Agenda and minutes

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No. Item


Minutes pdf icon PDF 232 KB

To approve, and sign as a correct record, the Minutes of the meeting of the Committee held on 22 July 2020 (Item 2)



That the Minutes of the meeting of the Overview and Audit Committee held on Wednesday 22 July 2020, be approved and signed by the Chairman as a correct record.



RIPA Policy (Minute OA39 - 090316)

To note that there has been no covert surveillance conducted by officers since the last meeting of the Committee.



To note that there had been no covert surveillance conducted by officers since the last meeting of the Committee.


Internal Audit Reports


Update on Progress of Audit Recommendations pdf icon PDF 125 KB

To consider Item 6a

Additional documents:


The Audit Manager advised that the purpose of this report was to update Members on the progress of the implementation of audit recommendations. The internal audit team had continued to monitor progress on all outstanding actions, at present there were four audit actions being reported as overdue, these related to fleet management, property management, project management (Blue Light Hub) and Stores. This information was for Members to note the actions that had not yet been implemented to date, but there were no undue concerns.




That the progress on implementation of recommendations be noted.


Update on Progress of the Annual Audit Plan pdf icon PDF 124 KB

To consider Item 6b

Additional documents:


The Audit Manager advised that the purpose of this report was to update Members on the progress of the annual Internal Audit Plan. Work had progressed according to the 2020/21 plan, and regular discussions had been held with the Director of Finance and Assets to monitor progress. The Core Financial Controls audit was currently at the planning stage and field work would commence in December. Terms of reference for the GDPR, Resource Management System and Asset Management System had been agreed and fieldwork would commence in November for all three audits. The final reports would be presented to Members at the next Overview and Audit Committee meeting.




That Members note the progress on the Annual Internal Audit Plan.


Local Government Ethical Standards Best Practice Recommendations pdf icon PDF 136 KB

To consider Item 7

Additional documents:


Councillor Clarke OBE introduced the report and highlighted to Members one of the recommendations made by the Committee on Standards in Public Life about the desirability of having at least two Independent Persons available to the Authority. The Authority currently had access to a pool of four Independent Persons as a result of a collaborative arrangement put in place in 2016 between the Authority and the councils of Milton Keynes, Central Bedfordshire and Luton Borough. As their term of appointment was due to expire this year, recruitment had been undertaken by officers at Milton Keynes Council and this had created a pool of six new Independent Persons including some, who as well as being appointed by Milton Keynes Council were also appointed by Buckinghamshire Council.

The Authority would receive a report at its next meeting in December with recommendations that it utilised this new pool of Independent Persons.

The Director of Legal and Governance advised Members that the genesis for this report was the letter to the Chief Executives of all local authorities published in July 2020 from the Committee on Standards in Public Life about its report on Local Government Ethical Standards which it published in January 2019. The report made 26 recommendations mostly aimed at government requesting changes to legislation; and one aimed at the Local Government Association (LGA) to create a new model draft Code of Conduct after consultation with councils. The LGA had stated that it was due to report on its final model Code of Conduct later this calendar year.

The Director of Legal and Governance advised Members that the Committee on Standards in Public Life report also included 15 Best Practice recommendations which, as its July letter stated, it would expect all Local Authorities to implement. In its letter, the Committee on Standards in Public Life stated that it would be writing to Local Authorities again in the Autumn to ascertain progress against its 15 Best Practice recommendations.

An audit was undertaken of the current arrangements, benchmarked against the 13 recommendations applicable to combined fire and rescue authorities. There was nothing in the findings which gave cause for concern, however, there were some aspects of the recommendations which the Committee should recommend to the Authority to agree.

The first substantive Recommendation to the Authority was that it should agree to the Code of Conduct being reviewed on an annual basis in line with the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s recommendations, but that this should wait until 2021/22 so as not to pre-empt the content on the new model LGA Code of Conduct. Therefore, the outcome of the LGA’s consultation on its draft Code of Conduct should be considered when this Authority’s review was undertaken.

