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Agenda and minutes

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

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Items
No. Item

34.

Announcements

Minutes:

34.1          The Chair advised that the meeting was being held under the emergency provisions of the Coronavirus Act 2020 and, specifically, the Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020.  The meeting was being broadcast live via the internet, it was not being recorded by the Council but, under the usual transparency rules, it may be being recorded by others. 

35.

Apologies for Absence and Substitutions

To receive apologies for absence and advise of any substitutions. 

Minutes:

35.1          Apologies for absence were received from Councillor L A Gerrard. There were no substitutions for the meeting.  

36.

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:

36.1          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. 

36.2          There were no declarations of interest on this occasion.

37.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 138 KB

To approve the Minutes of the meeting held on 4 November 2020.

Minutes:

37.1          The Minutes of the meeting held on 4 November 2020, copies of which had been circulated, were approved as a correct record.  

38.

Audit and Governance Committee Work Programme pdf icon PDF 244 KB

To consider the Audit and Governance Committee Work Programme.  

Minutes:

38.1          Attention was drawn to the Audit and Governance Committee’s work programme, circulated at Pages No. 7-12, which Members were asked to consider.

38.2          The Head of Corporate Services advised that the internal audit team had been redeployed to help with the administration of business grants so, in terms of the internal audit monitoring report proposed for March, this was unlikely to happen. Internal audit work remained suspended and, depending on the status of the team, it may not be achievable to set up a new plan for April – September 2021. In addition, the Internal Audit Quality Assurance and Improvement Programme due for consideration in March may have to be deferred. In light of the annual update on safeguarding arrangements being considered at the current meeting rather than in July 2020 when originally programmed, it maybe that the annual reporting would be amended from July each year to December each year but the Head of Community Services would be consulted in that regard. Finally, Members were advised that, in the absence of an internal audit opinion, a management assurance report would be provided in March or July to indicate how risks and the internal control environment had been managed during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

38.3          The Chair thanked the Head of Corporate Services for his update and indicated that he understood the crucial work the Internal Audit team was undertaking on business grants. Accordingly, it was

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

39.

Annual Audit Letter 2019/20 pdf icon PDF 435 KB

To consider the external auditors’ Audit Letter 2019/20. 

Minutes:

39.1          Attention was drawn to Grant Thornton’s annual audit letter for 2019/20, circulated at Pages No. 13-27, which summarised the key findings arising from the work that had been carried out for the year ended 31 March 2020. Members were asked to consider the annual audit letter.  

39.2          The representative from Grant Thornton explained that the report was provided annually following the conclusion of all audit work and summarised the work taken in response to the audit opinion, the majority of the report covered things that had already been presented to the Committee but she made particular reference to Page No. 15 which set out the key elements of the work of external audit including materiality; financial statements opinion; whole of government accounts; use of statutory powers; value for money arrangements; and certification. Pages No. 17-20 detailed the significant risks identified for Tewkesbury Borough Council and the work done against those. Pages No. 23 and 24 covered the value for money risk reporting. Pages No. 25 and 26 confirmed the final proposed fees for audit which included an additional amount which had been in the audit plan, the majority of which was due to work undertaken as a direct result of the impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic. There had also been additional technical work for two adjustments that had been identified in the accounts and the additional fee for that recognised the time taken to undertake the work and consult with colleagues where necessary.

39.3          The Chair thanked the representative for her report. He appreciated the extra work that had been undertaken throughout this difficult year and that additional costs had been kept as low as possible. In terms of ‘raising the bar’, a Member questioned whether this was set by materiality and if that had not changed why the underlying amount of work had changed. In addition, he questioned whether something unexpected had been found in the pensions valuation audit. In response, the Grant Thornton representative explained that raising the bar was something that had been at the forefront of auditors minds; the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) had reviewed the work Grant Thornton did and had found that whilst it provided safe opinions there was more that could be done. The work was not specifically set just around materiality but, whilst that may not have changed, the methods by which information was tested had changed so there were additional elements to be taken into account. Greater testing provided more assurance to the Council. In terms of pensions work, the McCloud judgement had put in additional liabilities to pensions and that work was above what had been involved when the scale fee had been submitted – again, this followed FRC recommendations. The scale fees were set a long time ago and this was one of the reasons the Redmond Review had been looking at audit fees and ensuring they actually covered the resources which were now needed to undertake audits.

39.4          In response to a query as to  ...  view the full minutes text for item 39.

40.

Monitoring of Significant Governance Issues pdf icon PDF 121 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.  28-32, attached, at Appendix 1, a table which incorporated the significant governance issues identified in the Council’s Annual Governance Statement and the action to be taken to address them. Members were asked to consider the information set out in the Appendix and to review the progress against the actions.

40.2          The Borough Solicitor indicated that the Annual Governance Statement had been approved by the Audit and Governance Committee at its meeting on 4 November 2020, and the table at Appendix 1 advised of progress on the specified actions by 1 December 2020 to enable the Committee to monitor progress on them as required. Three of the actions had deadlines in 2021 but progress on them was documented. One of the actions – Administration of Discretionary Housing Payments – had been due for completion in December 2020 following internal audit recommendations. Whilst two elements had been progressed limited progress had been made on the independent verification check due to resources being redeployed to support the COVID-19 response – that would be picked up in quarter three as long as resources allowed.

