkesbury Borough Council, particularly in relation to the National Audit Office report ‘Local government and net zero in England’ as referenced at Page No. 35.  In response, the Head of Finance and Asset Management explained there was a whole host of material available in relation to net zero and climate change and, whilst he had not read this document specifically, he was sure it would be considered in due course and a decision would be made as to whether it needed to be reproduced, for instance, at the Climate Change and Flood Risk  ...  view the full minutes text for item 33.

34.

Appointment of External Auditor pdf icon PDF 153 KB

To recommend to Council that the Public Sector Audit Appointments (PSAA) invitation to ‘opt-in’ to the sector led national scheme for the appointment of external auditors for the five financial years commencing 1 April 2023 be accepted.

Minutes:

34.1          The report of the Head of Finance and Asset Management, circulated at Pages No. 38-44, set out the proposals for appointing the external auditors to the Council for the 2023/24 accounts and beyond.  Members were asked to recommend to Council that the Public Sector Audit Appointments (PSAA) invitation to ‘opt-in’ to the sector-led national scheme for the appointment of external auditors for the five financial years commencing 1 April 2023 be accepted.

34.2          The Head of Finance and Asset Management advised that it was five years since Members had considered the appointment of an external auditor and there were three options available to the Council under the current framework: to appoint its own auditor; to act jointly with other authorities to procure an auditor; or to opt-in to the national auditor appointment scheme administered by a body designated by the Secretary of State as the ‘appointing person’ which was currently designated to PSAA.  He explained that the obvious benefits of opting into a national scheme were the efficiencies in terms of the time and cost associated with making the appointment and, following the appointment, the ability to communicate effectively with the auditor in terms of the overall contract.  This option had been strongly recommended when it had last been considered and subsequently approved by Council with Grant Thornton appointed as the auditor for Tewkesbury Borough Council.  As such, it was recommended that the same route be followed in 2022 to ensure a successful appointment was made going forward for a five year period, as set out in the report.

34.3          A Member noted that the audit fee had increased to £20,100 and she asked for a summary of the extra work that was carried out by the external auditors.  The Head of Finance and Asset Management explained that the depth and breadth of audit work which Grant Thornton and other bodies undertook had increased significantly over the last few years, for example, pension funds and valuations of property/estate, which was very different from when the scale fee had been agreed.  The movement in fees over the last 10 years had been quite dramatic – the fee paid to the Audit Commission, as the Council’s previous auditors, was in the region of £140,000 a year which was significantly more than the current scale fee of £35,000.  This clearly impacted on the audit sector hence the recommendation for greater funding in order to deliver the audit work required and give the public assurance on local authority accounts.  The representative from Grant Thornton advised that Tewkesbury Borough Council’s audit had previously taken around three to four weeks but this year had taken eight to nine weeks; the onus on the external auditors had increased which required additional work in terms of added scrutiny and challenge to interrogate the figures.  Having gone down in recent years, it was likely the trend would now be that fees would increase again.  The Head of Finance and Asset Management noted that the Audit and Governance Committee  ...  view the full minutes text for item 34.

35.

Counter Fraud and Enforcement Unit Update pdf icon PDF 96 KB

To consider the update on the work of the Counter Fraud and Enforcement Unit. 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

35.1          Attention was drawn to the report of the Counter Fraud and Enforcement Unit Head of Service, circulated at Pages No. 45-50, which provided assurance over the counter fraud activities of the Council.  Members were asked to consider the update on the work of the Counter Fraud and Enforcement Unit.

35.2          The Counter Fraud and Enforcement Unit Head of Service advised that the Counter Fraud Unit had recently undergone a service review and had subsequently been renamed as the Counter Fraud and Enforcement Unit which reflected the nature of the work that would be carried out going forward.  Members were informed that the Unit had been supporting workstreams created as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, most significantly in relation to business grants schemes.  Paragraph 2.2 of the report provided the outcomes of the Cabinet Office’s National Fraud Initiative data-matching exercise.  14 matches had been made in relation to the original business support grants scheme paid during the first lockdown which were currently being reviewed and data matches for the subsequent schemes introduced by the government would start to arrive in April 2021 – this was a significant piece of work as there would be anomalies relating to national data set matching.  The deadline for the review of these matches was 31 December 2022. In terms of the matches relating to single person discounts, 310 accounts had been identified as requiring further enquiries to be made with liable parties.  Responses would be referred to the Revenues and Benefits team for action where required.  Members were informed that work on the Council Tax Reduction Scheme was ongoing.  It was noted that the Department for Work and Pensions was beginning to return to more normal working conditions within Gloucestershire and an uplift in joint cases was anticipated -  reports indicated increased fraud and error within Universal Credit which would lead to a greater number of cases to review in 2022.

