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Agenda and minutes

Venue: Committee Room B12. View directions

Items
Note No. Item

1.

Apologies for Absence.

Minutes:

There were no apologies for absence.

2.

Declarations of Interest.

To receive declarations of interest from Members, including the term(s) of any Grant(s) of Dispensation.

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest.

MD

3.

Confirmation of the Minutes of the meeting held on 12 April 2017 pdf icon PDF 116 KB

Minutes:

            RESOLVED:

 

That the Minutes of the Audit Board meeting held on 12 April 2017 be confirmed as accurate.

4.

References from Other Committees (IF ANY)

There are presently no references from other Committees for the Board to consider.

Minutes:

There were no references from other Committees for the Board to consider.

5.

Annual Report 2016/17 of the Monitoring Officer on the Review of Ethical Governance Arrangements and Ancillary Matters pdf icon PDF 49 KB

To review the Council’s ethical governance arrangements and ancillary matters.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The report asked Members to review and endorse the Council’s ethical governance arrangements and ancillary matters for 2016/2017 as set out in Appendix A to the report.

 

The Head of Legal Services & Deputy Monitoring Officer reminded Members that the report was a standard item considered by the Board each year and that the format of the report remained unchanged. She advised of one correction to the published document for 2016-17 concerning the copying of Audit Board agendas and minutes to Parish/Town Clerks [Appendix A para 10 (c) agenda p. 47 refers]. This was an historical reference dating back to the days of the Standards Committee. Parish/Town Clerks in fact viewed the Board’s papers via the Council’s website; this would be stated in future reports.

 

Members were also advised that the Government appeared committed to a review of the ethical governance framework for Members [report para 6 agenda pages 33-43] most likely now in 2018 and invited questions.

 

The Shadow Chairman asked why the Audit Board received the report on an annual basis and what was there for Members to consider, as opposed to simply noting the report’s contents.

 

The Head of Legal Services advised Members that it was not a statutory requirement for the Monitoring Officer’s Annual Report to come before the Audit Board. It was presented to Members on the grounds of ‘good practice’, given that it supported and acted as a good reference document for the Annual Governance Statement presented elsewhere in the agenda papers [Item 15 Min. No. 14 refers]. In addition, inclusion of the report in the agenda made the document public and the Council’s processes transparent and accountable.

 

In response to several follow-up questions from the Shadow Chairman, the following points were confirmed by Officers:

 

·         In compiling the annual report the Head of Legal Services would review areas of operation relating to Members e.g. Gift & Hospitality Protocol and ensure it was fit for purpose;

·         The Financial Services Manager undertook a review of all financial matters and ensured that all procedures in place complied with and supported the Annual Governance Statement document;

·         The desk-top review of the Council’s processes to insure fitness for purpose did not require consultation with Members;

·         The related Annual Governance Statement picked up on matters of clarity and transparency in the Council’s daily operation and production of services to residents;

·         The MO’s Annual Report stated what arrangements were in place: the related Annual Governance Statement picked up any discrepancies and incorporated revised arrangements/targets into its Governance Action Plan-Progress Review document for the following year.

 

At the suggestion of the Vice-Chairman, the Shadow Chairman agreed that his line of questioning might be more pertinent to consideration of the Annual Governance Statement [Item 15 – Min. No. 14 refers].

 

 

                        RESOLVED:

 

1.    That the Monitoring Officer’s Annual Report 2016/17 on the Review of Ethical Governance Arrangements and Ancillary Matters, as set out in Appendix A to the report, be endorsed.

6.

Complaints Monitoring and Procedure Review - 2016/2017 pdf icon PDF 111 KB

To provide Members with information on the Council’s Corporate Complaints Procedure, including the number and nature of complaints received in respect of services provided by the Council during the period 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017.

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Head of Legal Services advised Members that this was another standard report presented to the Board each year. Appendices A and B provided information on the Council’s Corporate Complaints Procedure, including the number and nature of complaints received in respect of the services provided by the Council during the period 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017.

 

A Member noted that the number of complaints at Stage 1 had almost doubled from 60 in 2015/16 to 113 in 2016/17 [report para 3.20 (a) agenda p.59] and that complaints upheld had risen by some 10% in 2016/17 over the previous year [report para 3.20 (b) p.59].

