Agenda and draft minutes

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Items
No. Item

1.

Apologies

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Apologies had been received from Councillors R Carington, M Dormer and N Thomas.

 

Apologies for lateness had been received from Councillor S Wilson, and apologies were given for a brief absence from the meeting from Councillor A Collingwood.

2.

Declarations of interest

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Councillor L Clarke declared a personal interest in agenda item 11, Statement of Accounts 2020/21 in that she was in receipt of a Buckinghamshire Council administered pension.

3.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 194 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of the meeting held on 6th March 2024.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Chairman highlighted that during the statements of account item (item 4), the Committee held a discussion on property revaluations and were in agreement that full valuations should not be undertaken due to the timescales involved, the impending statutory backstop dates and the cost of this to the taxpayer. As this was not clear in the previous minutes, the Committee were in agreement that the below insertion should be added to the minutes of the meeting held on 6th March 2024.

 

“After considering the views of officers and the external auditor concerning property revaluations, members were supportive of the approach outlined in not undertaking the full valuations. Taking account of the time restraints and the likely implementation of the statutory backstop dates it was not deemed an appropriate use of public funds.”

 

RESOLVED:

That the minutes of the meeting held on 6th March 2024 be approved as a correct record subject to the above amendment.

4.

Farnham Park Sports Fields Charitable Trust - update pdf icon PDF 147 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee received an update report on the Farnham Park Sports Fields Charitable Trust. The report set out the specialist advice that had been commissioned to support the development of an appropriate recovery plan, including that of charity law and tax specialists and consultants in the sport and leisure market. It also outlined the immediate actions that had been taken to contain the Trust’s expenditure and maximise its income, as well as detailing the target dates for completing the review of the existing operating arrangements and developing recommendations for the future operating model.

 

The report provided a further update on the work that had been completed since the previous report to the Committee in March 2024, and the next steps around decision making and implementation.

 

In attendance for this item were Councillor Clive Harriss, Cabinet Member for Culture and Leisure, Richard Barker, Corporate Director for Communities, Sophie Payne, Service Director for Culture, Sport and Leisure and Fiorella Mugari, Head of Finance.

 

During discussion, points raised included:

·       Members attention was drawn to the specific options being considered as detailed at point 2.4 of the report (pages 16 to 17 of the agenda pack). Updates were noted against each of these options within the report.

·       The Committee recognised that it was not responsible for advising on the future operating model of the Trust, although had raised concerns around the financial sustainability of the Trust over the past four years during the relevant meetings where the annual accounts had been reviewed. The Cabinet Member gave assurance that he was confident that whichever option was deemed the most appropriate, the Charity would operate on a sound financial basis moving forward.

·       In terms of the delivery timescale, the Committee heard that there was a good level of confidence, subject to any unknown issues arising, that the target dates set out in the report were achievable. This meant that the date for a decision by Cabinet was planned for 9th July 2024 with implementation then anticipated to take three to six months following this. The Committee noted that there was significant resource deployed to this project.

·       The Committee sought assurance that there would be adequate local member engagement ahead of any decision being taken. Members heard that local Members would be consulted prior to the decision being taken, Members were being engaged through the Member led Leisure Board and the Service Director for Culture, Sports and Leisure had written to local Members to arrange a meeting date for a discussion to be held on the options to secure the future financial sustainability of the Trust.

·       The Committee agreed that it would welcome Councillor Harriss back to its meeting on 31st July 2024 to provide an update on the decision and implementation timeline.

Note 1: Councillor D King joined the meeting at 10.20 a.m.

5.

Annual Report to Council pdf icon PDF 152 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee received a draft of its annual report to Full Council. This item was taken after the Statement of Accounts (item 11) on the agenda to better reflect suggested amendments. This annual report had been prepared to inform Buckinghamshire Council of the work carried out by the Council’s Audit and Governance Committee during the 2023/24 financial year. The report, as seen on pages 19 to 24 of the agenda pack detailed the wide range of work covered by the Committee throughout 2023/24 including, amongst other things, the focus on progressing the Statement of Accounts at each meeting, reviewing and signing off the Annual Governance Statement, assessing progress against the internal audit plan, considering counter fraud measures/initiatives, recommending the Treasury Management Strategy to full Council and focusing on other key areas such as Farnham Park Sports Field Charitable Trust’s ongoing financial sustainability.

 

As the Statement of Accounts for 2020/21 were due to be discussed later this agenda, and subsequently then to be signed off, the report would require a level of re-drafting to reflect the latest position on the accounts. The report would be presented to Council at its meeting on 17th July 2024, therefore it was recommended that an updated version be circulated by email to all Members by the end of May 2024 inviting any further comments prior to the final version then appearing on that July 2024 Council agenda.

 

ACTION: Ms M Gibb, in liaison with Mr D Skinner and Ms H Shah to update the annual report to Council to reflect the latest position with the Statement of Accounts for 2020/21, 2021/22, 2022/23 and 2023/24 and circulate the updated report to the Committee by email inviting comments prior to the final version being presented to Council at its meeting on 17th July 2024.

