The Senior Scrutiny Officer presented a report outlining concerns raised by the Tees Valley Audit and Assurance Service (TVAAS) in respect of a Microsoft Access database system used for processing payments to foster carers. (TVAAS) undertook an audit into the bespoke database system and also looked at the SWIFT Foster Carers Payment Module that was purchased from Northgate in 2004 to replace it. The bespoke Microsoft Database was used for processing payments to foster carers of approximately £36,000 per week and it was essential that the Council retained the goodwill of its foster carers by paying them correctly and on time.
A number of concerns were highlighted in the Auditors report and only limited assurance was given. The Audit and Governance Committee were informed that management had failed to act on the agreed recommendations contained in the Internal Audit Report issued in August 2012. The Audit Report made a Priority One recommendation, the highest level of priority for action, and failure to deliver this action placed the service at significant risk.
The SWIFT/Northgate Foster Carer Payments Module was purchased in 2004 as a replacement for the bespoke Microsoft Access system that had been developed in-house. The Northgate system was still awaiting implementation and in its current state, it was now not fit for purpose. Consequently, the bespoke system continued to be used.
Although it was feasible to continue in the short to medium term with the bespoke system, an examination of the controls highlighted significant risks, which needed to be addressed if the system was to continue to be used for any length of time. These risks were mainly associated with the database, as it was not formally supported and the data was stored locally and not backed up. However, a more imminent issue was that there was only one member of staff who had provided support to the stand-alone database and had IT knowledge of the application. Therefore, for a system crucial to the payment of foster carers, the service was faced with a single point of reliance.
The audit identified a range of concerns. The Council was paying a licence and support fee for the SWIFT Foster Carer Module, which had not been implemented. The Council was operating a bespoke database system, which was written in-house by an employee who had since left the Council. The system support had never been adopted by Mouchel and therefore the service was operating a system which was not formally supported.
It was the responsibility of departmental management to ensure that agreed recommendations emerging from Audit reports were implemented within the agreed timescales, and that this action was reported back to Internal Audit. Consequently, service representatives had been invited to the meeting to provide an explanation for the apparent lack of action to the 2012 Audit Report.
The Service Manager, Specialist Services, explained that there were a variety of reasons why the SWIFT system had not been implemented. One of the main reasons was technical issues with the software. When the system was tested it had failed. The other crucial factor was that it was reliant on information inputted into another system - the Integrated Care System (ICS). There was a lack of confidence that the information on the ICS was not up-to-date and a risk that foster carers would not be paid. The Deputy Director, Safeguarding and Specialist Services, had therefore put a stop on the implementation of the system.
Following the publication of the Audit Report in August 2012, the Service Manager, Specialist Services, had met with representatives from Mouchel and the ICS Data Team to ascertain whether a more reliable replica system could be developed. However, Mouchel were unwilling to re-create a similar system to the one in use.
The Government had recently provided the Authority with an Adoption Improvement Grant, the purpose of which was to purchase an IT system to facilitate the postbox system. The postbox system was in place to maintain indirect contact between looked after and adopted children and their birth families and was currently operated manually. Service representatives had attended a demonstration of an IT system that provided a variety of other applications including a payment system for foster carers. A report had been submitted to the Senior Management Team recommending the purchase of the electronic postbox system.
The Deputy Director, Safeguarding and Specialist Services, commented that he was fairly confident that in the medium term, in-house staff were able to maintain the Access Database for the bespoke system whilst pursuing the purchase of a new system.
1. the information provided be received and noted.
2. the item be deferred to the next meeting of the Audit and Governance Committee for further consideration.
3. attendance of the Councils IT Service Representatives was required at the next meeting of the Audit and Governance Committee to be held on 7 March 2013 at 10.00 am.