35.3          With regard to Page No. 47, Paragraph 2.1 of the report, a Member noted there had been seven referrals of which one was eligible, two cases of loss prevention had been referred back to the team, one ineligible claim was being pursued and three cases were under review.  She sought an explanation as to what this meant and asked for further details to be provided.  The Counter Fraud and Enforcement Unit Head of Service advised that it was difficult to provide details of specific cases without revealing how fraud was committed but she could circulate some general information on trends.  The most common theme was false declaration, for instance, feigning that a business was being run from a unit which was vacant and unoccupied.  Loss prevention would be when the Counter Fraud and Enforcement Unit had prevented money being paid incorrectly, for instance, if the business grants team had intended to pay someone a grant but the Unit had instructed that the money should not be paid following additional checks.  With regard to Paragraph 2.2 of the report, the Member asked  ...  view the full minutes text for item 35.

36.

Corporate Risk Register pdf icon PDF 90 KB

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

Additional documents:

Minutes:

36.1          The report of the Head of Corporate Services, circulated at Pages No. 51-73, asked Members to consider the risks contained within the corporate risk register and assurance that the risks were being effectively managed.

36.2          The Head of Corporate Services indicated that little had changed in terms of strategic risks since the last report to the Committee in September but the key updates were set out at Page No. 53, Paragraph 3.1 of the report.  Three areas were awaiting decisions: Ref. 1 - Financial Sustainability - the Head of Finance and Asset Management was hoping to receive confirmation of the government settlement the following day and that would be used to inform the budget and Medium Term Financial Statement moving forward; Ref. 13 – Ashchurch Bridge Project – the outcome of the judicial review was still awaited; and Ref. 17 – Waste Transfer Station – this was due to be considered by Gloucestershire County Council’s Planning Committee in January 2022.

36.3          With regard to Appendix 1, the Member noted there were several amber and red risks within the register and she asked what the expectation was in terms of Members when considering the report.  The Head of Corporate Services explained that the Audit and Governance Committee had a responsibility to challenge that risk was being managed and improvements being made.  In response, the Member noted that the lack of a five year housing land supply had not been included in the register and she perceived this to be a risk as it made the borough more vulnerable to developers winning appeals.  The Head of Corporate Services undertook to raise this with Management Team which reviewed the corporate risk register on a regular basis.  A Member questioned whether Development Management itself should be included as part of the risk as there were a number of vacancies and difficulties being experienced within the service currently.  The Borough Solicitor confirmed that Management Team would think about the general impact of the planning service and whether it should be highlighted as a risk.

36.4          With regard to Ref. 3 – ICT network, a Member recognised there were huge threats to the security of the Council’s systems which was reflected in the decision to create a new post within the ICT team with specific cyber responsibilities and she asked when this would be recruited to.  The Head of Corporate Services advised that a Network Officer had recently left the authority and that role had been re-scoped.  Management Team had recently approved the request to fill so the role would be advertised shortly.  Another Member drew attention to Pages No. 70-71 of the report and Ref. 15 in relation to climate change and asked whether the appointment of the Carbon Reduction Programme Officer should be included under mitigating controls. The Head of Finance and Asset Management confirmed that an appointment had now been made and the Officer would be starting in March; there were a lot of other challenges in terms of funding and delivery  ...  view the full minutes text for item 36.

37.

Annual Safeguarding Update pdf icon PDF 127 KB

To consider the annual report to give assurance as to the level of the Council’s compliance with its safeguarding duty and to note the Section 11 self-assessment submission to the Assurance Panel, attached at Appendix 1.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

37.1          Attention was drawn to the report of the Head of Community Services, circulated at Pages No. 74-82, which provided the annual report to give assurance that Tewkesbury Borough Council was fulfilling its safeguarding duties.  Members were asked to consider the report and to note the Section 11 self-assessment submission to the Assurance Panel, attached at Appendix 1 to the report.