 

RESOLVED:

        i.            That the report be noted.

      ii.            That the report be circulated by email to Committee Members, reflecting the above action, inviting further comments prior to the report being presented at the Council meeting on 17th July 2024.

6.

2023/24 Business Assurance Strategy Update (incl. Internal Audit Plan) pdf icon PDF 128 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee received a report which provided an update on the Internal Audit work being undertaken by the Business Assurance Team against the approved 2023/24 plan. The 2023/24 Internal Audit Plan had been reviewed to identify the key audit activities to be delivered considering the priorities within the directorates and working around any key service priorities. Delivery of the overall Business Assurance work plans, including internal audit, helped ensure that there was an appropriate governance and control framework in place and that risk management was embedded across the Council to enable the achievement of set objectives. Ms Selina Harlock, Audit, Assurance and Fraud Manager was in attendance to present the item.

 

During discussion, points raised included:

·       It was clarified that the recently issued revised International Professional Practices Framework (IPPF) issued by the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) did not fundamentally impact the work undertaken by the internal audit team with only minor changes made. The Council completed its own assessment against the previous standards around two months ago and would re-assess against the new standards next year.

·       In relation to the paragraph on page 41 in respect of Change Management and Communication, a Member noted that the stronger communication channels outlined were also supported by elected Members.

·       Concern was raised that there appeared to be several red/high risk rated areas which remained to be audited and it was queried whether there was adequate resource to deliver the audits. The Committee was advised that all those audits listed for 2023/24 were planned to be completed ahead of the annual opinion being produced. The Council also had the Apex co-sourcing arrangement which provided for additional resource to complete audits. Members stated that whilst there may be valid reasons for deferring an audit, generally audits should not be deferred and needed to be prioritised by service areas. It was noted that where audits had been deferred these were deemed to have been deferred for valid reasons and required approval from senior management and the Corporate Governance and Assurance Board.

·       Members recalled raising previous concerns around overdue management actions relating to schools and the time it had taken some schools to address and close actions. The Committee heard that as part of the 2024/25 internal audit plan, there would be a specific process for escalating overdue school actions with discussions ongoing with Children’s Services around how this would work in practice.

·       The Committee raised some concern around the governance and oversight of the highways contract and agreed to refer this to the Risk Management Group to review in greater detail. Concern largely centred around contract management and oversight, with a Member also commenting on the reference to 28-day jobs being “incredibly reactive” which raised the issue of the ethical legitimacy of the Council’s pothole claims policy. The Committee heard that a twelve-month review of the contract was due to be considered at an upcoming Cabinet meeting and that the relevant select committee may wish to review performance quality as part of their work programme.  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.

7.

2024/25 Draft Internal Audit Plan Update pdf icon PDF 126 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee received an update report on the draft Internal Audit Plan for 2024/25. Ms Selina Harlock, Audit, Assurance and Fraud Manager was in attendance to present the item. The 2024/25 internal audit planning process was nearing completion. Following meetings with each of the Senior Management Teams across directorates, a schedule of audits had been developed and was now being discussed and agreed with Senior Leadership Teams. The 2024/25 Internal Audit Plan would be presented to the Audit and Governance Committee for approval at the 31st July 2024 meeting as part of the overall Business Assurance Strategy.

 

High priority audit areas identified for review during Q1 were detailed on page 54 of the reports pack. Members raised education/schools as being an area of high priority and the Committee was advised that as noted under the previous item, discussions were underway with children’s services to look at a different framework for providing greater assurance around schools. Members would be updated on this at the next meeting on 31st July 2024.

 

RESOLVED:

That the report be noted.

8.

Risk Management Group Update pdf icon PDF 120 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee received an update report presented by Ms Selina Harlock, Audit, Assurance and Fraud Manager. The report provided an update on the Risk Management Group (RMG) meeting held on 11th March 2024, at which the group considered the Communities Directorate Risk Register. This was presented by the Corporate Director for Communities, and the Head of Finance for Communities. The Committee noted the key risk themes discussed at that meeting which were detailed in the report appended to the agenda pack.

 

RESOLVED:

That the report be noted.

9.

2024/25 Work Programme pdf icon PDF 52 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

RESOLVED:

That the work programme be noted.

10.

Action Log pdf icon PDF 183 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee considered the latest action log as attached to the agenda pack and agreed that the following actions proposed for closing could be closed:

 

3. External Auditors Annual Report

7. 2022/23 Business Assurance Strategy Update

12. Buckinghamshire Pension Fund – 22/23 Audited Statement of Accounts (1)

18. External Auditor Interim Annual Report 22/23 (2)

20. Annual Review of Company Governance (1)

 

Further, the Committee requested that the below actions remain open as a further update on Farnham Park Sports Fields Charitable Trust was due to be brought to the Committee at its next meeting on 31st July 2024.