The Director of Legal and Governance advised Members that when the Code of Conduct was reviewed, the prohibition on ‘harassment’ be added to the prohibition of bullying; and that definitions and examples of both bullying and of harassment be included.


That the Authority be recommended  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.


Corporate Risk Management pdf icon PDF 143 KB

To consider Item 8

Additional documents:


The Corporate Planning Manager advised Members that in the executive summary of the report, there was more information on the sources drawn upon to identify, evaluate and manage risks that had the potential to disrupt operations, as well as affect the public and communities in Buckinghamshire. In particular, the engagement with the Thames Valley Local Resilience Forum (TVLRF) and the linkages it provided to central government. Obviously, it was not an exhaustive list and the Authority drew on a wide range of other sources. However, it was particularly valuable at a time like this when the Authority was dealing with several very live and fast evolving situations, notably in relation to Covid and also the transition out of the post-EU interim exit arrangements.

The Corporate Planning Manager advised Members that there had been quite a lot of movement across the range of risks displayed on the risk map at Annex A and detailed in the risk register itself at Annex C. With regard to the five risks included in the Corporate Risk Register, updates were as follows:

·        Staff availability - particularly in relation to mitigating the risk arising from the recent McCloud/Sargeant pensions case ruling and the potential for a consequential increase in early retirements. Concerning the more immediate risk arising from the potential impact of Covid, whilst there had been an increase in Covid related sickness absence nationally amongst fire and rescue services, locally, the resourcing position had remained stable. This was, at least in part, a function of the measures taken to reduce the risk of infection within workplaces and when staff were out in the community responding to emergencies and undertaking other safety related work. All the Authority premises now had ‘Covid-19 Secure’ status.

·        Funding and savings requirements - the government had, in the context of the economic uncertainties, decided to limit the impending Spending Review to one year only, rather than the three that had been initially expected. Obviously, this had implications for the Authority’s medium-term financial planning. The Finance Team had prepared some future scenarios which ranged across optimistic, neutral, pessimistic and reasonable worst case. These were included in the Financial Strategy paper that would be presented to the Executive Committee on 18 November 2020.

·        Information security - there was more specific reference to risks associated with internal information management as well as those originating from external sources. Regarding the latter, this remained a clear and present danger for all legitimate organisations including the fire and rescue and local government sectors. Members may have seen in the media that Hackney Council was subject to a serious cyber-attack in the latter half of October which paralysed many of its systems. The UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) was currently investigating the attack.

·        Potential for disruption to operations - as the transitional arrangements with the EU expire at the end of the year, and if no formal agreement had been reached on future relations including trade, potential impacts could be seen on the strategic road network, fuel  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8.


Changes to the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 pdf icon PDF 148 KB

To consider Item 9


The Information Governance and Compliance Manager advised Members that the purpose of the report was to advise of a legislative change which came into force in July 2020. It was to remove fire and rescue authorities as the relevant authorities for the purpose of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. What it meant was that the Authority used to be able to apply, if it so desired, to get information on phones and the interception of communications data. The Authority had never used these powers and the National Fire Chiefs Council had lobbied to have the powers removed and this had led to the change in legislation. Members were asked to note that these powers were still in place with partner organisations such as the police and ambulance service. The Police had far greater powers than the Authority, and the Authority would be able to call on them for assistance if/when required.


A Member asked why the National Fire Chiefs Council wanted to hand back this power and was advised that fire and rescue authorities did still have sufficient powers, albeit under a different legislative framework.




That the report is noted.


Operational Assurance Improvement Plan

To receive a verbal update


The Head of Protection and Assurance gave the Committee an update on the progress that had been made on the Operational Assurance Improvement activities. There was a dedicated Operational Assurance team that formed part of the Operational Training Department. The Operational Assurance team were responsible for, amongst other things, attending, monitoring and reviewing incidents and debriefs. However, more recently they had broadened their involvement in other events outside of just the operational environment. The team oversee and report quarterly on the Operational Assurance Improvement Plan (OAIP) to the Operational Improvement Group. The OAIP was a dynamic document, used to enhance the ability to capture, scrutinise and identify any operational learning originating from a variety of events. This approach had better enabled the Service to effectively identify emerging issues and then implement practical and corrective solutions, in order to enhance its performance. Members may recall that in 2018 the Authority contracted the services of Operational Assurance Limited (OAL), as part of its independent assurance process.

