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Apologies for absence
To receive any apologies for absence
The Chair offered apologies for James Deane
Declarations of Interest
To receive any declarations of interest
A member with a disclosable pecuniary interest or a personal interest in a matter who attends a meeting of the authority at which the matter is considered -
(i) must disclose the interest at the start of the meeting or when the interest becomes apparent
and, if the interest is a disclosable pecuniary interest, or a personal interest which is also prejudicial
(ii) may not participate in any discussion or vote on the matter (and must withdraw to the public seating area) unless they have been granted a dispensation.
A member who discloses at a meeting a disclosable pecuniary interest which is not registered in the Members’ Register of Interests, or is not the subject of a pending notification, must notify the Monitoring Officer of the interest within 28 days of the disclosure.
Disclosable pecuniary interests, personal and prejudicial interests are defined in Part 2 of the Code of Conduct For Members
[If a member is in any doubt as to whether they have an interest which should be declared they should seek the advice of the Monitoring Officer before the start of the meeting]
There were no Declarations of Interest.
To confirm the minutes of the previous meeting
The Minutes of the previous meeting held on 5 February 2020 were reviewed and agreed.
An opportunity for members of the public to make statements and ask questions in accordance with the rules as to Public Participation
There was no public Participation.
ABanister from Grant Thornton introduced the report and as background explained this plan was originally presented in February including decisions that were made as result of risk assessment that took place in January. It is usual for this to be updated throughout the year as any changes occur. COVID-19 is a significant change, so has been factored in to the addendum that sets out how it will affect the plan this year. The pandemic is a risk at financial statement level. The response is twofold – set as significant risk for audit and sets out steps to be taken to respond to that. Some actions already underway including discussions with management. There will be further work on governance to ensure response remains robust.
ABanister continued that they will be looking at financial planning pre and post pandemic to distinguish those Councils who were already in difficulty before the pandemic and those that were doing well and the pandemic has caused a road bump that there will need to be recovery from. Dacorum falls into later category.
NHowcutt followed on from Ambers comment, adding this is something that Grant Thornton are putting to all their authorities. Our draft accounts will be published tomorrow. Tried to write statement of account and narrative, taking into consideration COVID 19 while still not knowing what the impact will be has been quite difficult. There is still a lot of uncertainty but we have increased our provisions to allow for what may be coming.
Cllr Townsend commented that he assumed the external audit process would be kicked off through accounts, assumed this would come to meeting when we close down accounts so questioned why this was on the agenda now.
NHowcutt responded that the purpose of this coming to the meeting tonight is to provide an addendum to the initial audit plan. This was on the agenda for the March meeting which didn’t take place. This is to allow the Council to know what Grant Thornton are going to spend their time on and from a governance perspective to give a steer on what officers and the AC we should be focused on.
ABanister responded that the actual audit process on accounts is not starting until next week. This addendum is due to an update to risk assessment, due to this being a significant event globally.
The Chair invited any questions.
Cllr Birnie suggested that any additions could be submitted after the meeting to Member Support.
& budgetary controls
Scheme & Levy
SKnowles introduced the report, explaining that the first item is Capital Programme Report which starts on Pg.13. Good assurance report, no recommendations raised. One finding was noted due to one project selected for sample not having a fully completed capital bid which is required by the Council, but it was found that this is due to it being a historic budget process and since that time the process and governance has been strengthened, therefore this has not been raised as a recommendation but felt it should be noted within the report.
Cllr Townsend commented that as a general feature capital programmes tend to be late, would this have been picked up by this report?
SKnowles responded that they would have looked at budget setting and monitoring which would have incorporated if there may have been any delays. There were not any particular delays in the areas looked at.
Cllr Silwal referred to capital programme commenting that there is reference to five projects on pg.15 but he can only find four projects listed and so asked; what was the fifth project?
SKnowles responded that all 5 are included (2 were included under a single bullet point).
Cllr Silwal referred to there didn’t appear to be a clearly defined structure in place for overall plan and individual projects.
S Knowles responded that the difference in the two is more to do how the reporting happens; the programme overall gets reported at a higher level where as individual projects are managed within directorates, so this is just how each one is reported.
F Jump commented to assure Members that correct level of scrutiny was applied for the item covered by the note in the report.
S Knowles moved on to Core Financials & Budgetary Control, advising that in the past few years have had some really strong outcomes so this year’s piece of work looked at more of a self-assessment, sending feedback forms out to the service to see how they thought their controls were operating (see Pg.31) no recommendations to raise in these areas and able to give a good assurance.
S Knowles referred to Apprenticeship Scheme and Levy, advising this piece of audit work commenced just as we were entering lockdown so a different approach had to be taken on this with a different way of working, thanking the service for their cooperation. In terms of evidence received it was good to see. No recommendations raised in this piece of work and good assurance overall.