37.2          The Head of Community Services advised that the Section 11 process was a statutory requirement and an integral part of the self-assessment which focused on four areas: leadership and accountability; staff safe recruitment, induction, training and development; safeguarding policies and procedures; and listening to children and young people.  He had attended the Assurance Panel on 16 November 2021 where he had been questioned in relation to the content of Tewkesbury Borough Council’s submission and was pleased to report that no issues had been identified.  He drew attention to Page No. 76, Paragraph 4 of the report which set out that 14 safeguarding cases had been raised internally during the year 1 April 2020-31 March 2021 of which two needed to be referred to social care, two had been dealt with in partnership with the neighbourhood policing team, two multi-agency meetings had been called by the Council in light of the concerns raised and four cases had become ongoing child protection cases which had been attended by a member of staff to advise from Tewkesbury Borough Council’s perspective.  The 14 cases raised came from a good cross-section of Council departments which demonstrated that Officers had a good understanding of their safeguarding responsibilities.

37.3          A Member recognised that a lot of the areas covered by the Section 11 self-assessment were outside of the remit of the Borough Council but he was pleased to note that cases were being referred by Officers when safeguarding concerns came to light.  He indicated that he would like to see the information that had been sent to the Assurance Panel if possible and, in response, the Head of Community Services confirmed that was as set out at Appendix 1 to the report; whilst the Local Safeguarding Partnership did not discuss individual cases, he was able to gain insight and an overall feeling for how things were going and he would be happy to have a conversation with the Member outside of the meeting if he had any specific questions.  Another Member expressed the view that it would be useful to have an idea of the safeguarding issues that had been raised and the sort of things that came up in general terms.  The Head of Community Services expressed concern that, due to the small number of people involved, any detail could make them easily identifiable; nevertheless, he would discuss this further with Management Team to see if it was possible to provide some general case studies setting out how the matter had come to light and what the outcome was etc.  A Member expressed the view that this was important from a learning point of  ...  view the full minutes text for item 37.

38.

Discretionary Housing Payments Follow-Up pdf icon PDF 167 KB

To consider the progress made against implementation of the audit recommendations in relation to Discretionary Housing Payments. 

Minutes:

38.1          The report of the Head of Corporate Services, circulated at Pages No. 83-87, provided Members with an update on the progress made against implementation of the audit recommendations in relation to Discretionary Housing Payments.  Members were asked to consider the report.

38.2          The Revenues and Benefits Manager advised that Discretionary Housing Payments provided financial help with housing costs for residents in receipt of housing benefit or the housing element of Universal Credit.  She had requested that the Internal Audit team look at Discretionary Housing Payments to ensure they were being awarded consistently and only to those who had demonstrated a real need.  The audit had been undertaken in February 2020 and resulted in an unsatisfactory audit opinion and a set of recommended actions.  Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact on the Revenues and Benefits team, not as much progress had been made as she would have liked since that time.  Notwithstanding this, Page No. 85, Paragraph 2.1 of the report set out that recommendation 1 – development of a checklist to support the collection and assessment of Discretionary Housing Payments information and recommendation 2 – review the inclusion of non-essential items as part of the scheduled review of the Discretionary Housing Payments Policy had both been fully completed to the satisfaction of the Internal Audit team and the revised policy was due to be considered by the Executive Committee in February 2022.  With regard to recommendation 3 – consideration to be given to the introduction of performance reporting in respect of Discretionary Housing Payments, although initial discussions had taken place with the Lead Member for Finance and Asset Management, a suite of performance indicators were yet to be agreed.  Due to the impact of COVID-19 and capacity within the team, recommendation 4 – carry out an independent verification check on a sample of Discretionary Housing Payments, was still in progress.  As set out at Paragraph 3.2 of the report, a revised implementation date of April 2022 had been agreed for the two outstanding actions.

38.3          A Member noted that the Executive Committee had agreed to top-up the Discretionary Housing Payments budget with an additional £40,000 of Council reserves in January 2020 and he asked whether there were plans to request more funds.  The Revenues and Benefits Manager explained that had been a particular request to fund additional Discretionary Housing Payments from the Council’s own resources and it had not been necessary to make any further requests since that time.  The Council’s annual allocation was £78,000, of which approximately £17,000 had been spent to date; this was partly due to the implementation of the audit recommendations which meant that the payments were not as generous as they may have been in the past.  The Department for Work and Pensions would reassess the budget at the end of the financial year and, whilst it would hopefully still be a good amount, there was a risk that it would be significantly reduced based on the lower expenditure.  With regard  ...  view the full minutes text for item 38.

