Skip to content

H1 - do not remove

Agenda and draft minutes

Venue: Virtual Meetings - This meeting will be held virtually. Details of how to access the meeting on YouTube are contained in the meeting page, along with the agenda and papers.. View directions

Note: This meeting may be viewed on YouTube by highlighting and opening the following link: https://youtu.be/j9QKq3Cp6TY 

Items
Note No. Item

50.

Apologies for Absence.

Minutes:

The Chairman welcomed Members to the virtual meeting of the Audit Board via the Zoom platform, and expressed the hope that Councillor Harman would join the proceedings in due course. He confirmed that the proceedings were being streamed live to the public via YouTube, as per the link published on the Council website.

 

He welcomed the remote participation of Mr. Ian Murray and Mr. Keith Mungadzi from the Council’s External Auditors, Grant Thornton UK, and noted the remote presence of the Council’s Strategic Directors for both Internal and External Services, the Head of Legal Services, the Head of Finance & Section 151 Officer, and the Internal Audit Manager (Chief Audit Executive).

 

An apology for absence was subsequently received from Councillor Harman.

 

51.

Declarations of Interest.

To receive any declarations of interest from Members including the terms(s) of any Grant(s) of Dispensation from the Strategic Director (Internal Services).

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest.

 

MD

52.

Confirmation of the Minutes of the meeting held on 22 July 2020 pdf icon PDF 234 KB

Minutes:

                    RESOLVED:

 

1.     That the Minutes of the meeting held on 22 July 2020 be confirmed as accurate.

53.

Urgent Items

The Chairman will announce his decision as to whether there are any urgent items and their position on the agenda.

Minutes:

The Chairman confirmed that there were no urgent items for the Board to consider.

54.

References from Other Committees (IF ANY)

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

Minutes:

None

55.

Annual Report 2019/2020 of the Monitoring Officer on the Review of Ethical Governance Arrangements and Ancillary Matters pdf icon PDF 121 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

 The report from the Head of Legal Services asked Board Members to consider and endorse, the Monitoring Officer’s Annual Report 2019/2020 on the Review of Ethical Governance Arrangements and Ancillary Matters (attached as Appendix A to the report).

 

 The Head of Legal Services advised the Board that the 2019/2020 Review was based on the pre-existing Council management structure, not the revised management structure submitted to the General Assembly of the Council for approval on 12 October 2020. She also advised that the current Member Code of Conduct was subject to a national review, and that Members would be updated on the results of that consultation in a future report to the Board. 

 

The Chairman thanked the Head of Legal Services for her report and comprehensive 2019/2020 annual review document.

 

In the absence of any questions from Members it was RESOLVED:

 

1.     That Members endorsed the Monitoring Officer’s Annual Report 2019/2020 on the Review of Ethical Governance Arrangements and Ancillary Matters as set out in Appendix A to the report.

56.

Complaints Monitoring and Procedure Review - 2019/2020 pdf icon PDF 304 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The report from the Head of Legal Services provided Board Members with 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 2019 to 31 March 2020 and asked the Board to comment accordingly.

 

Members were advised that the 2019/2020 review had revealed compliance with timescales for responding to complaints, during the difficult times of the Corona virus pandemic.

 

The Chairman thanked the Head of Legal Services for her report.

 

                    RESOLVED:

 

1.     That Board Members approve the 2019/2020 Complaints Monitoring and Procedure Review for the period 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020.

57.

Report from the External Auditor pdf icon PDF 116 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The covering report from the Head of Finance/Section 151 Officer advised the Board that the External Auditors, Grant Thornton UK, had substantially completed their audit of the Council’s 2019/20 Accounts as set out in their ‘Audit Findings’ report [Appendix A to the covering report].

 

Members were advised that the External Auditor proposed to issue an Unqualified Opinion on both the Financial Statements and the Value for Money Conclusion, and were asked to approve the Letter of Representation, attached at Appendix B to the covering report, for the joint signature of the Board Chairman and the Head of Finance in his role as Section 151 Officer.

 

Mr Ian Murray (Engagement Lead, Grant Thornton) updated Members following his initial comments to the Board in July 2020 [Min. No. 41 refers]. The Coronavirus pandemic had continued to impact on the traditional timetable for the annual submission of local government accounts. The Council had completed its role in August (usually July) and Grant Thornton hoped to complete its external audit of the Council’s 2019/20 Accounts by 30 November. He expected to issue an ‘Unqualified Opinion’ with only minor adjustments which management were already implementing. Assurances over the Pension Fund were awaited, and the increased risks to the Council’s property and investments portfolios posed by Covid-19 remained, as set out in his report [Appendix A to the covering report]. Grant Thornton had also re-visited their Value for Money assessment since the last report to the Board in July, and had found the Council to be in a strong financial position, compared to other local authorities in Kent, which had enabled Dartford to withstand the initial shocks to the local government sector posed by the pandemic.

 

He proposed, and the Chairman agreed, that signature of the Letter of Representation [report Appendix B] should be delayed, until Grant Thornton had completed its work on the 2019/20 Accounts, presently scheduled by 30 November.

