The Committee gave consideration to the report and appendices (at pages 13 - 36) as jointly-delivered by theInterim Chief Financial Officer (Section 151 Officer) and Chief Internal Auditor at CW Audit Services, Mr Tim Ridout, which should be read together with these minutes as a composite document.
TheInterim Chief Financial Officer stated that the Internal Audit Progress Report for 2015/16 (“the report”) confirmed the sound financial-standing of the Council citing that significant levels of assurance were received across the Council’s Council Tax, Benefits and Fraud Investigation service-areas. It was said that there were concerns over the ability of service-area managers to implement the report’s outstanding recommendations as agreed (at page 16 - 33). However, he assured Members that significant improvement would be made in this respect ahead of March 2016.
The Chief Internal Auditor directed Members’ attention to particularly significant and noteworthy sections and paragraphs contained in the appendix (at pages 14 - 36). He reported that three reviews had been completed since the previous meeting of this Committee on 27 October 2015 (at page 15). He stated that each review had a positive outcome, and the attendant assurance given, that was reflective of a helpful Council workforce in delivering a good end-result. It was noted that although there were several high-risk/priority issues that were six-months overdue for implementation, most notably regarding Health and Safety (H&S), updates had been received by managers and implementation dates have been revised accordingly. The Chief Internal Auditor stated that CW Audit Services would continue to work with the Senior Management Team (SMT) in order to realise the report’s full implementation.
Councillor B Dave expressed his discontent with the comments and concerns raised by the Internal Auditors as contained in the report. With reference to ‘Health and Safety - Policy and Procedures’ (at page 17) citing that ‘the current policy does not fulfil the legal requirements’, the Member noted the seriousness and longevity of the issue and enquired as to whether the Council was complying with H&S legislation.
The Director of Services / Monitoring Officer advised that an experienced, permanent Health and Safety Officer had been in-post since November 2015 who was in the process of drafting a new Health and Safety Policy due to be brought before the next meeting of this Committee on 29 March 2016. The Officer was said to have no serious concerns regarding the Council’s current H&S Policy and was presently implementing a new Fire Safety Evacuation Process and completing Fire Safety Warden training.
The Chief Internal Auditor advised that discussions with SMT were being held on a monthly-basis to ascertain how best the Internal Audit Plans 2014/15 and 2015/16 were to be achieved as outlined in sections 5 and 6 of the report (at pages 34 – 26).
With reference to ‘Health and Safety - Training and Awareness’ (at page 18) citing the need to produce a ‘documented training needs assessment’ and that ‘some training had been carried out’, Councillor B Dave stated that the provision of immediate training was required. He enquired as to whether the Council had carried out any such assessment and what H&S training has been provided to which members of staff and elected-Members, its nature and when it was delivered.
The Chair advised that the provision of H&S training was an operational matter and, as such, the information requested by the Member could neither be presently given at this meeting nor in the level of detail requested.
Councillor J W Boyce acknowledged the concerns raised by Councillor B Dave. It was said that careful consideration was required in order to adequately address any non-conformities in the policy. The Member stated what it was reasonable to request a report as to the number staff and Members who have received training upon a particularly H&S subject over a defined time-period. The Member sought an assurance from Officers as to whether the Council was currently compliant with H&S legislation and, or, that it would be compliant within the preceding six-week period.
The Director of Services / Monitoring Officer confirmed that such a report would be provided to Members and sought to clarify that reference to ‘the current policy [not fulfilling] legal requirements’ was a management update. It was advised that a Health and Safety Working Group was currently being commissioned and tasked to address any policy non-conformities. She reported that none of the interim successive H&S Officers had expressed that this Council was at either at serious or immediate risk.
With reference to ‘Void Property Management - Budgetary Control’ (at page 21) citing the need to ‘set and monitor the costs etc.’, Councillor B Dave enquired as to why such void properties were not being monitored on a monthly-basis.
The Director of Services / Monitoring Officer referred Members to the ‘Community Services Update’ report addressing the subject-matter in question as delivered by the Interim Community Services Manager at a meeting of the Service Delivery Committee held on 19 January 2016. An action arising from that meeting (i.e. an evaluation of voids) was said to provide a more detailed response to the Member’s enquiry in due course.
Councillor J W Boyce acknowledged that although there were nine outstanding high-risk/priority issues, he directed Members’ attention to the so-said importance of such an internal audit process. He stated that significant assurances were required to ensure that the matters in-hand were to be resolved by the next meeting of this Committee and, or, where that was not possible, that an action plan be devised addressing the long-term risks whilst taking into consideration reasonable output.
Councillor G A Boulter reiterated that the internal audit process was an investigatory tool used by the Council so to identify any problem-areas and to respond accordingly.
The Director of Services / Monitoring Officer added that access to the audit-recommendation tracking system had been granted to Heads of Service and/or Interim Managers (to whom the issues identified have been respectively assigned) so that the necessary management updates can be made ahead of the next meeting of this Committee.
With reference to ‘Equalities - Equality Impact Assessment (EIA)’ (at page 22) citing that EIA’s were ‘not being completed’, Councillor B Dave enquired as to why EIA’s had not been undertaken in respect of a number of new and, or, revised policies.
The Chair stated that no new polices had recently been received by this Committee and that of those policies that had been previously received, each were to her understanding accompanied by an EIA.
The Director of Services / Monitoring Officer sought to clarify that the response to the EIA recommendation (at page 22) was made by the Head of Corporate Resources approximately one-year previously (i.e. on the 31 March 2015). Subject to clarification, she stated that all policies received in recent months have had a completed EIA and that she would revert back to the Member in due course with a more conclusive answer. It was said that although it was the position of this Council to aspire to best practice in terms of EIA’s, she advised that the legal requirements in respect of same had, to the best of her knowledge, been relaxed.
Councillor J W Boyce requested that a report be brought to the next meeting of this Committee on the 29 March 2016 outlining the conditions upon which an EIA is (or is not) required and that a set of relevant indicators (viz. applicable, not applicable) be appended to all reports, documents etc. henceforth so to provide for greater clarity upon the same.
The Chief Internal Auditor stated that the review in question was undertaken two-years ago and, as such, any response should have due regard to its obtaining context and perpetuous-nature. He stated that any assurance given to could assume the form of a reconciliation process that would effectively sign-off the review as closed.
Councillor B Dave sought to refer an exempt item before Members’ at a previous meeting of this Committee.
The Director of Services / Monitoring Officer advised the Member that the item so referred to was one raised under, and that remained subject to, exempt provisions as defined in the respective paragraph(s) of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 (Exempt Information) and, as such, subject to the Chair discretion, could only be referred to if the Committee were to go into closed session.
Councillor J W Boyce requested that the Committee go into a short recess.
The Chair permitted the Member’s request.
The Committee went in to recess at 7:35 pm.
The Committee came out of recess at 07:39 pm.
Councillor J W Boyce moved the recommendation contained in the report.
The content of the progress report for 2015/16 be noted by Members.
Votes For 10
Votes Against 0