 

8. Farnham Park Sports Fields Charity Annual Report and Financial Statements (2)

9. Farnham Park Sports Fields Charity Annual Report and Financial Statements (3)

24. Farnham Park Sports Field update

 

In relation to action 5. Statement of Accounts 2020/21 (2), it was confirmed that the Assistant Director for Finance was working on addressing and a timescale for the work would be confirmed in time for the next meeting.

 

Whilst action 18 had been completed, it was agreed that a further action be added to receive confirmation that the areas highlighted in the Chairman’s letter, had indeed been added to the respective Committee’s work programmes and that the Committee be updated of the outcome of those respective discussions.

ACTION: Mr L Ashton to liaise with the relevant Scrutiny Officers to establish the dates these items were to be discussed and then share the minutes/outcome of those discussions with the Committee.

 

RESOLVED:

That the action log be noted.

 

Note 2: A comfort break was taken at 10.50 a.m. The meeting re-commenced at 11.05 a.m.

Note 3: Councillor A Collingwood left the meeting at 10.50 a.m.

Note 4: Councillor T Butcher joined the meeting at 11.05 a.m.

11.

Statement of Accounts 2020/21 pdf icon PDF 170 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee received the Council’s Statement of Accounts for 2020/21, presented by Councillor Tim Butcher, Deputy Cabinet Member for Accessible Housing and Resources, Mr David Skinner, Director of Finance, Ms Hasina Shah, Assistant Director for Finance, and Mr Mark Stocks, Audit Partner, Grant Thornton. Also in attendance for this item were Mr Tony Ellis, Service Director for IT, Ms Nicola Gyselinck, Chief Accountant, Mr Adrian Clarke, Head of Applications and Integrations, and Ms Sheena Phillips, Audit Manager, Grant Thornton.

 

The Accounts and Audit Regulations 2015 required Local Authorities to prepare a Statement of Accounts in accordance with proper accounting practice and were required to be approved by the Council’s Audit and Governance Committee and signed by the Committee’s Chairman. Following extensive effort by Council Officers and the External Audit Team the Council's Finance team were now able to be presented for the audit for the first financial year of the new Buckinghamshire Council (2020-21). All parties recognised that this audit, which followed the merger of the five legacy Councils and in the context of a Global pandemic was always going to be challenging. However, despite these challenges, the Council Officer team remained committed throughout and addressed a number of challenges. Challenges had included: opening balances for the new Council; resources and capacity issues; multiple legacy systems and bank accounts; loss of key personnel with corporate knowledge; change of audit regime requiring increased audit evidence; increase in volume of transactions due to Covid Grant payments; and changes to the audit partner and the team.

 

The Committee was pleased to hear that many of these issues were one-off and relevant learning from the 2020/21 audit had already been actioned through the appointment of a Chief Accountant along with increased capacity of the team, implementation of stronger closing processes, quality assurance, improved oversight, and corporate monitoring. The Committee noted that this should mean a smoother process moving forward.

 

Buckinghamshire Council was not isolated in experiencing some of the challenges highlighted above. The Public Sector Audit Appointment (PSAA) published data as of December 2023 for opted in bodies demonstrated that a significant number of local authorities opinions were delayed.

 

The Audit and Governance Committee had responsibility for considering issues raised by the external auditors as part of the process of approving the annual statement of accounts. The basis for this consideration was the “report to those charged with governance” also referred to as the ISA260 report. The Council’s external auditors, Grant Thornton, produced the report following completion of the audit of accounts. The report was intended to identify any changes to the accounts, unadjusted misstatements and material weaknesses in controls identified during the audit work. It also provided the findings from the value for money conclusion for the year.

 

There were two significant unadjusted errors as detailed in section three of the report which related to technical accounting issues and did not have any impact on the reported outturn position, useable reserves, or financial sustainability of the Council. The materiality of these errors had  ...  view the full minutes text for item 11.

12.

Exclusion of the public

To resolve:

 

that under Section 100(A)(4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the public be excluded from the meeting on the grounds that it involves the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in the paragraph indicated in Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Act.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

RESOLVED:

That pursuant to Section 100(A)(4) of the Local Government Act 1972 the public be excluded from the meeting during consideration of Minutes No 13, 14 and 15 on the grounds that they involved the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in Part I of Schedule 12A of the Act as defined as follows:

Minute 13 – Confidential Minutes of the Audit and Governance Committee held on 6th March 2024

Minute 14 – Summary of Completed Audits and Audit Action Tracker

Minute 15 – Confidential Action Log

13.

Confidential Minutes

To approve as a correct record the confidential minutes of the meeting held on 6th March 2024.

 

Minutes:

RESOLVED:

That the confidential minutes of the meeting held on 6th March 2024 be approved as a correct record.

14.

Confidential - Summary of Completed Audits and Audit Actions Tracker

Minutes:

The Committee held a detailed discussion on several completed internal audits, discussing their findings and the required actions to be taken by management.

 

RESOLVED:

That the report be noted.

15.

Confidential Action Log

Minutes:

The Committee considered the confidential action log and

 

RESOLVED:

That the current Action Log (confidential) be noted.