 

In response to a question from the Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Finance (in attendance as a Board Member), Mr Murray advised that the Council’s strong financial position and ability to weather the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, had been based on; a positive level of fiscal reserves, low-exposure on investments, a strong Housing Revenue Account (HRA), and the absence of arms-length management organisations (ALMOs) to pay to deliver Council services.

 

The Council had successfully tailored its services base to manage its response to the pandemic without ‘turning-off the tap’. The Authority still had challenges to face in terms of its revenue base, with parking income impacted by the Government ‘lock-down’ measures, and the Council’s leisure facilities now a ‘cost factor’ rather than a revenue provider. Council Tax and Business Rates had also been adversely impacted as revenue streams. The pandemic had imposed additional costs for the Council (and all local authorities) in terms of increased provision for residents to combat the continuing effects of Covid-19, however, the Council’s fiscal reserves and previous good fiscal management, had enabled the Authority to positively weather the initial impact  ...  view the full minutes text for item 57.

58.

Statement of Accounts 2019-20 pdf icon PDF 119 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The report from the Head of Finance/Section 151 Officer presented the Council’s Statement of Accounts 2019/20 for the period 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020 [attached as Appendix A to the report], for the Board’s approval and permission to publish.

 

The Head of Finance endorsed the comments of the External Auditor Grant Thornton UK, in their Audit Findings report [previous agenda Item 8 Min. No. 57 refers]; that some audit work remained ongoing to produce a finalised Statement of Accounts for 2019/20 by the extended deadline of 30 November 2020. However, the External Auditor expected to issue an unqualified opinion for both the Financial Statements and the Value for Money Conclusion, as presently set out in Appendix A to that report.

 

On that basis, the Head of Finance sought delegated authority from the Audit Board, in his role as the Council’s Section 151 Officer, to agree any subsequent changes to the 2019/20 Statement of Accounts presently before the Board, prior to signature by the Board Chairman and himself, and publication by 30 November. The present External Audit Opinion and Value for Money Conclusion [Appendix A to Item 8], would be replaced in the final 2019/20 Accounts as appropriate, and any non-cosmetic changes made, would be shared with the Audit Board for information.

 

Members were advised that no significant changes had been required in the preparation of the 2019/20 Accounts in comparison to the 2018/19 exercise, and that draft Accounts for 2019/20 had been presented for audit to Grant Thornton on 12 July. However, the continued impact of the pandemic had required some finance staff to be re-allocated to combat Covid-19 and the remainder to work remotely from home. This had inevitably impacted on timing and the final deadline for presentation, adoption and publication of the 2019/20 Council Accounts had been pushed back to 30 November.

 

The 2019/20 Accounts showed a positive overall picture for the Council, with increases in the General Fund and the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) reserves, as reported to Cabinet in June 2020 [Cabinet Min. No. 125 refers]. The main accounting statements were set-out in Appendix A (agenda pages 135-139), the Movement in Reserves Statement at page p.136 and the Expenditure and Funding Analysis on page 140. The Statement of Accounts represented a balance between financial reporting and budget statements, and Members were reminded that not all resources had surpluses or were useable to meet ongoing expenditure commitments and services.

 

 The Chairman, supported by the Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Finance, congratulated the Head of Finance and his Team on an excellent set of annual accounts for the period under review, achieved despite the significant challenges presented by the Coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent government lockdown measures, and asked that the thanks of the Audit Board be recorded in the Minutes.

 

                    RESOLVED:

 

1.     That Board Members approve for publication the Council’s 2019/20 Statement of Accounts for the period 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020 as presented in Appendix A to the report, subject to any  ...  view the full minutes text for item 58.

59.

Internal Audit Update pdf icon PDF 114 KB

To receive a report from the Internal Audit Manager (Senior Audit Executive).

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The report from the Internal Audit Manager (Chief Audit Executive) updated Members on Internal Audit outcomes and activity since the last report to the Board in July 2020, and presented information and progress on the procurement of an External Quality Assessment.

 

The Audit Manager highlighted the following principal points in her report for Board Members:

 

·       Final audit reports completed since the last report to the Board in July were listed in Appendix A of the report [table - agenda p.243 refers]. The final three audits from the 2019/20 Plan had attained ‘Substantial’ levels of assurance, full details were contained in Annex B of Appendix A [agenda pages 247-251 refer];

·       Work on the 2020/21 Audit Plan had commenced in July with 7 (seven) audits presently at the ‘Fieldwork’ stage and 3 (three) completed as listed in Annex A to Appendix A [agenda p.246 refers];

·       The long out-standing audit of Cyber Security had been completed and given a ‘Limited’ level of Assurance with a strong Action Plan including several learning points [full details Annex B agenda p.250];

·       The Review of the Council’s Counter Fraud and Whistleblowing Policy was presented separately [agenda Item 11 refers];

·       It had been agreed with the Chairman (for subsequent formal approval by the Board in October), that a ‘Home Working Review’ audit be added to the 2020/21 Audit Plan;

·       In the event of a second wave of the Coronavirus and subsequent government imposed lockdown, some members of the IA Team would again be re-deployed to the Council’s Response Team;

·       External Quality Assessment (EQA) – following discussions with both Dartford and Sevenoaks Section 151 Officers and the evaluation of submitted quotes, the Audit Partnership had appointed the Institute of Internal Auditors (the IIA) to undertake an external quality assessment of the internal audit function in both Councils. The IIA were acknowledged as the standard setters in the sector and had already been in touch with the Audit Manager with proposals for a review to commence in January 2021.

