Agenda and draft minutes

Audit Board - Wednesday 25 January 2023 7.00 pm

Note No. Item


Apologies for Absence.


Apologies for absence were received on behalf of Councillors Butler-Ruhle, Canham & Maddison.


The Chairman gave a welcome to Mr Paul Cuttle from the Council’s external auditors Grant Thornton UK. He also noted the attendance of the Chief Officer and Director of Corporate Services, the Head of Finance, and the Internal Audit Manager.



Declarations of Interest.

To receive declarations of interest from Members including the terms(s) of the Grant of Dispensation (if any) by the Audit Board or Chief Officer and Director of Corporate Services.


There were no declarations of interest.



Member Training - Role of the Section 151 Officer

To receive a presentation from the Head of Finance and 151 Officer.


Members received a PowerPoint presentation from the Head of Finance on his role as Section 151 Officer.


He informed Members that S151 of the Local Government Act 1972 required that every local authority “make arrangements for the proper administration of their financial affairs and secure that one of their officers has responsibility for the administration of those affairs” which included:


  • The Role of the Section 151 Officer and the Law
  • The Role of the Section 151 Officer – CIPFA & Chief Financial Officer
  • The Role of the Section 151 Officer –  Section 114 Notice
  • The Role of the Section 151 Officer – Examples from other Local Authorities
  • The Role of the Section 151 Officer – S114 Analysis of Reasons
  • The Role of the Section 151 Officer – S114 Lessons learnt


The Head of Finance confirmed the following principal points in response to subsequent questions from Members:


  • Members were made aware of previous occurrences from other Local Authorities where Section 114 notices were delivered by the Section 151 Officer. It was noted that there could be a number of reasons to why these notices are issued however on most of the occasions these problems arose due to poor leadership and/or poor management of finances;
  • Part of the issues arising from other Local Authorities included borrowing money to invest in high risk schemes such as energy and property management and these schemes subsequently failing;
  • It was confirmed that the Council’s investments were in diversified pooled funds or money market funds. The Council’s investments are low and are financed via the Council’s reserves or working capital, not by borrowing. Further details including risk management are to be set out in the Annual Budget Report. The Treasury Management Panel provide oversight on the Council’s investments.
  • The level of reserves held is specific to the risks and needs of each authority DBC reserves are currently above any notional level recommended, however it is important to not be complacent;
  • Policies are in place for whistleblowing if other staff/members feel the Section 151 Officer is being negligent in their role.



In summary, Members noted the importance for a council to have strong financial leadership and a proactive audit committee independent of the cabinet function. Setting a clear medium term financial plan with an adequate reserve fund was important for local authorities, underpinned by regular monitoring in the medium and long term.


The Independent Board Member endorsed those principals and expressed his view that the Council’s finances appeared to be well managed by Officers and subjected to due diligence by the Chairman and the Audit Board.


The Chairman thanked the Head of Finance for his 151 Officer presentation and responding to Members’ questions.





Confirmation of the Minutes of the meeting held on 19 October 2022 pdf icon PDF 591 KB




That the Minutes of the Board meeting held on 19 October 2022 be confirmed as an accurate record of those proceedings.



Urgent Items

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


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



References from Other Committees, if any.





Report from External Auditor pdf icon PDF 79 KB

To note the report and Appendices from the External Auditor, Grant Thornton UK LLP.

Additional documents:


The covering report from the Head of Finance enclosed at Appendix A for noting by the Board, the External Auditor, Grant Thornton UK’s 2021/22 Annual Report on Dartford Borough Council, together with an update of the Statement of Accounts, which included the findings of the work on the Councils value for money (VfM) arrangements.


Mr. Paul Cuttle (Grant Thornton UK) advised the Board that in overall terms his report was positive, considering the challenging environment the Council faced, and that Dartford was well placed compared to other local authorities in Kent, given its £98M in reserves.


The Chairman thanked Mr Cuttle for his report. He and other members noted their apprehension in the recommendation that the Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Finance does not attend future meetings of the Board in an Observer capacity, to ensure a clear perception that the Board operated its scrutiny function independent of any Cabinet influence. He regarded the Portfolio Holder for Finance as a highly qualified and proven financial expert with active commercial expertise, who provided invaluable support to the Board, and advised that he would continue to be invited by the Chairman to attend Board proceedings in an Observer capacity.

