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Contact: Ian Ford Email: email@example.com or Telephone 01255 686585
Apologies for Absence and Substitutions
The Committee is asked to note any apologies for absence and substitutions received from Members.
Apologies for absence were submitted on behalf of Councillors King, Placey and Steady. No substitutes were appointed.
To confirm and sign as a correct record, the minutes of the last meeting of the Committee, held on Thursday 31 March 2022.
The Minutes of the last meeting of the Committee held on Thursday 31 March 2022 were approved as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.
In response to a question from the Chairman, the meeting was advised that the recruitment to the new full-time Audit Technician post was progressing through the internal approval process (Minute 31 of 31 March 2022 refers). It would then be advertised. The Committee’s attention was also drawn to the information provided to the Committee by BDO LLP, the Council’s External Auditors, on the progress with the audit of the Council’s accounts for 2020/21 (Minute 34 of 31 March 2022 refers). This information was set out in an addendum to the report of the Assistant Director (Finance & IT) considered at Minute 44 below.
Declarations of Interest
Councillors are invited to declare any Disclosable Pecuniary Interests or Personal Interest, and the nature of it, in relation to any item on the agenda.
There were no declarations of interest made on this occasion.
Questions on Notice pursuant to Council Procedure Rule 38
Subject to providing two working days’ notice, a Member of the Committee may ask the Chairman of the Committee a question on any matter in relation to which the Council has powers or duties which affect the Tendring District and which falls within the terms of reference of the Committee.
There were no Questions on Notice on this occasion.
To provide the Committee with a periodic report on the Internal Audit function for the period January 2022 to March 2022.
The Committee had before it a report of the Internal Audit Manager (A.1) which provided it with a periodic report on the Internal Audit function for the period January 2022 to March 2022 together with the outcome of an annual self-assessment of the Internal Audit Team that had been conducted by the Principal Auditor against the Public Sector Internal Audit Standards (PSIAS).
Internal Audit Plan Progress 2021/22
It was reported that a total of six audits had been completed since the previous update to the Committee in January 2022 with fieldwork was ongoing on another six audits. Five of the six audits completed had received a satisfactory level of assurance. One audit (Careline) had received an overall opinion of ‘Improvement Required’ and details were provided as follows:-
Strategic Direction of Careline
“In 2021, Careline won the contract to provide local Careline out of hours’ coverage for Essex County Council (managed by Provide), using its established team and building on work already undertaken for them.
During the audit, it became apparent that the service had struggled to provide the expanded contractual service required and had consistently underperformed call response times, with the major contributing factors being the availability of trained officers and increasing volume of calls.”
“If the contract was exited without due attention to detail and evaluating all options, there was considerable financial and reputational risk to the Council which could affect budget performance and the future effectiveness and integrity of the Careline service.”
“Following the cessation of the contract, it would be timely to review the strategic direction of the service, especially considering the operational and staffing issues and difficulties of fulfilling larger contracts.
For the short term, the service will concentrate on exiting the Provide contract in a professional manner, including continuing liaison meetings and ensuring all data and GDPR obligations are carried out as required.
Subsequently, the service will be reviewed and future strategic direction decided. Current options include a pivot to organic growth from private users, smaller contracts and continuing to work with Provide in other capacities. There are also other options to explore, including integration of some healthcare services.
Any options or direction chosen should be undertaken in consultation with, senior management, the Portfolio Holder and the appropriate committee.”
Management of Careline Debtors
“Service users should pay on a monthly basis, using a direct debit mandate. Where funds were unable to be taken, the Council's debtor’s procedure was initiated and a series of up to three letters were sent until payment was made.
Should no payment be received, then the debt was returned to the department for further decision and action.
Currently, there was only a very ad hoc process in place and no scheduled monthly action. A spreadsheet was maintained and updates added by the Officer managing the debt. The spreadsheet showed that several months could elapse between contacts with the debtor, and follow up was not always prompt.
This had led to a ... view the full minutes text for item 42.
To present to the Audit Committee an updated Anti-Fraud and Corruption Strategy.
The Committee had before it a report of the Assistant Director (Finance & IT) (report A.2) which presented it with an updated Anti-Fraud and Corruption Strategy.
It was reported that the Council’s Anti-Fraud and Corruption Strategy had last been updated in April 2021 and it remained subject to an annual review process which had recently been completed. The amended Strategy was set out in Appendix A to the report.
Members were informed that the Strategy continued to be based on CIPFA’s code of practice on managing the risk of fraud and corruption. As its foundation, the Strategy set out the Council’s commitments along with the following key areas:-
· Purpose, Commitment and Procedure
· Legislation and General Governance
· Standards, Expectations and Commitment
· Roles and Responsibilities
· Detection and Investigation
· Resources Invested in Counter Fraud and Corruption
Members were further informed that the intention was to continue to include the scope for prosecutions within the Anti-Fraud and Corruption Strategy itself and include the relevant framework against which prosecutions would be considered. Those changes had been included within the ‘Detection and Investigation’ section of the strategy.