These arrangements concluded at the end of August 2020 in line with the agreement. This agreement enabled the service’s risk critical operations to be subject to regular independent scrutiny, thereby strengthening the Authority’s ability to deliver the best possible public service and improve the safety of firefighters by improving performance at incidents; coping with future changes in the operational environment and driving development and innovation.


The most recent operational review undertaken by OAL, during November 2019, made 14 recommendations. These were presented to members of the Operational Assurance Group (OAG), to determine how these would be captured within the OAIP. One recommendation had not been adopted as there was very little evidence to back it up. The other 13 recommendations now form actions on the OAIP and had been assigned lead officers to progress, many of which had now been completed.


The Head of Protection and Assurance advised Members that looking forward, the Service was progressing with an improvement plan on how it captured operational debrief information through moving to an electronic Active Monitoring System. This would be subject to a full evaluation over the next six months before making any decision to roll it out further. 


The Head of Protection and Assurance advised Members that as mentioned earlier, the role of the OAT had been broadened and in August this year, they carried out a Service wide staff survey on the response to Covid. 164 staff responded, which was grouped into three categories:

Communication - There was a single area on the Intranet for Pandemic related communication.


Safer Working - Improved signage around the sites reminding everyone of the part they play. Increasing hand sanitiser stations. Desks moved apart allowing people to work safely. Providing facemasks for operational staff to wear when on appliances. Carrying out site audits to identify areas of compliance/improvement and achieve ‘Covid Secure’ status.


Technology - Supporting the use of the Test and Trace app across the Service. Investigating how Microsoft Teams and webcams can be provided to stations to support  ...  view the full minutes text for item 12.


Late Urgent Item - Audit Fee Variations Consultations


The Director of Finance and Assets thanked the Chairman for taking this Late Urgent Item and apologised to Members for the short notice, but the consultation deadline was the beginning of December 2020 and it was felt that Members of the Overview and Audit Committee should have the opportunity to discuss this as it related to Audit fees. This report detailed the Authority’s provisional response to the consultation on proposed new arrangements for determining fee variations for local audits of opted-in bodies from audits of 2020/21 accounts onwards.


The Director of Finance and Assets advised Members that the current fee variations process required the auditor to discuss all proposed variations with the audited body before submitting them to Public Sector Audit Appointments Limited (PSAA) for determination. Feedback from both auditors and audited bodies frequently referred to the practical challenges, and limited value, of local discussions about proposed variations which related to those factors affecting most or all audited bodies. PSAA were therefore proposing a new approach, based on two types of variation. National variations required for changes that related to the conduct of all or most audits, such as changes to the auditing and accounting codes, standards and regulatory requirements, and where a standard cost could be reasonably estimated; and local variations, required for issues that related to local factors arising from the conduct of a particular audit, such as the additional audit work required if accounts reflected complex transactions that were not built into the scale fee, or where working papers were poorly prepared, or for work relating to an auditor’s statutory responsibilities such as objections, statutory recommendations or public interest reports.


A Member asked if that meant there would be an increase in the audit fee and was advised that this consultation was purely around the process for agreeing fees, rather than setting out the level of fees. However, there had been a proposed fee increase for the 2019/20 audit, which was within the financial implications. The scale fee as assessed by PSAA was £24,162k, however, the proposed fee E&Y had put forward was £46,358k, which was a substantial increase. This would be dealt with under the current process, which was to discuss locally where possible, but PSAA would arbitrate where necessary.


Due to the short notice period for this consultation, the Chairman invited Members who had any comments to email him directly, and he would liaise with the Director of Finance and Assets and the Lead Member for Finance and Assets, Information Security and IT.




That the Chief Finance Officer be delegated authority to finalise the draft responses (Appendix B) for submission in consultation with the Chairman of the Committee and Lead Member for Finance and Assets, Information Security and IT.


Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) - Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service (BFRS) Improvement Plan Update pdf icon PDF 542 KB

To consider Item 11


The Deputy Chief Fire Officer advised Members that following completion of the first inspection round of all 45 fire and rescue services, HMICFRS published the report into this Service on 17 December 2019 and that related to the inspection that took place in June and July 2019. The Authority’s report identified 11 areas for improvement, one cause for concern, which was an HMICFRS classification of an area which they recommended the fire service treats with the upmost seriousness, and any cause for concern was accompanied by recommendations of which the Authority received two. An improvement plan had been developed addressing specifically the report recommendations and identified areas for improvement. At the meeting of the Authority on 12 February 2020, it was agreed that the progress of this plan would be reported to the Overview and Audit Committee.

The Deputy Chief Fire Officer advised Members that the Authority’s Service Liaison Lead, Paul Kay, visited the Service on 10 March 2020 and indicated that the approach to improvement, and addressing matters raised within the report, was sensible. On 13 March 2020, Sir Tom Winsor wrote to all fire and rescue services confirming that all inspection work was suspended, but fire and rescue service performance would be assessed based on available information. On 20 March 2020 HMICFRS, confirmed suspension of the HMICFRS survey of staff for fire and rescue services in round 2, tranche 1, inspections.

The Deputy Chief Fire Officer advised Members that following a commission by the Home Secretary in the Summer of 2020, HMICFRS announced a national review of fire and rescue service Covid-19 preparations. The three Thames Valley Fire and Rescue Services were being inspected at a similar time, with this service receiving the inspection team commencing 2 November 2020. The Chief Fire Officer would be receiving a verbal update, hopefully before the end of November 2020.

The Deputy Chief Fire Officer also advised Members that the Chief Fire officer was a member of the HMICFRS External Reference Group (ERG), formed of representatives from the Home Office, Local Government Association, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioners, National Fire Chiefs Council and HMICFRS Portfolio team. The ERG was a mechanism through which HMICFRS test the effectiveness and impact of the inspection regime.

A Member asked about the increase in mental health awareness due to Covid-19 and was advised that the improvement plan was based on the inspection report from December 2019, but the arrangements around Covid-19 and how well the Service looked after its staff, had been addressed in the Covid-19 inspection, which concluded last week.


That the current position regarding the HMICFRS inspection programme, and the BFRS Inspection Improvement Plan be noted.

(Councillor Christensen and Councillor Clarke OBE left the meeting)



Treasury Management Performance 2020/21 - Quarter 2 pdf icon PDF 564 KB

To consider Item 13


The Principal Accountant advised Members that for financial year 2020-21 April to September, the accrued interest earned was £72k, which was £3k lower than the budget set for the same period. For the first time in a number of years, the Authority had not met the quarterly interest receivable budget and this was a direct impact of the low interest rates due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Officers anticipated the low interest rates would continue for the remainder of this financial year and into the next financial year. The Authority was currently forecasting to achieve £100k in interest receivable for the financial year 2020-21. With the pandemic in mind, it was important to ensure that the cashflow was a priority before considering investments. The reason for this was to be able to have access to cash immediately to be able to pay employees, suppliers and also to cover any potential delays in receiving funding from precepting authorities.


The Principal Accountant advised Members that as and when the Authority invested its funds, it would continue to work hard to obtain the best returns on investments in line with the Treasury Strategy and ensure it could meet its short term cashflow requirements. Officers were in regular contact with financial advisors and received frequent updates on the market position. In terms of setting the budget for the next financial year, as part of the Medium Term Financial Plan process, a bid had been put in to reduce the income from £150k to £30k. this figure would be revised if there were to be any changes in interest rates, between now and final budget approval in February 2021.




That the Treasury Management Performance 2020/21 report be noted.


