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Venue: Virtual Meeting
Contact: Ann Holmes 01248 752518
The Chair welcomed everyone present to this virtual meeting of Governance and Audit Committee.
Declaration of Interest
To receive any declaration of interest by any Member or Officer in respect of any item of business.
No declaration of interest was received.
To present the minutes of the previous meeting of the Governance and Audit Committee held on 20 July, 2021.
The minutes of the previous meeting of the Governance and Audit Committee held on 20 July, 2021 were presented and were confirmed as correct.
Arising thereon –
Reference was made to Audit Wales’s Programme and Timetable which showed that the audit of the Council’s Statement of the Accounts for 2020/21 would take place in the period from June to September, 2021 whereas in previous years the final audited accounts would normally have been published in September. Clarification of the altered schedule and the reasons behind it was sought.
The Director of Function (Resources)/Section 151 Officer clarified that the deadline for the publication of the 2020/21 accounts has been extended to the end of November, 2021 in line with what was agreed with regard to the accounts completion and publication process for 2019/20 due to the added pressures on councils in responding to Covid-19 which are still continuing. Audit Wales is also dealing with resource pressures in auditing local authority accounts across the region. The amended schedule means that the audited accounts for 2020/21 along with External Audit’s report on the financial statements will be brought to this Committee in a meeting arranged for 20 October, 2021 and will be presented to Full Council for approval later that month which is in compliance with the regulations extending the statutory deadlines to 31 August for the publication of draft accounts and 30 November for the publication of audited accounts.
To present the report of the Senior Information Risk Owner (SIRO).
The Annual Report of the Senior Information Risk Owner (SIRO) for 2020/21 was presented for the Committee’s consideration. The report set out the SIRO’s statement and overview of the Council’s compliance with the legal requirements and relevant codes of practice in handling corporate information and, at Appendices 1 to 7 provided key data about the Council’s information governance including contact with external regulators, security incidents and breaches of confidentiality or near misses, and Freedom of Information requests and complaints during the period.
The Director of Function (Council Business)/Monitoring Officer and designated Senior Information Risk Owner (SIRO) reported on the main points from the Annual Report as follows –
· The Council’s processes and practices under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) were inspected by the Investigatory Powers Commissioners Office during the period covered by the report. The inspection was favourable and no formal recommendations were made. Although the Council makes responsible but limited use of RIPA, the relevant roles, policies procedures and training are necessary and must be in place.
· The Council was contacted by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in respect of 2 data protection complaints. While the matters were not ultimately investigated by the ICO, the Council was asked to review its responses to the complainants and take any appropriate steps to ensure the complaints were dealt with fully. The complaints have been reviewed and the matters concluded. One appeal was lodged with the ICO in this period which was upheld.
· The Office of the Surveillance Camera Commissioner (OSCC) oversees compliance with the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice. The Council has been using the Surveillance Camera Commissioner's CCTV specific Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) since 2019/20 and it is now used by the Council whenever a new CCTV system is proposed. Whilst the Council had no contact with the OSCC during the period of the report, a great deal of work has been undertaken in that time to strengthen arrangements including addressing the governance gaps surrounding historic CCTV systems which existed before the introduction of the SCC Code. During the period of the report, CCTV users and managers were trained in the data protection elements of using CCTV.
· During the year, 30 data security incidents were recorded by the Council comprising of 28 Level 0 -1 (near misses or confirmed incidents but no need to report to ICO/other regulators) and 2 Level 2 incidents (data security incidents that must be reported to the ICO because of the risk presented by the incident).
· A total of 736 FOI requests was received during the period 1 April, 2020 to 31 March, 2021 comprising of 5,397 individual questions. A breakdown of the requests per service and by applicant type is provided in Appendix 3 of the report. Of the 736 requests, 5 resulted in an internal review of the responses made by the Council the outcomes of which are as outlined. At its September, 2020 meeting the Committee discussed the possibility of the Council making more information routinely available in ... view the full minutes text for item 3.