It was reported that the Strategy would continue to be subject to an annual review process including progress against identified actions and it had therefore been included on the ongoing work programme of the Committee. It was acknowledged that through its application, the Strategy would evolve to reflect the various strands of work being developed within the Council, which would be included in future updates presented to the Committee.
The Committee was advised that amendments to the Strategy reflected the response to the COVID 19 pandemic where fraud risks had unfortunately increased during such difficult times. Work remained on-going in terms of lessons learnt from the last 24 months and further changes to the Strategy were likely to be required, especially as relevant regulatory bodies were expected to publish in the coming months anti-fraud and corruption guidance following the COVID 19 pandemic. Subject to the scale and timing of potential changes, a revised Strategy would be presented to the Committee during the year or would form part of the annual review early in 2023.
Members were aware that updates against the Council’s Anti-Fraud and Corruption Strategy Action Plan were also included within Appendix A.
In considering this matter, the Members of the Committee commented on how well worded the draft revised Strategy was and how easy to read it was. In relation to the reference in the draft Strategy to sanctions against Contractors who commit fraud that this should also cover fraud they commit against service users (and not just against the Council or public funds more generally). Another proposal was to provide a telephone number in the section of the report headed ‘Helpline or Employees’ (in addition to the email address provided). Members also proposed that the section of the Strategy concerning the detection and investigation of fraud should recognise the role Councillors can and should play to prevent and detect fraud and corruption (alongside the other ... view the full minutes text for item 43.
To present to the Committee the progress on outstanding actions identified by the Committee along with general updates on other issues that fall within the responsibilities of the Committee.
The Committee had before it a report on the progress of outstanding actions identified by the Committee along with general updates on other issues that fell within the responsibilities of the Committee (report A.3).
Members were reminded that a Table of Outstanding Issues was maintained and reported to each meeting of the Committee. This approach enabled the Committee to effectively monitor progress on issues and items that formed part of its governance responsibilities.
Members also heard that updates were set out against general items, external audit recommendations and the Annual Governance statement within Appendices A, B, and C respectively and that to date there were no significant issues arising from the above, with work remaining in progress or updates provided elsewhere on the agenda where appropriate.
Statement of Accounts 2020/21
The Committee was informed that the Statement of Accounts 2020/21 remained subject to the conclusion of the work of the External Auditor. The associated report of the External Auditor was yet to be received as they continue their necessary audit work.
The Committee also had before it a progress report from BDO (the Council’s External Auditor) which provided reasons for the delay and which further stated that the audit was not sufficiently progressed to enable them to present the Audit Completion Report.
Two further reports from the External Auditor that had been planned to be presented to this Committee would be reported later in the year once they had been finalised by them.
Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA)
Members were advised that this Authority had not conducted any RIPA activity in the last quarter and that it was rare that it would be required to do so.
It was reported that the following draft policies had been circulated to the Operational Enforcement Group for their consideration:-
Covert Surveillance Policy and Procedure Manual pursuant to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000; and
Use of Social Media in Investigations Policy and Procedure.
At the meeting, the Committee was advised that it was anticipated that the policies referred to would be further considered by the Operational Enforcement Group at its meeting on 10 May 2022.
Housing Void Rate
The Committee was informed that the housing void rate would now be reported by exception and managed through Financial Performance Reports and had subsequently been removed from the Table of Outstanding Issues.
It was reported that no further updates had been provided by the Government at this time.
The Committee was then addressed by Aphrodite Lefevre of BDO LLP (the Council’s External Auditors). She had joined the meeting through the MS Teams platform. She spoke to the Addendum to the Report of the Assistant Director (Finance and IT) that had been provided to the Committee and set out progress with the audit of the Council’s accounts to 31 March 2021. Ms Lefevre set out some of the challenges external auditors were facing with recruitment and retention of external auditors and the enlarged regulatory framework for external ... view the full minutes text for item 44.
Exclusion of Press and Public
The Committee is asked to consider passing the following resolution:
“That under Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the press and public be excluded from the meeting during the consideration of Agenda Item 9 on the grounds that it involves the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in paragraph 7 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A, as amended, of the Act.”
It was moved by Councillor Coley, seconded by Councillor Alexander and:-
RESOLVED that, under Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the press and public be excluded from the meeting during consideration of Agenda Item 9 on the grounds that it involves the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in paragraph 7 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A, as amended, of the Act.
[Note: Following the passing of this resolution, and before proceeding, the Chairman of the Committee confirmed with officers that the live broadcast and recording of the meeting had ended.]
Exempt Minute of the Meeting held on Thursday 31 March 2022
To confirm and sign as a correct record the exempt minute of the meeting of the Committee held on Thursday 31 March 2022.
The Exempt Minute of the last meeting of the Committee held on Thursday 31 March 2022 was approved as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.