Mr Cuttle acknowledged and respected the Chairman’s comments, and emphasised that the recommendation was not a reflection on the abilities or impartiality of the Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Finance, but standard CIPFA guidance to ensure separation between the Board and Cabinet. To his knowledge, no other authority in Kent invited their Cabinet Member for Finance to participate in their Audit Committee/Board proceedings.


The Portfolio Holder for Finance expressed his understanding for the External Auditors recommendations and emphasised that he did not want to embarrass the Council in any way with his attendance. He saw his role as one of seeking clarification on the Board’s work and decisions and offering advice based on his financial experience and expertise.


The Independent Member expressed his thoughts in regards to this matter. He understood from the External Auditors perspective how it may look from an outsiders point of view, however he felt the expertise brought by the Portfolio Holder for Finance had an overall positive impact to the Council and would be happy to continue with the current arrangements.


It was also noted in the Report that the Leader of the Council attended the Scrutiny Committee, this however would be discussed separately at the relevant meeting.


            RESOLVED :


1.            That Members noted the External Auditor’s Annual Report 2021/22, on Dartford Borough Council, at Appendix A to the report.


2.            That Members noted the completion and publishing of the 2021/22 Statement of Accounts



Internal Audit Update January 2023 pdf icon PDF 71 KB

Additional documents:


The covering report from the Internal Audit Manager (IAM), attached at Appendix A for Members to note, the January 2023 update report on Internal Audit outcomes and activity since the last report to the Board in October 2022, together with information to facilitate Members’ oversight of the Internal Audit function.


The IAM advised Members that her team continued to carry three vacancies, in addition to having Officers on long-term sick leave. It was hoped that these roles would be filled before the next Audit Board meeting in March 2023, and that once her team was fully staffed, outstanding audits would be undertaken and the Audit Plan positively impacted.

A Member queried the reason for the failure to recruit previously.  It was confirmed that due to a shortage of qualified auditors nationally and not previously offering a competitive salary it was increasingly difficult to recruit. Since the original recruitment process, the IA team had undergone a re-structure, with one post being changed from an Auditor to a Trainee Auditor. By introducing the trainee role and adjusting the pay scales offered, the roles had a much improved response, including 131 applicants for the Trainee Auditor role.


The Chairman asked that the standard Selective Invoice Check report be re-instated in the agenda, once the Support Officer had been appointed.


The IAM advised that the operating system for checking invoices will be changed to a more sophisticated process, and that a new report would be produced and added to the Board agenda going forward once implemented.


A member queried if the IAM would have enough sufficient time to present her IA opinion by the July 2023 meeting with the current staff shortages and recruitment. The IAM confirmed that the team will continue to outsource some medium level audit work to alleviate its workload, and that it was hoped to hire a temporary member of staff in the interim.




That Members note the Internal Audit Update Report and updates (attached as Appendix A to the report);


Role and Effectiveness of the Audit Board - Self-Assessment pdf icon PDF 75 KB

Additional documents:


The covering report from the Internal Audit Manager (IAM) enclosed at Appendix A for Members’ review and agreement, a draft Self-Assessment document of the effectiveness of the Audit’s Board’s work in the 2022/23 fiscal year, based upon CIPFA’s Audit Committees: Practical Guidance for Local Authorities and Police, 2018 Edition report.


Members were asked to review the draft Self-assessment 2022/23, at Appendix A to the report and agree that an action plan along with a training plan be presented to a future meeting of the Board, upon completion of self-assessment skills and knowledge questionnaires by Board Members.


The Chairman noted the negative answer to question 19 in Appendix A - ‘Has the committee [Board] obtained feedback on its performance from those interacting with the committee or relying on its work.’


The IAM advised that the ‘no’ response to question 19 referred to whether the Audit Board had received feedback from the General Assembly of the Council as to the efficiencyof its work. As feedback had not been specifically sought from the GAC in the first annual report to Council on the Board’s work, a ‘no’ answer was appropriate. However, including a specific request in the next annual report to the GAC could secure a positive ‘yes’ answer.


The Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Finance as an observer expressed on behalf of the Cabinet that the Chairman and the Board continued to undertake good and effective work on behalf of the Council.




1.      That the Board reviews the draft Self-assessment 2022/23, at Appendix A to the report be agreed;


2.      That an action plan along with a training plan be presented to a future meeting of the Board, upon completion of self-assessment skills and knowledge questionnaires by Board Members;


3.      That future annual reports to the GAC on the Board’s work seek formal endorsement of the effectiveness of the Board’s role and undertakings.