To present the report of the Director of Function (Council Business)/ Monitoring Officer.
The report of the Director of Function (Council Business)/Monitoring Officer providing information on issues arising under the Council’s Concerns and Complaints Policy for the period 1 April, 2020 to 31 March, 2021 was presented for the Committee’s consideration. The report also included Social Services complaints but only those where the complainant was not a service user. Service user complaints are dealt with under the Social Services Policy - Representations and Complaints Procedure for Children and Adults and are reported annually to the Social Services Improvement Panel.
The Director of Function (Council Business)/Monitoring Officer reported on the main points as follows –
· That during the reporting period, 104 concerns were received and 43 complaints were made. Of the 43 complaints, 42 had received a full response by the 31 March, 2021, with the remaining complaint requiring significant further investigation prior to providing a final response to the applicant.
· That of the 42 complaints dealt with during period, 2 were upheld in full, 1 was partly upheld and 39 were not upheld. Nine complaints that had been through the internal process were escalated to the Public Service Ombudsman Wales (PSOW) and all 9 were rejected.
· The number of complaints investigated in the year fell by 26, down from 69 in 2019/20; a breakdown of concerns, complaints and compliments by service is provided in the table at paragraph 8 of the report.
· The overall rate of responses to complaints issued within the specified time limit (20 working days) was 90%. When responses are late services are expected to send a holding response to the complainant to keep them informed of progress and to explain the reasons for the delay.
· From an analysis of the table at paragraph 8 of the report, 9% (up from 8% in 2019/20) of the complaints received resulted from escalated concerns which suggests that services are dealing effectively with concerns thereby limiting formal complaints. A further 9% (4 of the 43) were sent to the Council by the PSOW who refused to deal with them until the internal Council process had first been exhausted. Complainants may also take their complaints directly to the formal stage of the internal complaints process and this accounts for remaining 82% of the complaints received.
· The Concerns and Complaints Policy places an emphasis on learning lessons from complaints thereby improving services. Previous recommendations endorsed by the Governance and Audit Committee have now become embedded as part of business as usual when dealing with complaints. Appendix 1 of the report explains what lessons have been learnt from the 2 upheld and 1 partly upheld complaints.
· Whilst there is no internal right of appeal against a decision reached in response to a complaint, the Concern and Complaints Policy includes the option of escalating a complaint to the PSOW where the complainant remains dissatisfied with the Council’s response. There were 18 complaints relevant to this process lodged with the PSOW within the timescale of the report. None of the complaints were taken into investigation.
· During 2020/21 no ... view the full minutes text for item 4.
To present the report of the Director of Function (Council Business)/ Monitoring Officer.
The report of the Director of Function (Council Business)/Monitoring Officer setting out the level of compliance in relation to policy acceptance via the Council’s Policy Portal Management system for the fourth year of monitoring was presented for the Committee’s consideration.
The Director of Function (Council Business)/Monitoring Officer highlighted the following –
· The nine core policies currently included in the core set as listed in paragraph 1 of the report. These nine core policies are subject to acceptance every two years but will be compulsory for new staff throughout that time. Due to Covid 19, the process was suspended in March, 2020 but was re-started on 1 September, 2021.
· The five policies listed in paragraph 3.1 of the report which have been subject to re-acceptance since 1 September, 2020. Compliance data per service as at 11 August 2021 is shown in Appendix 1 to the report. The table at paragraph 3.1 compares the average compliance rates reported to this Committee over the past four years.
· Declining compliance levels within Housing Services was questioned by this Committee at its meeting on 1 September, 2020 and was subsequently brought to the attention of the Head of Housing Services after which the average compliance rate for the Service significantly improved overall. Nevertheless the data in Appendix 1 shows a marked decline in Housing Services’ acceptance of the last policy issued which is down to 76%. However, compliance reports to the SLT indicate that there is more of a time lag for policy acceptance within Housing Services which is possibly due to the higher number of technical rather than clerical/office based staff within the service.