 

The Strategic Director (External Services) & Monitoring Officer advised Members that Dartford’s continuing traffic problems and housing demands were responsible for the majority of the increase in complaints received and upheld. It was often a moot point whether a complaint was in fact a denied service request e.g. a refused housing move became a complaint about a valid policy decision. Council Officers had noted an increase in complaints across all neighbouring local authorities in the period under review. Dartford could draw comfort from the fact that complaints referred to the Ombudsman continued to be low and the number of complaints where compensation was paid by the Council even lower [2 cases].

 

In response to a specific question from a Member, the Monitoring Officer confirmed that complaints logged on-line by residents concerning the Council’s household waste collection service (undertaken by the contractor Amey) were incorporated into the complaint’s totals and responded to in the same way as written complaints.

 

The Vice-Chairman; speaking in his role as Lead Member for Waste, Re-Cycling and Household Services; advised Members that residents were encouraged to report any discrepancies in service by the contractor to better enable the Council to hold Amey to account and to consistently meet their contractual obligations. He also confirmed that complaints were escalated with the contractor as required e.g. when a household waste collection was missed on 2 or more consecutive occasions at a property.

 

The Shadow Chairman expressed his disquiet that complaints had increased in the period under review. Drilling down into the data might help to reveal good reasons for the significant rise in complaints in the period under review. However, he saw all complaints as a ‘failure of policy’. He asked what the process was to escalate the Officer-centric complaints process to the appropriate Cabinet Portfolio Holder as the responsible elected politician; to ensure that lessons over service delivery failure were properly learnt and where necessary, policy changes made to address those service failures.

 

The Strategic Director (External Services) did not agree that a rise in or of multiple complaints necessarily equated to a failure in Council policy. In the specific case of the Council’s waste service contract with Amey, there were many variable outside factors that could impact on daily service delivery e.g. a closure of the Pepperhill waste facility [preventing waste collection by Amey on a given day] – these were  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.

7.

Planned Audit Fee for 2017/18 pdf icon PDF 42 KB

To consider the attached correspondence from the Council’s External Auditor, Grant Thornton UK, LLP.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The covering report from the Financial Services Manager (FSM) asked Members to consider the Audit Fee letter from the Council’s External Auditor, Grant Thornton UK [attached as Appendix A to the report] and to note the proposed audit fee for 2017/18.

 

Liz Jackson, Engagement Lead for the Council’s External Auditors advised Members that she had nothing to add to her self-explanatory letter [Appendix A] which set the planned audit fee for the Council for 2017/18 as £46,405.

 

The separate Grant’s fee had yet to be set, due to the fluctuating nature of the two year cycle for that work. A proposed Grant’s fee would be presented to a future meeting of the Audit Board in 2018.

 

                        RESOLVED:

 

1.    That Members’ note the proposed Audit Fee for 2017/18 set out in the External Auditor’s letter attached as Appendix A to the covering report;

 

2.    That Members note that the External Auditor will present a proposed Grant’s fee to a future meeting of the Board in 2018.

8.

Financial Regulations pdf icon PDF 46 KB

That Board Members note the new Financial Regulations attached as Appendix A to the report.

 

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The report from the Financial Services Manager (FSM) was presented by the Strategic Director (Internal Services).

 

Members were reminded that a full review of Financial Regulations had been identified in the 2016 Annual Governance Review previously presented to the Board. A thorough review had been undertaken in the intervening 12 month period and a new set of ‘Officer friendly’ easy to read Financial Regulations agreed by the Managing Director under his delegated powers, was attached as Appendix A to the report for Members to note.

 

 

                        RESOLVED:

 

1.    That Members note the new Financial Regulations 2017 as attached at Appendix A to the report.

9.

Counter Fraud & Compliance Team Annual Report 2016/17 pdf icon PDF 80 KB

This report is to update the Audit Board on the work undertaken by the Counter Fraud & Compliance Team during the year ended 31 March 2017.

Minutes:

The report updated the Audit Board on the work undertaken by the Counter Fraud & Compliance Team during the year ended 31 March 2017.