39.

Status of Internal Audit Recommendations pdf icon PDF 79 KB

To consider the status of the internal audit recommendations.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

39.1          The report of the Head of Corporate Services, circulated at Pages No. 88-109, provided Members with an update on the status of internal audit recommendations that had been agreed pre-pandemic.  Members were asked to consider the report.

39.2          The Head of Corporate Services explained that one member of the Internal Audit team had now returned to an internal audit role following redeployment to support the Council’s response to COVID-19 and their first task was to assess the internal audit recommendations to establish whether they had been implemented to ensure it was clear what needed to be followed-up moving forward.  A summary was included at Appendix 1 to the report and set out that 16 recommendations had been implemented, 29 were in progress or yet to be implemented and 10 had been mitigated.  Revised target dates had been agreed with services in relation to all outstanding audit recommendations and those which had been implemented would be followed-up on a quarterly basis as part of the Internal Audit Monitoring Report.  It was noted that the national picture with regard to the pandemic was changing again so it was possible the Council would need to move back to response mode which may mean the target dates were not achieved; if that was the case, the Committee could request that Officers attend a future meeting to give a more detailed explanation. 

39.3          A Member raised concern that the audit in relation to the Community Infrastructure Levy had identified that governance for administration and spending of income should be agreed as a matter of urgency and the expected implementation date had changed from September 2020 to March 2023 which was a significant leap so she asked if there was any way it could be brought forward.  In response, the Head of Corporate Services indicated that he had spoken with the Head of Development Services who had agreed the revised target date; notwithstanding this, he believed there was an action around this in the Annual Governance Statement so he would look into this following the meeting.

39.4          It was

RESOLVED          That the status of the internal audit recommendations be NOTED.

40.

Data Protection Officer Annual Report pdf icon PDF 137 KB

To receive the annual report on the actions undertaken during the year and to consider the action plan, attached at Appendix 1, to further improve the Council’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) arrangements. 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

40.1          The report of the Head of Corporate Services, circulated at Pages No. 110-120, provided Members with an annual report on the actions undertaken during the year to ensue broad compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).  Members were asked to consider the report and the action plan, attached at Appendix 1.

40.2          Members were informed that the Internal Audit and GDPR Officer was responsible for overseeing compliance with the GDPR framework.  Page No. 112, Paragraph 2.1 of the report gave a summary of the key actions that had been undertaken during the year which included a lot of work around staff communications, particularly in terms of preventing and reporting data breaches - it was noted there had been 20 recorded breaches during the year of which 19 were categorised as low risk and one as medium risk.  In addition, an e-learning platform had been rolled out to staff and would be extended to Members in the New Year and staff had received training on the importance of retention and redaction of information.  A lot of support had been required for new and emerging projects that needed a Data Protection Impact Assessment, for example, COVID-19 grant support schemes, digital recruitment, High Street Heritage Action Zone, HR self-service, Land Registry migration, new digital platform and paperless billing.  The Business Transformation team had developed a management system for logging and responding to data requests, including Subject Access Requests which allowed residents to request a copy of the personal information the Council held about them and check that it was being lawfully processed – data requests had been increasing in number with 64 received over the last year.  Page No. 113, Paragraph 3.1 of the report outlined the key actions moving forward which would be supporting the implementation of the new website project; implementation of an information classification project; undertaking a review of key policies such as the overarching Data Protection Policy and providing support to ICT related policies e.g. cyber security; and, for the internal audit team to assess whether lessons learnt with regard to breaches were implemented and test that data was being retained in accordance with the corporate retention policy. 

40.3          The Borough Solicitor explained that ensuring compliance with data protection requirements was a continuous process and having a single point of contact through the Internal Audit and GDPR Officer had been invaluable in securing and monitoring the Council’s development and compliance.  Tewkesbury Borough Council’s record of breaches was low and none had been categorised as high risk but it was important to ensure that the arrangements were kept under review and that the action plan was delivered in order to ensure continued compliance.  In her view the action plan was robust and she was confident that the Council was doing the very best it could.

40.4          A Member recognised the importance of complying with GDPR; however, it could be quite a hinderance and she noted that Page No. 116 of the action plan included an initiative to introduce  ...  view the full minutes text for item 40.