· A pilot commenced on 14 September, 2020 which required middle managers to accept three HR policies with each policy assigned to relevant officers nominated by each service. Compliance data per service for the papers issued is set out in Appendix 2 to the report. The final paper – guidance for designating language skills for internal and external posts – will be issued for acceptance in the coming weeks.
· The compliance issue in connection with staff without access to the Policy Portal. Staff who are not AD users - estimated at around 700 employees - who include those listed in the table at 3.3 - are not part of the policy acceptance process. The Policy Portal’s reliance on the Council’s Active Directory (AD) has been recognised as a weakness from the outset and was recognised as a risk by this Committee at its meeting in September, 2020 when it sought assurance that the matter was being pursued at the highest level. Whilst the matter has been receiving corporate consideration, this specific aspect of corporate policy acceptance remains on hold and will remain so indefinitely until a digital and cost effective solution becomes available. A proposal to trial a paper based process with Adults’ Services whereby staff would attend Council Headquarters to be briefed on the polices after which they would sign up to them was suspended due to the pandemic and ... view the full minutes text for item 5.
To present the report of External Audit.
The report of External Audit on the outcome of an assessment of the financial sustainability of the Isle of Anglesey County Council was presented for the Committee’s consideration. The assessment was undertaken as financial sustainability continues to be a risk to councils putting in place proper arrangements to secure value for money in the use of resources. External Audit’s 2020/21 assessment on councils’ financial sustainability was in two phases: Phase 1 was a baseline assessment of the initial impact of Covid-19 on local councils’ financial position following which a national summary report regarding the financial sustainability of Local Government as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic was published. The report above concludes Phase 2 of External Audit’s financial sustainability assessment work during 2020/21 as part of which a local report is being produced for each of the 22 principal councils in Wales.
Mr Alan Hughes, Audit Wales’s Performance Audit Lead commenting that the conclusion of the assessment overall was positive but that a number of challenges remain, referred to the headline findings as follows –
· The Council has a good understanding of its financial position and currently delivers services within overall budget, but several financial challenges remain – the immediate impact of Covid19 on the Council’s financial sustainability has been mitigated by additional Welsh Government funding. The Council will incur in the region of £6.2m of additional Covid-1h9 related expenditure and £2.4m loss of income during 2020/21. The Council will have incurred £0.1m additional expenditure and income loss that has not been covered by additional funding.
· Increasing budgets of demand led services has enabled the Council to deliver services within overall budget, but several financial challenges remain – the Council’s Corporate Asset Management Plan for Land and Buildings for 2015-2020 is out of date and needs to be updated. In common with other councils in Wales, the Council has limited access to capital funding thereby reducing its capacity to undertake capital investment; difficulties in predicting with any degree of certainty what future levels of Aggregate External Financing will be before the announcement of the draft settlement in December leads to the presentation of a significant aggregate funding gap in the Medium Term Financial Plan
· The Council’s financial strategy has restored the general fund to target level, but the Council continues to use reserves to balance the budget, this is not sustainable – the Council’s level of usable reserves increased to £29.7m by the end of 2020/21 which is 20.6% of the net cost of services. The Council utilised £300,000 of reserves to fund the 2021/22 budget which allowed for a 0.75% reduction in Council Tax. Funding baseline commitment form one-off funding sources is not sustainable and leads to unresolved funding pressure in future budgets.
· The Council has delivered services within budget in 2019/20 and 2020/21 after deficits in the two preceding years
· Identifying and delivering savings will be more challenging going forward – the Council delivered 86% of the planned savings in the 2019/21 budget (£2.2m of £2.56m) and 79% ... view the full minutes text for item 6.
To present the report of External Audit.
The report of External Audit on the outcome of its review of the progress made by the North Wales Economic Ambition Board (NWEAB) on its journey to support the development of the region’s economy and delivery of the North Wales Growth Deal was presented for the Committee’s consideration. The review was focused on how the NWEAB is making progress in delivering the low carbon energy programme and in so doing it examined governance arrangements; the support provided by the programme management office; the impact of Covid 19 on planned delivery and shared learning for the ambition overall.