S Knowles introduced the Governance Role report advising this had two priority 2 recommendations, but overall substantial. The two areas highlighted were compliance with mandatory training and members register of interest forms. Both recommendations were accepted so no further comments.
BChapman referred to the 4 Councillors who had not submitted their forms in time and asked, what is being done about this?
Cllr Birnie picked up that the report states that the forms have now been returned.
Cllr Douris commented that in his role as Chair of ... view the full minutes text for item 7.
SKnowles introduced the report as a summary of all the work carried out in 2019/20, culminating in internal audits opinion on the Councils framework of governance, risk management and internal control. Can be used to inform Governance Statement. On pg.95 you will see that the 2019/20 controls are substantial based on all the work carried out across all the audit plans, along with managements response to recommendations and whether they have been happy to accept and take forward for implementation.
There are some benchmarking diagrams on pg.97 and a summary of the work done on pg.99 and pg.100.
Cllr Townsend referred to internal financial controls and asked if the conclusion is based on the report that was presented in previous agenda item?
SKnolwes responded this is based on all the work that has been done throughout the year as set out on pg.99.
BChapman wished SKnowles well for everything she has done and thanked her as her time working with Dacorum comes to an end. NHowcutt echoed those thanks.
REVISED Internal Audit Programme 20/21
NHowcutt introduced two new members to committee, Phillip Lazanby – Head of Internal Audit and Jonathan Sims - Senior Auditor who will be working closely with Group Managers.
NHowcutt handed over to PLazanby who personally introduced himself as Director of Audit at TIAA, living in Dacorum with a background of more than 20 years primarily in public sector but also private.
PLazanby then went on to present the plan, directing committee members to pg.110 which sets out the plan for the next year, with six audits to be delivered by end of Qtr2. He added that it might be fair to anticipate some slippage due to current COVID-19 situation, however it is intended they will progress as planned and will escalate any delays to NHowcutt. Will commence delivery as soon as the plan is approved.
He highlighted the first key area is key financial controls, looking at financial ledger. Typically a topic in every Council that is audited and something Jonathan is familiar with auditing at various Councils.
Second key area is budgetary control – gives a window into how the organisation works. The level of financial assurance received from speaking to previous auditor and looking at external audit gives general sense everything is in place at Dacorum.
Cllr Townsend asked; does budgetary control include capital programme?
PLazanby responded at high level only, a scoping document would be required to look at that in any detail.
Cllr Townsend responded that his concern is around the fact slippage is generally around capital projects.
NHowcutt commented that there are generally two types of slippage in these programmes; acceptable slippages due to unexpected issues out of our control such as an archaeological find etc. Unacceptable slippages are where a contractor runs over excessively, which we have to respond to. It is generally expected that there will be slippages for capital projects and hence they will have a contingency applied to their project.
Cllr Birnie commented this could in part be something that must be affected by COVID-19 and ability to get on to sites. However, with regard contractors running over, that is down to selection of contractors which forms a part of governance which we have always had a green light on, so he does not see this would be a high concern.
PLazanby gave an overview that the remaining areas would focus on Council Tax, NMDR (Business Rates), Housing Benefits & Business Rates. Then moving on to operational risks, such as business continuity including pandemic arrangements. Also Planning, Housing Rents and Empty Homes. There are also a number of strategic topic such as GDPR to be looked at.
Cllr Townsend referred to Planning and the extent to which we audit the consultation and decision making process, expressing that residents have expressed valid concerns that decisions are made by officers when they have not received the correct information, for example information from HCC on roads. He asked; will the audit cover these sort of questions? To what extent will it delve into ... view the full minutes text for item 9.
NHowcutt advised the Stratwgic risk register comes to Audit Committee to review on a quarterly basis. As of last week a new strategic risk has been added to the register in relation to COVID-19, as pg.119 onwards of agenda. The risk is owned by Sally Marshall, and the Portfolio Holder is Andrew Williams. This risk outlines impact of COVID-19 on service delivery both financially and operationally. This is a new risk, will develop over time. The inherent and mitigated risk scores are both still quite high, partly because we do not know how things will pan out and how we will have to react based on Government instruction. This will form part of strategic register and was presented to Cabinet as an additional item.
Cllr Townsend commented that it seems odd to couch it in terms of COVID-19, a global pandemic is a general risk, it just happens to be the case that we are in the midst of one now. What is in the governance framework that this has to have separate status?
NHowcutt stated the strategic risks are generally broad and overarching. The two most recent additions, Brexit which was requested by members and now COVID-19 are included so that members get a regular update, on the specific response to these external risks. It may be that over time the title changes to something broader but for the time being it focuses on COVID-19.
Cllr Symington referred to business surveys and asked if these will be repeated?
NHowcutt responded that there have been two different surveys, one getting in touch with over 2.5k businesses verbally and another a short survey from asset management team to see how businesses are able to react to COVID-19 and how they have been impacted by policies. Stakeholders will continue to be contacted going forward to assess where business performance.