Agenda item

Summary Internal Controls Assurance (SICA) report and Audit Plan update


C Harris presented the report, noting the issued note on the failure to prevent fraud offences made in the 2023 publication and that these notes are available for members to see.


On the Empty Homes Report, C Harris noted the reasonable assurance weighting and advised the important recommendation and operational matter.


Cllr Douris referred to the key strategic findings and noted his concern about the grammar used. Cllr Douris asked if the document is up to date or should be up to date, stating that the note doesn't currently reflect the timeliness of the up-to-date-ness.


F Jump suggested that the procedure is expected to be up-to-date and reflect current practice.


Cllr Douris stated that the note should therefore read that the document should be kept up to date.


ACTION: Key strategic finding to be updated to read that document should be kept up to date.


Cllr Elliot commented that they recognise that Osborne have been dysfunctional, though they have improved and noted that they are now down to less than 0.5% of properties. Cllr Elliot advised that he has seen properties left in a poor state by tenants and that it can take several months to rectify this and that he felt the Empty Homes team do a good job in turning round properties. Cllr Elliot suggested that devoid properties are only a small percentage of the overall stock.


The Chair noted the recommendations in the report and asked why it has OEM (Operational - Effectiveness Matter) as a fourth category rather than just having three categories.


C Harris explained that OEMs are operational effectiveness matters and that they look to identify best practice items during the audit that may not warrant being an official recommendation but should still be raised for attention. C Harris advised that this is best practice to ensure that matters aren't lost in the report.


The Chair asked how many adopted general lease sheltered properties there are.


L Jugoo confirmed that the report should read 'adapted' and that this was a typing error in the report. It was advised that adapted properties can be general needs or sheltered accommodation. Last year there were only a few adapted properties re-let compared to the total number of voids. The adaptations could already be in place and the applicant is housed according to the adaptation need. There are a small percentage of properties that undergo major refurbishment where adaptation work is carried out in the property, such as installing a lift or wet room. It was advised that around 30 properties were identified as adapted need last year and that there is a waiting list for those with adapted needs and there is limited stock that can accommodate these adaptations.


The Chair queried what happened to the 93 properties that were not re-let.


L Jugoo explained that it is a constant rolling number for empty homes and void properties. L Jugoo advised that, as of today, there are 78 void properties in the system, which could be due to major structural works to properties that are ready with appointments booked with tenants. All properties in the void system are closely monitored and are reviewed at each stage with Osborne being held accountable. It was noted that there was previously a high level of void properties with Osborne and today there are currently 20 active void properties undergoing repairs, which is a considerable improvement.


Cllr Douris commented on OEMs not being recommendations and instead being suggestions for good practice and suggested they be worded differently so they are clearly identified as such and not as a criticism of officers' work.


C Harris next looked at procurement, noting that this had received substantial assurance with three routine recommendations made.


The Chair asked how many Teckal companies the Council operates.


B Hosier advised that the Council has joined one Teckal company for building control and that this is the only one to date.


The Chair referred to a pre-submitted question regarding handing over contracts into service.


B Hosier explained that they support internal clients to go through the commissioning procurement process and that contract management is then down to the clients to undertake. It was noted that one of the routine recommendations in the report is that there is no performance management of contracts.


Cllr Birnie noted the suggestion by the Chair to pre-submit questions to officers to receive a more detailed answer and help speed up the meeting. Cllr Birnie advised that in other committees officers are asked to circulate responses to all committee members and suggested that questions and answers should be circulated to the Committee to ensure all members see them ahead of the meeting.


The Chair noted that members receive papers 7 days in advance of the meeting. Cllr Birnie stated that questions and answers should be circulated as and when they are answered rather than just going to the person who asked the question.


Cllr Elliot suggested that it would be helpful to see responses once they have been received.


The Chair confirmed that the complete set of answers that have been answered will be included within the minute.


F Jump confirmed that responses could be circulated to all members as and when they are provided. F Jump advised that she would look to get answers out as soon as possible, though this may be close to the meeting.


C Harris then look at housing rents, noting the reasonable assurance with one routine recommendation.


Cllr Elliot advised that they have at least 10,000 tenants and asked what percentage are likely to be in arrears.


F Jump advised that the debt write-off is around 1% and that she would provide the exact amount.


Cllr Elliot commented that the low number is a tribute to the officers who manage this. The Chair agreed with the comment.


ACTION: To provide percentage of tenants in arrears (F Jump).


Cllr Douris asked if there is a de Minimis figure that they write off, suggesting that there may be a point where it is uneconomic to chase a particular debt.


F Jump apologised that there was not a representative from the service to respond and suggested that there is de Minimis and it would be considered as part of the write-off process.


F Jump noted the amendments to the general audit programme for approval. The proposal is to increase the scope for health and safety audit work being carried out in respect of the HRA to look at health and safety compliance of contractors. In order to stay within the allocated budget for the year, the proposal is that the Council's response to the Building Safety Bill is put back to next year.


The Chair proposed that the Council's response to the Building Safety Bill be put back to next year and this was seconded by Cllr Douris. The motion was approved.


C Harris next looked to appendix C and the summary of recommendations that are past their proposed date.


Cllr Reynolds referred to the planning enforcement piece, noting that the next update is due to be on the system by Q1 2023-24 and he commented on the time this has been open.


F Jump agreed that this item has taken a long time to implement due to a system access issue that wasn't resolved in good time. The issue has now been resolved and will now be part of Q1 2023-24.


Cllr Reynolds asked for the reason behind the system access issue.


F Jump explained that this was an operational matter and that the responsibility for recording the risk has transferred between teams.


Cllr Douris asked if the final report disappears once it has been produced.


C Harris confirmed that outstanding recommendations currently appear red and if they are actioned then they won't be reported as they will be cleared. It was noted that only red items are brought to the Committee to highlight the remaining risk and ensure that action is taken.


C Harris next looked at the draft indicative audit plan for 2023-25 and the annual plan for 2023-24.


F Jump confirmed that the annual audit plan was included as a for information item for the Committee.


It was noted that there will be further opportunities to reshape the plan in the next cycle. C Harris explained that it is subject to changes and amendments as risks change throughout the year.


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