Mr Alan Hughes, Wales Audit’s Performance Audit Lead reported that the review found that the NWEAB has clear and established governance arrangements and is supported by a developing Portfolio Management Office, that external factors may impact on the planned ambitions and that NWEAB is adapting to accommodate these. This conclusion was reached because –
· Partners have agreed ambitions for the North Wales economy and have established a clear governance framework, although not all elements are operational;
· The NWEAB has established a well-resourced Portfolio Management Office to support delivery of its ambitions; where it finds gaps in skills, knowledge or capacity it is resourceful in filling shortfall; and
· The success of the Growth Deal is dependent on many external factors that may change planned ambitions; the NWEAB is adapting to overcome these emerging challenges and risks.
The report contains six proposals for ways in which the councils through the North Wales Economic Ambition Board could improve the delivery of their overall goals and these are set out in Exhibit 1 at page 5 of the report.
In responding to the report, Alwen Williams, Portfolio Director for the North Wales Economic Ambition Board said that the situation is evolving quickly and several of the proposals have already had a response; it is expected that further progress will have been made when a report back is made towards the end of the year. The economic situation having been impacted by Brexit and by Covid-19 has changed and it remains fluid. However, the review findings and recommendations do not contain any surprises and a number of the recommendations relate to areas where pieces of work have already commenced. This was the first review of the North Wales Growth Deal and supporting arrangements conducted by Audit Wales and upon reflection it has proved to be a constructive process and the resulting opinion and proposals for improvement have been positive for the Team.
In considering the content of External Audit’s report, the Committee raised the following points –
· The Committee sought clarity on whether any of the North Wales Growth Deal projects have commenced; whether price increases are likely to pose a problem and whether any issues are envisaged in navigating the planning process.
The Portfolio Director confirmed that whilst no project has yet started, three Outline Business Cases have been presented to the NWEAB and have received approval to proceed to the next stage of Final Business Case ... view the full minutes text for item 7.
To present the report of External Audit.
The report of External Audit with regard to the Isle of Anglesey County Council’s approach and arrangements with regard to workforce planning was presented for the Committee’s consideration.
Ms Bethan Roberts, Audit Wales referred to the importance of workforce planning in identifying and meeting future workforce needs and in responding proactively to any issues that may arise; she highlighted the main findings of External Audit’s report as follows –
· Having experienced workforce challenges in the Children and Families Service, the Council is using that experience to progress workforce planning and has further opportunities to realise benefits across services; this conclusion was reached because –
· The Council developed a Workforce Strategy in 2012 but embedding did not happen in all services.
· The approach to workforce planning taken by the Council’s Children and Families Service helped it respond to the challenges it faces
· The Council is now more focused on workforce planning and by maintaining this focus, it can realise more benefits across all services.
External Audit has made two recommendations, the one in relation to workforce plan implementation across all services and the other in relation to obtaining assurance that workforce plans are living documents.
In responding to the report, the Head of Profession (HR) and Transformation confirmed that discussions and feedback from Audit Wales have been constructive and helpful and that since External Audit’s review in February, 2021 a process has now begun whereby workforce planning is discussed each quarter in meetings of the Penaethiaid which comprises of the Senior Leadership Team and all Heads of Service. All services now have a workforce plan albeit some need to be formalised in greater detail. Heads of Service also meet with Human Resources Officers every quarter to consider workforce data which in turn informs the service’s workforce plan. Workforce planning has taken on greater significance in light of the pandemic and widespread recruitment issues that are being felt nationally; it requires flexibility in order to be able to deal with a changing environment and changing recruitment needs and challenges.
It was resolved to accept the report of External Audit with regard to workforce planning within the Isle of Anglesey County Council and to note its contents.
To present External Audit’s Letter to the Chair of the Committee.