40.3          Accordingly, it was

                 RESOLVED           That the progress against actions in terms of significant                                            governance issues be NOTED.

41.

Counter Fraud Unit Update pdf icon PDF 145 KB

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

Additional documents:

Minutes:

41.1          The report of the Head of Finance and Asset Management, circulated at Pages No. 33-38, provided the Committee with assurance over the counter fraud activities of the Council. Members were asked to note the report and make its comments as necessary.

41.2          The Counter Fraud Unit Manager advised that the report provided the six monthly update against the work plan and Members were reminded that the plan was likely to change as a consequence of the workstreams created by the COVID-19 Pandemic. The Counter Fraud Unit had been supporting those workstreams in relation to fraud risk and abuse, most significantly in relation to the business grants – this would continue, as required, as more grant schemes were implemented; currently eight transactions were being reviewed to verify eligibility. As a dedicated investigatory support service, the Counter Fraud Unit undertook a wide range of enforcement and investigation work according to the requirements of each partner Council; this included criminal investigation and prosecution support for enforcement teams, investigations into staff/Member fraud and corruption, or tenancy and housing fraud investigation work.  Prosecutions for fraudulent attempts had also been discussed but the team was mindful that in quarter one of next year it would get the national fraud data for checking. A summary of the reactive work of the Counter Fraud Unit was provided at Paragraph 2.3 of the report and included Council Tax Reduction Scheme activities as well as the commencement of a review of the housing list.

41.3          A Member noted that, in terms of the work on the housing list, of 147 matches, eight applicants had been removed; he questioned whether this was higher due to the COVID-19 Pandemic or if that was a normal amount to find. In response, the Counter Fraud Unit Manager advised that the national data matching exercise was a huge piece of work that was done annually. The Council Tax checks were also done annually but the housing list checks were carried out every other year. The numbers were usually around the same for all of the partner Councils and the number of anomalies were also similar; this was a really good data cleansing exercise. The COVID-19 grants work was obviously a new exercise and would be a significant piece of work due to the number of grants paid nationally. Referring to the case heard in the Magistrates Court in respect of a fraudulent claim for Council Tax support, a Member questioned who covered the costs for the action. In response, the Counter Fraud Unit Manager advised that this was dealt with by the Crown Prosecution Service as it was a joint case with the Department for Work and Pensions. However, the Counter Fraud Unit always put in a schedule for investigatory costs and asked for them to be paid – usually the minimum amount of costs was agreed if it was a capital fraud as the person was on benefits. In response to a query regarding the charity exemption review, the Counter Fraud Unit Manager  ...  view the full minutes text for item 41.

42.

Annual Update on the Council's Safeguarding Arrangements pdf icon PDF 134 KB

To consider the contents of the annual report to give assurance as to the level of the Council’s compliance with its safeguarding duty. 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

42.1          The report of the Head of Community Services, circulated at Pages No. 39-75, provided the Committee with an update on how the Council was fulfilling its safeguarding responsibilities and Members were asked to consider the content of the annual report as well as to note the Section 11 assurance submission.  

42.2          In introducing the report, the Head of Community Services explained that there had been significant changes to the landscape of children’s safeguarding in recent years and the report and appendix set out the arrangements for the Council and how it fulfilled its duties in terms of both children and adult safeguarding as well as the new methodology for Councils in providing assurance of safeguarding; Appendix 2 showed the old reporting system, Appendix 3, the new arrangements and Appendix 4 set out the actual submission for this year. In terms of safeguarding in Tewkesbury Borough, 15 cases had been raised internally by Officers over the last year and of those only two had been referred to the safeguarding unit at the County Council. Two cases had been referred to Gloucestershire Constabulary, one to the mental health crisis team and two to adult social care; the remaining cases had been dealt with in-house via multi-agency meetings with partners. It was felt that 15 cases having been raised demonstrated that staff had a good understanding of their safeguarding responsibilities which was great news.

42.3          The Chair welcomed the Business Manager for the Safeguarding Children Executive to the meeting to provide an update and to advise of the developments which were taking place. The representative explained that the legislation for safeguarding children had changed in 2018 when the primary responsibility had been moved from the County Council to a collective, shared and equal responsibility across all partner agencies. The arrangements had been published in April 2019 in the ‘Working Together’ document which could be found on the Gloucestershire Safeguarding Children Executive’s website. The local arrangements intended to achieve collective effectiveness of local child safeguarding; the effective sharing of information to facilitate more accurate and timely decision-making; the statutory duty for child safeguarding practice reviews and child death reviews being met; the setting out and monitoring of multi-agency policies and procedures; schools and agencies being held to account under Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 and Section 175 of the Education Act 2002; and multi-agency learning being promoted and embedded. The structural architecture of safeguarding in the County was now different than it was 12-months ago, with the initial change over from the Children’s Safeguarding Board to the Safeguarding Children Executive having been relatively soft and it had taken a year to really understand what the future for safeguarding ought to be. The structure had been approved in November and set out the intention that the Safeguarding Children Executive would become the Safeguarding Children Partnership Executive. The other major development was that over the last 18 months the Executive had worked closely with the District Safeguarding Network and had formed a sub-group  ...  view the full minutes text for item 42.