 

The Counter Fraud Manager advised the Board that his Team continued to recover sizeable sums of money through their investigations of Council Tax fraud, Council Tax Reduction fraud and local housing related fraud issues; based within the joint Revenues & Benefits Service based in Sevenoaks Council. His Team had continued to forge an increasingly effective working relationship with the R & B Services in the period under review.

 

The Counter Fraud Team adopted a progressive three strand approach in their work to counter incidents of fraud in the local authority system of Prevent, Detect and Investigate; in support of the wider efforts of the Department of Work & Pensions’ Single Fraud Investigation Service (S-FIS) to investigate Housing Benefit fraud on a nation-wide basis since February 2016.

External funding at County level had assisted in the purchase of credit reference technology and further training of the dedicated Counter Fraud Team to augment their proven investigative powers.

 

‘Successes’ for the Team in the period under review were summarised in table format in paragraph 4 of Appendix A to the covering report. The table gave a flavour of the types of fraud and actual loss amounts incurred [which fell to the taxpayer to repay] together with a projection of future losses which would have been incurred, had the original irregularity not been discovered.

 

The Chairman expressed his thanks to the Counter Fraud Manager and his Team in their continued efforts to protect the funds and reputation of the Council, with one suggestion for future reports. That the current wording in the table of ‘Projected Additional Loss’ be amended to read ‘Projected Potential Loss’ in future reports for greater clarity and public consumption.

 

The Cabinet Portfolio Holder present commended the report to his fellow Members and noted that, in addition to countering Council Tax Reduction and related fraud, the Counter Fraud Team had also been successful in detecting and preventing Business Rate fraud amongst the better-off residents within the Dartford community.

 

 

                        RESOLVED:

 

1.    That Members note the work undertaken by the Counter Fraud & Compliance Team during 2016/17;

 

2.    That the Board’s thanks and congratulations be passed to the Counter Fraud Team and recorded in the Minutes.

10.

Annual Review of the Effectiveness of the Internal Audit Service 2016-17 pdf icon PDF 50 KB

This report provides Members with a summary of the findings from the review of the effectiveness of the system of Internal Audit for 2016/17.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The report provided Members with a summary of the findings from the review of the effectiveness of the system of the Internal Audit Service 2016/17 against the Public Sector Internal Audit Standards (PSIAS). The details of the self-assessment review were attached at Appendix A to the report. The opinion of the Principal Auditor following the review was that the Council's arrangements in place for Internal Audit in 2016/17 were substantially compliant with the PSIAS with one exception.

 

Members were advised that the position of Chief Audit Executive (CAE) continued to be held by the Council’s section 151 Officer (S151) & Strategic Director for Internal Services; in the continued long-term absence of the Audit, Risk and Anti-Fraud Manager (ARAFM).

 

The Council’s External Auditors were aware of the continuing arrangement and the matter had been highlighted within the Annual Governance Statement for 2016/17 [Agenda Item 15 Min. No. 14 refers]. Mitigating steps taken to safeguard the independence off the CAE role, were set out in para 3.3 of the report [agenda p.151].

 

Any partial compliance with the PSIAS identified in Appendix A would be addressed in the Action Plan.

 

 

                        RESOLVED:

 

1.    That Members note the outcome of the review of the self-assessment of the effectiveness of the Internal Audit Service for 2016/17 as set out in Appendix A to the report.

 

 

11.

Review of Internal Audit Recommendations - Progress Report pdf icon PDF 49 KB

This report is to update Members on progress of the implementation of recommendations agreed with Management, and to report on outstanding recommendations due for implementation by 30 April 2017.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The standard report and appendices updated Members on progress of the implementation of recommendations agreed with Management and to report on outstanding recommendations due for implementation by 30 April 2017.

 

The Principal Auditor referred Members to the significant list of achievements made by the Internal Audit Team since the last update report to the Board [as listed in Appendix A - Agenda p.193]. Where recommendations remained outstanding [Appendix B - Agenda pages 195-201] extra audit days had been allocated to complete the work. An added supervisory measure introduced in the period under review, was that all individual audit recommendations were now side-copied to the Principal Auditor, to help monitor progress.