A letter to the Chair of the Governance and Audit Committee from Audit Wales dated 3 June, 2021 was presented for the Committee’s consideration. The letter set out the approach to be taken by Audit Wales to help councils in Wales actively consider reports by the principal external review bodies and to assure themselves that they have arrangements in place to monitor and evaluate progress against any recommendations contained in them.
Mr Alan Hughes, Performance Audit Lead for Audit Wales confirmed that the letter had been sent to the Chairs of all Governance and Audit Committees in Wales as a reminder to those committees of the importance of considering the reports by external regulators in all their forms and of having a process in place to obtain assurance that those reports and recommendations have been acted upon.
The Programme, Business Planning and Performance Manager in responding to the letter advised that the Authority in consultation with Audit Wales has identified all the national review reports issued by Audit Wales since an agreed point in 2019 and that as a result work is in progress to provide an update on the Authority’s response to those national reviews to the Governance and Audit Committee at its next meeting in December. Work has also been
undertaken on formalising arrangements for tracking the recommendations made by Audit Wales in its local review reports through the Council’s action tracking system 4action which is used to manage and follow up actions against Internal Audit’s review reports.
It was resolved to note the letter to the Chair from Audit Wales and the response by the Programme, Business Planning and Performance Manager, and to note also that the Committee at its next meeting will be provided with an update on the progress of actions against the recommendations contained in Audit Wales’s national review reports.
To present the report of the Head of Audit and Risk.
The report of the Head of Audit and Risk setting out the audits completed since the last update as at 20 July, 2021, the current workload of Internal Audit and its priorities for the short to medium term was presented for the Committee’s consideration.
The Head of Audit and Risk summarised progress to date as follows –
· That two reports have been finalised in the period both of which resulted in a Reasonable Assurance rating, the one relating to Housing Allocations for which 3 major and 3 moderate issues/risk were raised and the other in relation to Leavers Process First Follow up for which 3 moderate issues were raised.
· The review of Housing Allocations was undertaken at the request of the Executive after it received a report of poor performance regarding the time taken to re-let void properties. Whilst the review of this performance measure concluded that the Council does have adequate arrangements in place for managing and re-letting empty properties, it found that the performance measure which focuses solely on the how quickly empty properties are turned around does not align with recent housing policy and approach which seeks to improve community cohesion, increase sustainability of tenancies and consequently reduce the overall number of void properties, and that this misalignment had contributed to poor performance in this area. Also highlighted was the absence of a performance measure to reflect the Council’s ambitious target for purchasing, renovating and letting former Council properties. While the six issues/risks raised pose a risk to the service’s ability to meet its performance targets in this area, Internal Audit is satisfied that they are containable at service level and do not pose significant risks to the Council’s overall achievement of its objectives hence the Reasonable assurance opinion.
· The follow up review of the Leavers Process was undertaken in May, 2021 to determine progress in addressing the four issues/risks raised by the original review report in September, 2020 one of which was designated as “major” due to the potential impact of the risk. The follow-up concluded that management had addressed the risk classified as major and is making progress to address the remaining three risks.
· That 5 audits are currently in progress as summarised in the table at paragraph 14 of the report which updates the status of the work in progress. The Internal Audit team is also currently involved in three complex investigations.
· The first tranche of the National Fraud Initiative 2020/21 matches were released in January, 2021. Matches highlight potential fraud and error in the Council’s systems. Internal Audit is currently working on investigating matches in the five areas listed in paragraph 18 of the report.
· There are currently no overdue actions. Details of outstanding actions are reported separately.
· Despite staff returning from redeployment and the additional responsibilities due to the pandemic having reduced, the team is still not at full capacity. The recruitment proposal to fill the Senior Audit vacancy has been approved by the SLT and it is currently being advertised with ... view the full minutes text for item 10.
To present the report of the Head of Audit and Risk.
The report of the Head of Audit and Risk incorporating an update on outstanding issues and risks as at 31 August, 2021 was presented for the Committee’s consideration.