43.

Food Standards Agency Audit pdf icon PDF 235 KB

To consider the Food Standards Agency audit findings and the Council’s subsequent action plan. 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

43.1          The report of the Principal Environmental Health Officer, circulated at Pages No. 76-103, summarised the key findings of the food standards agency audit and outlined the actions that would be taken by the Community Services Team to address the Food Standards Agency requirements.  Members were asked to consider the audit report, at Appendix 1 to the report, and the action plan as set out at Appendix 2 to the report.

43.2          The Committee was advised that the Food Standards Agency undertook periodic audits of local authorities to determine performance against the framework agreement and the Food Law Code of Practice. In October 2019, the Agency had undertaken an audit of the Council’s performance with respect to approved food establishments – those that required specific approval from the Council in order to place their products on the market and display a unique identification mark which was issued by the Council – those establishments were often high risk and complex and the inspecting Officers had to demonstrate stringent requirements in terms of competence and experience. The Council currently had eight approved premises including a large dairy, a meat products manufacturer and an international shellfish exporter. It was understood that there had been a significant delay between the date of the audit and the presentation of the current report; however, this was due to the fact that the final report was not received from the Food Standards Agency until 16 January 2020 and there had then followed a number of events including flooding and the COVID-19 outbreak which had hampered the ability of the team to present the report at an earlier opportunity.

43.3          The positive observations from the audit included the development of a service plan which followed the guidance in the framework agreement; the development and implementation of an Officer competency matrix system in accordance with the Code of Practice; the development and implementation of locally documented procedures for approval of establishments which followed the Code of Practice; completion by Officers of the required hours of continuous professional development; establishment of file checks that appropriate interventions had been conducted in accordance with relevant guidance; investigation and appropriate follow-up of a complaint against an approved establishment; formal enforcement action being taken against an approved establishment; and food premises file records being accurate, easily retrievable and a representation of good practice. Areas for improvement were also identified and included a recommendation that the service plan should include a comparison of the resources required to deliver the plan against the resources available and identify any resulting shortfall; the Scheme of Delegation must provide senior Officers with the power to sign-off the annual food service plan; Officers authorisations should specify necessary restrictions to reflect Officers’ training, qualifications and experience; a documented procedure should be developed and implemented to ensure the food database was accurate, reliable and up to date; the compliance of establishments and their systems should be assessed to the legally prescribed standards and microbiological testing should be carried out in accordance with  ...  view the full minutes text for item 43.

44.

Corporate Risk Register pdf icon PDF 137 KB

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

Additional documents:

Minutes:

44.1          The report of the Head of Corporate Services, circulated at Pages No. 104-122, attached the corporate risk register for consideration. Members were asked to consider the risks contained within it and the assurance that the risks were being effectively managed.  

44.2          Members were advised that the register was usually presented at each meeting of the Audit and Governance Committee; however, reporting in 2020 had been deferred as a result of the Council’s response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The register itself was a useful tool to demonstrate that corporate risks were being considered and managed. Paragraph 3.1 of the report summarised the key actions that had arisen since the register was last presented to the Committee and included risks such as financial sustainability – pre-COVID the Council had faced significant financial challenges and those had been compounded by the Pandemic; cyber security – training and a new firewall had been implemented and an assessment was being undertaken on cyber security arrangements; emergency planning – the planned test exercise had been superseded by a real-life exercise in the form of the COVID-19 Pandemic and a lessons learnt exercise would be undertaken in due course; the waste service – a decision would be made on the extension of the Ubico contract; Brexit – an internal risk assessment was being done to show how it may impact on the Council and the Local Resilience Forum was looking at the wider impact on the county; the Garden Town – the planning application for the Ashchurch bridge had not been presented to Planning Committee as intended and there was concern from Members about the project which would need to be kept under review; and delivery of priorities – this was a new risk which it was important Members were aware of.

44.3          In terms of the Garden Town project, many Members had expressed concern about it and it was felt assurance needed to be provided that the risks were being managed effectively. It was agreed that one of the team would be asked to attend the Audit and Governance Committee in March. In response to a query about how the Council could plan effectively for Brexit, the Head of Community Services explained that Officers were taking the approach of considering the worst case scenario; there was also a need to consider planning for concurrent emergency events and there was quite a lot of work being undertaken in that regard in terms of COVID secure rest centres for flood victims etc.

44.4          A Member referred to the outcome of the recent inquest into the death of Ella Kissi-Debrah, whereby air pollution had been found to have made a material contribution to her death, and questioned whether this would have a significant impact on the Council’s action on air quality and whether that would be included in the risk register. In response, the Head of Community Services confirmed that monitoring was undertaken as a matter of course and, prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Officers had planned real-time  ...  view the full minutes text for item 44.