 

                        Resolved:

 

1.    That Members note the reasons for delayed implementation of the audit recommendations as set out in Appendix B to the report;

 

2.    That Members endorse the revised dates for implementation provided by Management as noted in Appendix B to the report.

12.

Audit Reports Issued Since Last Meeting of the Board pdf icon PDF 53 KB

This report is to inform Audit Board Members of outcomes of the audits completed since the previous report to the Board on 12 April 2017 and to provide Members with the opportunity to request clarification or further information, if considered necessary.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The report (and attached Appendices A and B) informed Members of the outcomes of the audits completed since the previous report to the Board on 12 April 2017 and provided Members with the opportunity to request clarification or further information as deemed necessary.

 

The Principal Auditor referred Members to the table in Appendix A to the report [Agenda p. 205] which listed the 6 audit reports issued, since the Board last met in April. Five (5) reports had achieved Full or Substantial Opinions. The 6th audit undertaken - ‘Payroll 2016/17’ - had achieved a Limited Assurance Opinion. Details of that review were set out in Appendix B [Agenda pages 207/8]. Members would be fully advised of the implementation of recommendations made at a future meeting of the Board.

 

                        RESOLVED:

 

1.    That Members note the contents of the report and attached Appendices A and B.

13.

Selective Invoice Checks pdf icon PDF 61 KB

During the April 2017 meeting of the Audit Board, Members selected five creditor payments for checking. This report summarises the findings of that exercise and provides the opportunity for Members to select further payments for audit checking.

Minutes:

At the last meeting of the Audit Board on 12 April 2017 Members selected five creditor payments for checking. The report advised Members of the outcome of that exercise.

 

The results of the review by Internal Audit confirmed that all spend decisions taken were appropriate and in compliance with Council procedures, as summarised in the report.

 

Members were invited to select five (5) further creditor payments for examination by the Internal Audit team and subsequent reporting to the Board in September 2017.

 

                        RESOLVED:

 

1.    That Members note the contents of the report;

 

2.    That five (5) further creditor payments be selected by Members for checking by Internal Audit with the outcome of that exercise reported back to the Board at its next meeting in September 2017.

 

14.

Annual Governance Statement pdf icon PDF 51 KB

This report considers the governance arrangements and the system of internal control which operated during 2016/17 and the review that has taken place of those arrangements and controls.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The report reminded Members that the Council was responsible for ensuring that its business was conducted in accordance with the law and proper standards and that public money was safeguarded and properly accounted for.

 

In discharging this responsibility the Council had to ensure that it had good governance arrangements in place and that it operated a sound system of internal control and that it reviewed those arrangements on an annual basis. The report and Appendices considered the review process of governance and system of internal control which had operated in the 2016/17 financial cycle. 

 

The Strategic Director (Internal Services) & Section 152 Officer presented the report and Appendices to the Board in the absence of the Financial Services Manager (FSM). She advised Members that a detailed review process had been undertaken by the FSM, in conjunction with the Monitoring Officer, Head of Legal Services and herself as SD (IS) & Section 151 Officer. The review had been conducted against the Local Code of Practice which incorporated the CIPFA/SOLACE Principles, as set out in the publication ‘Delivering Good Governance in Local Government (2016)’. 

 

Management Team had approved the review and agreed that the draft Annual Governance Statement for the year ended 31 March 2017 [attached as Appendix A to the report] be referred to the Board for approval. Appendix B to the report set out the Review of the Council’s Governance Arrangements 2016/17; including the current and future role of the Chief Account Executive (CAE); Appendix C comprised the Governance Action Plan 2016/17 and Appendix D the Action Plan for 2017/18.

 

In addition, a number of other reports fed-into the Annual Governance Statement, including the Monitoring Officer’s Annual Review of Ethical Governance Arrangements and Ancillary Matters [Min. No. 5 refers]. 

 

The Shadow Chairman advised that he had no comments on the internal controls in place. However, he judged the Council’s Corporate Plan as a prime example of a policy document which lacked clarity in its Objectives and the ownership of those Objectives by individual Cabinet Portfolio Holders. The fact that Cabinet voted collectively made for a lack of clarity and transparency for the public as to which Cabinet Member should be held to account for any failings in policy or service provision.