The Principal Auditor highlighted the main points as follows –
· That prior to the upgrade of the 4action tracking system, a report on outstanding issues and risks was presented to the Committee twice a year. The first detailed report outlining performance in addressing audit actions since the implementation of the new 4action system was presented to the Committee on 20 April, 2021. At the time the Committee confirmed that it would like a report of this nature to be presented to it bi-annually. As such this report is the second, mid-year update.
· That no Red issues/risks were raised during the year and there are no Red issues/risks currently outstanding.
· As at 31 August, 2021 there are 56 outstanding actions being tracked in 4action. Of these 19 are rated major (amber) and 37 moderate (yellow) in risk priority. (Graph 1 refers).
· That there are currently no actions that have reached their target date for completion and become overdue.
· That Graph 3 in the report shows the status of all actions irrespective of the date management agreed to address them. It shows that management has now addressed 49% of them with Internal Audit having verified completion of 47% of these. The remaining 2% related to actions from an audit of Payments Supplier Maintenance which Internal Audit will be following up formally in January, 2022.
· That around 20% of the actions shown as not started on 4action relate to two audits – Payments Supplier Maintenance and Corporate Parenting Panel which were finalised towards the end of the 2020/21 financial year and where the issues/risks identified have not yet reached the dates by which management has agreed for their completion.
· That Graph 4 within the report shows the status of all actions that have reached their target date. It shows that where due, 100% have been addressed. Of these Internal Audit has verified almost all apart from those relating to the Payments Supplier Maintenance audit which is scheduled for follow-up in the New Year. Occasionally and only where there is a legitimate reason for doing so, target dates may be extended. Due to the Covid 19 emergency, several target deadlines have been extended for services whose priority over the last 18 months has been focused on responding to the pandemic.
· That the 56 outstanding actions are spread between 2016/17 and 2020/21. A single “old” action dating back to 2016/17 is yet to be fully addressed by management. This is rated as moderate or yellow in risk priority and relates to the requirement for services to provide assurance that their procurement activity is effective in the annual service challenge process. Work to address it is nearly complete with management assuring that it will be resolved in time for the next service challenge exercise in November, 2021.
· That there are no major or amber rated issues/risks dating back ... view the full minutes text for item 11.
To present the report of the Head of Audit and Risk.
The report of the Head of Audit and Risk incorporating the updated Forward Work Programme for 2021/22 was presented for the Committee’s consideration. Further minor amendments had been made to the Forward Work Programme since its submission to the Committee’s July, 2021 meeting to reflect items that have been rescheduled due to workload or other factors and the inclusion of an additional meeting to consider the finalised Statement of the Accounts and Annual Governance Statement.
It was resolved to note the minor amendments to the approved Forward Work Programme for 2021/22.
Any Other Business
Although this matter was not included as part of the business of the meeting, the Chair agreed to it being reported in order to provide assurance about the timeliness of the process for appointing lay members to the Governance and Audit Committee.
The Head of Audit and Risk provided an update on the arrangements for recruiting lay members to the Governance and Audit Committee who under the provisions of the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021, will make up one third of the Committee’s membership as from May, 2022 and one of whom will chair the Committee.
The Head of Audit and Risk reported that a Welsh Local Government Association Task group has developed a generic application form and advert for the recruitment of lay members to the Governance and Audit Committees of all the councils in Wales which it is hoped will be published in the week commencing 4 October, 2021. The WLGA will be dealing with the advertising and promotion of the positions as a Wales wide process. In Anglesey the Council’s Constitution requires that the Chair and Vice Chair of the Committee recommend the appointment of lay members to the Governance and Audit Committee to Council and the aim is to have undertaken that commitment by the end of the calendar year so that the new lay members are in place by the Committee’s February, 2022 meeting and can commence in post in line with the May, 2022 deadline.
The Chair and Committee noted and welcomed the update and took assurance from the early preparations that all necessary arrangements will be in place to be able to meet the legislative requirements with regard to the appointment of lay members.