Draft Audit Results Report 2019/20 pdf icon PDF 268 KB

To consider Item 14

Additional documents:


The Associate Partner, Ernst & Young (E&Y) advised Members that at the last meeting he ran through the progress of the external audit of the financial statements for the financial year ended 31 March 2020. At that stage, it was reported that good progress had been made on the external audit and there were only a small number of items needed to be completed; Receipt of pension fund assurances from the auditors of the Buckinghamshire pension fund; completion of some of the additional work associated with implications of the Covid-19 outbreak, particularly considering valuations of assets and reporting of the valuers expressions of material uncertainly; disclosures in the financial statements associated with the basis on which the Authority was preparing its accounts as a going concern considering liquidity and viability; and looking 12 months ahead of the date of the audit report.


The Audit Results Report now showed that E&Y had substantially concluded the audit, and the Associated Partner was very pleased to confirm that matters previously showing as outstanding, had now been completed and he was now in a position, subject to Members consideration of the final set of accounts and the letter of management representation, to issue an audit opinion and that would be an unqualified opinion on the Authority’s financial statements, to say they represented a true and fair view of the reported financial performance, and that E&Y were satisfied the Authority had all the appropriate arrangements in place for economy, efficiency and effectiveness in its use of resources.


A Member asked a question regarding the adjustment to the final accounts associated with the timing difference for the pensions top up grant and was advised that it was identified by the E&Y that there had been 13 months of pension paid into 2019/20 due to a timing difference on the pension fund account. One month had been carried forward into 2020/21 and this did not impact on the balance sheet.




That the content of the report be noted.


Letter of Management Representation 2019/20 pdf icon PDF 265 KB

To consider Item 15

Additional documents:


The Principal Accountant advised Members that the Letter of Management Representation was a legislative requirement and a self-explanatory paper. The information contained within this letter contributed towards the auditors being able to form an opinion as to whether the financial statements give a true and fair view of the Authority’s financial position. Since the version taken to July’s Overview and Audit Committee meeting, there had been a few additional items added and these had been underlined within the letter. This letter was to be signed by the Director of Finance and Assets and the Chairman of the Overview and Audit Committee.




That the Letter of Management Representation be approved for signature of the Chief Finance Officer and the Chairman of the Overview and Audit Committee.


Adoption of the Audited Statement of Accounts - Year ended 31 March 2020 pdf icon PDF 269 KB

To consider Item 16

Additional documents:


The Principal Accountant updated Members on changes that had been made since the audited statement of accounts were presented at the meeting in July 2020. The first point being a going concern review had been added, this informed the users of the accounts that the Authority was ensuring it could continue its operations for the foreseeable future and this looked at Covid-19, the Medium Term Financial Plan, reserves and also the Authority’s cash flow position. Since these reports were published, officers had now received the final audit results report from E&Y. The audit results report included an audit opinion, which was not seen in the statement of accounts. The audit opinion would be added into the final version of the statement of accounts, before they were signed accordingly. There was one event to report after the balance sheet date, and this was the sale of Bletchley Fire Station in October 2020. Lastly, as previously mentioned, regarding the firefighters pension fund account, due to a timing difference in posting in the financial ledger, an adjustment had been made, there was no direct impact on the balance sheet, just minor changes to the presentation of short term debtors.


A Member asked if the Authority was given an additional grant to offset any Covid-19 expenses and was advised that the Authority had received funding in two tranches of just under £700k. The Authority initially received £90k in March 2020 and for this financial year the Authority received £606k.




1.               That the matters raised by the external auditors be considered.


That the Statement of Accounts for the financial year ended 31 March 2020 be approved for signing by the Chairman of the Overview and Audit Committee.


Forward Plan pdf icon PDF 44 KB

To note Item 17


The Chairman brought the Forward Plan for future Overview and Audit Committee meetings to the attention of Members.




That the Forward Plan be noted.


The Chairman thanked Members and officers for the smooth running of the meeting.


Date of next meeting

To note that the next meeting of the Committee will be held on Wednesday 17 March 2021 at 10.00am.


To note that the next meeting of the Committee will be held on Wednesday 17 March 2021 at 10.00 AM.



                      THE CHAIRMAN CLOSED THE MEETING AT 12:00 PM