 

He perceived a similar lack of clarity regarding policy implementation, service delivery and public accountability, concerning the Council’s current Committee system. He gave as an example his Chairmanship of the Council’s Scrutiny Committee. As Chairman, he was entitled to request the attendance of officers and representatives from other organisations and outside bodies to e.g. examine policy/service delivery in a given area. But he did not have the power to command such attendance. He viewed the Council’s Cabinet Advisory Committees [CAP A and CAP B] and the Policy Overview Committee [POC] to operate under similar restrictions of organisational structure. He stressed that his comments were not a personal reflection on the Chairmen of those Committees or indeed individual Cabinet Portfolio Holders. It was the current system of collective decision making  ...  view the full minutes text for item 14.

15.

Internal Audit Annual Report 2016-17 pdf icon PDF 55 KB

This report provides Members of the Board with a summary of the work of the Internal Audit Service during 2016-17.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The report provided Members with a summary of the work of the Internal Audit Service during the 2016-17 financial year to 31 March 2017. It outlined the achievements of the Internal Audit Section during the year under review and, based on the work completed, informed the Board of the Chief Audit Executives overall opinion on the adequacy and effectiveness of the internal control environment, which was timed to support the Annual Governance Statement considered elsewhere in the Agenda [Min. No. 14 refers].

 

The Strategic Director (Internal Services) in her role as Chief Audit Executive (CAE) in the period under review, referred Members to her Opinion, regarding the Council’s internal control environment as set out in Appendix A to the report [para 2.3 agenda p. 311 refers].

 

She had concluded that the Council’s Control Environment had contributed effectively to the proper, economic, efficient and effective use of resources in achieving the Council’s objectives. In reaching her conclusion, the CAE had regarded the work of the Internal Audit Service during the 2016-17 financial cycle and the work undertaken in that period by the Council’s External Auditors, Grant Thornton UK, together with other sources of assurance.

 

The CAE confirmed that her continued position as CAE would be reviewed and the outcome of this reported back to Members at a future meeting of the Board.

 

                        RESOLVED:

 

1.    That Members note the content of the Annual Internal Audit Report 2016-17 enclosed as Appendix A to the covering report;

 

2.    That Members support the conclusion of the Chief Audit Executive (CAE) that the Council had effective internal controls, risk management and governance arrangements in place, for delivering its objectives and for the management of its business risks, during the period 1 April 2016 to 31 March 2017.

 

16.

CIPFA training with Sevenoaks Audit Committee Members

Chairman to update Officers and Board Members, on the outcomes of the joint CIPFA training undertaken with Sevenoaks Members on 5 June 2017.

Minutes:

The Chairman advised that the joint CIPFA training with Members of the Sevenoaks Audit Committee on 5 June 2017 had been interesting, if slightly long at between 3-4 hours in length. He noted that Dartford Members had outnumbered their Sevenoaks counterparts on the night.

 

Regarding the substance of the training, he said that he had not agreed with all the trainer’s recommendations. In particular, the advice that Audit Board/Committee Chairmen only serve for a term of 2 years. He saw value in Audit Chairmen serving longer terms given the experience and fiscal knowledge they acquired in the role. 

 

The Shadow Chairman echoed the comments of the Chairman concerning the length of the training at the end of a working day for many Councillors. He had found the training particularly instructive and interesting concerning external ‘best practice’ and expressed the view that a next step might be further joint-working with Sevenoaks Members over ‘best internal practice’.

 

The Chairman supported this proposal and reminded Members that he and his Sevenoaks counter-part had attend each other’s meetings on a guest basis previously. His personal impression from that experience was that the Council’s Audit Board tended to stick to the meeting agenda, whilst the Sevenoaks Audit Committee tended to debate topics more widely outside the parameters of the printed agenda. He supported further joint working with Sevenoaks Members, provided proceedings remained concise. 

 

                                    RESOLVED:

 

1.    That the Chairman and Shadow Chairman explore the possibility of attending meetings of the Sevenoaks Audit Committee in a working capacity and that their Sevenoaks counter-parts attend future meetings of the Audit Board in a similar working capacity.