 

The Chairman thanked the Audit Manager for her comprehensive October 2020 Update report, and confirmed that a summary of the proposed ‘Home Working Review’ would be presented to the next meeting of the Board [January 2021].

 

                    RESOLVED:

 

1.     That Board Members note the Internal Audit Progress Report and updates (October 2020) attached as Appendix A to the report;

 

2.     That Members approve the addition of a ‘Home Working Review’ to the 2020/21 Audit Plan.

60.

Counter Fraud Policies pdf icon PDF 129 KB

To receive a report from the Internal Audit Manager (SAE).

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The report from the Audit Manager presented the Council’s updated Counter Fraud and Corruption Strategy and the separate Whistleblowing Policy (attached as Appendix A and B respectively to the report) for Member approval.

 

The Audit Manager highlighted the following points for Members:

 

·       Both policies had last been approved by the Board in 2017 and a review had been overdue;

·       The basic components of both policies had been retained, then extensively refreshed and updated in line with best practice, including review against the CIPFA Code of Practice on Managing Risks of Fraud & Corruption, and the NAO criteria for Whistleblowing Policies and the Whistleblowing Commission Code of Practice;

·       The updated Whistleblowing Policy [Appendix B to the report], was long, detailed and comprehensive, and by necessity, was required to be a stand-alone document. The new Policy strengthened the role of IA in the Council’s Whistleblowing arrangements, and as a consequence, IA would not be able to undertake assurance work on the effectiveness of the Council’s Whistleblowing arrangements going forward. However, a sister local authority could be asked to do so, or an external professional organisation;

·       The updated Counter Fraud and Corruption Strategy [Appendix A to the report] placed a new emphasis on the role of managers to instil a ‘counter-fraud culture’ throughout the Council, in all its activities and services. In pursuit of that aim and culture change, it was proposed to roll-out messages via the Council’s Communications team and on the Intranet, during International Fraud Awareness week [15-21 November] to heighten awareness.

 

The Chairman thanked the Audit Manager and her team for their efforts in reviewing and updating two very important Council policies.

 

                    RESOLVED:

 

1.     That Members approve the Counter Fraud and Corruption Strategy attached as Appendix A to the report;

 

2.     That Members approve the Whistleblowing Policy attached as Appendix B to the report;

 

3.     That Members agree that any future minor amendments to job titles and contact details may be made without reference to the Board;

 

4.     That Members note the proposals to promote fraud awareness during the forthcoming International Fraud Awareness week.

61.

Selective Invoice Checks pdf icon PDF 220 KB

Following the Board meeting in July, the Chairman selected a further five payments for checking by Internal Audit. This report summarises the outcome of that exercise and provides the opportunity to select further payments for checking.

Minutes:

Following the virtual meeting of the Board on 22 July 2020 via the Zoom platform, the Chairman had been asked to select a further five (5) payments for checking by Internal Audit.

 

The standard report summarised the outcome of that exercise for Members. Four of the five payments selected had been processed correctly by Officers in accordance with payment procedures.

 

A fifth payment to Hi-Way Services Ltd (for the painting/removal of road lines) had been made promptly, but not in accordance with Contract Standing Orders and procurement procedures. No quotation had been sought from the company in advance, nor had a purchase order been raised using the Council’s e-Procurement System. Further investigation by IA revealed that the Council’s cumulative spend with the company over the previous 3 year period, had reached the spending threshold after which three (3) independent quotes were required under the Council’s Procurement Guide. Appropriate advice had been provided to the Service, including ongoing discussions with the Council’s Senior Finance & Procurement Officer, on routes to market and spending ceilings with providers.

 

In response to a question from the Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Finance [attending as an Audit Board Member], the Head of Finance advised that his Department currently analysed spend with suppliers for a 12 (twelve) month period, and that he had asked the Senior Finance & Procurement Officer to analyse spend with suppliers over a 36 month period going forward.

 

The Chairman thanked the Audit Manager for her report and confirmed for Members that, given the virtual nature of the meeting, he would again select 5 further payments for checking by IA for reporting to the Board in January 2021.

 

                    RESOLVED:

 

1.     That Members note the report;

 

2.     That the Chairman be asked to select five (5) further payments for checking by Internal Audit and the outcome reported to the Board in January 2021.

 

In closing proceedings, the Chairman thanked all Officers for their reports and virtual attendance, Members for their attendance and contribution, and the Committee Co-ordinator for organising and minuting the proceedings, including live-streaming to the public via YouTube.