Audit and Governance Committee Minutes

Audit and Governance Committee Minutes

Date:
Thursday 5 December 2013
Time:
10:00 a.m.
Place:
Oberhausen Room,Town Hall, Middlesbrough
 

Attendance Details

Present:
Junier, (Chair), C Hobson, Hudson, P Khan, Loughborough, McPartland, Taylor, I Hope (Independent Member)
Officers:
B Baldam, P Clark, H Fowler, S Harker and A Ingram
Apologies for absence:
There were no apologies for absence
Declarations of interest:

There were no Declarations of Interest at this point in the meeting.

Item Number Item/Resolution
PUBLIC
13/13 MINUTES - AUDIT AND GOVERNANCE COMMITTEE - 19 SEPTEMBER 2013

The minutes of the meeting of the Audit and Governance Committee held on 19 September 2013 were taken as read and approved as a correct record.

 

Matters Arising

 

The External Auditor confirmed that an unqualified audit opinion had been issued on the audit of Middlesbrough Council's Statement of Accounts for 2012-2013 within the deadline.

13/14 INTERNAL AUDIT PROGRESS REPORT

The Audit Manager presented a report to update Members on the main findings arising from the internal audit work carried out to date in accordance with the 2013/2014 Audit Plan. In addition, the report provided information on the performance of the Council’s Internal Audit Service, Tees Valley Audit and Assurance Services (TVAAS). In accordance with the new Public Sector Internal Audit Standards (PSIAS), the report also presented Members with the proposed Internal Audit Charter for comment and approval.

 

The total number of planned audit days for 2013/2014 was 1,325. The performance target for the Service was to deliver 100% of the agreed Audit Plan.

 

A service level agreement for the provision of internal audit services was in place and included a number of performance measures. For 2013/2014, additional performance measures had been introduced by the Audit Manager and were selected based on the perceived development and improvement needs of the Service. The proposed additional measures to be monitored had previously been reported to, and approved by the Audit and Governance Committee. The current status against each of the measures for 2013/2014 was detailed in Appendix 1 to the submitted report.

 

Generally the performance measures were going well although some areas needed further attention including the overall time taken to complete an asignment. This issue was being regularly addressed with auditors in one-to-one and team meetings. Also, the auditors were relying on managers to respond and there were now fewer managers in post. In addition, some of the assignments undertaken so far this year had been quite large, for example, Housing Benefit. It was highlighted that each assignment was different and the Senior Auditor would set the target at the start of the audit.

 

A brief summary of all 2013/2014 internal audit reports issued in final was provided at Appendix 2 to the submitted report, whilst Appendix 2b detailed the type of issues being identified by the Auditors.

 

The Audit Manager commented that there were a number of drafts due to be issued which were awaiting responses from the relevant managers. Two audits - Volunteer Working and Museums - had received only limited assurance. The Deputy Director of Resources confirmed that the Annual Governance Statement would only include audits that had no assurance. Copies of final audit reports on Fleet Management and the Pension IT system, which had also received limited assurance, were circulated to Members as previously requested.

 

In addition to the final audit reports issued in Appendix 2, TVAAS staff had been involved in a number of other areas of work including:

 

  • Detailed housing benefit count testing had involved two senior auditors throughout the summer. As requested by the Deputy Director of Resources, this year’s work also included the testing usually carried out by staff in resources.
  • Involvement in the highways and transport project within the Change Programme resulting in the production of an options appraisal report.
  • Mapping the committee and management decision making structures at the Council to assist the external auditors, Deloitte, in their corporate governance review.
  • Investigating allegations of theft and/or misuse of Council assets in one service area and also allegations of theft at the Municipal Golf Centre.
  • Reviewed the issues and problems being encountered by the Council when trying to raise and collect debt relating to social care services.

The Audit Manager confirmed that investigations were currently on-going at the Municipal Golf Club and a final report would be brought to the Committee for information once the work was complete. Members voiced concern that there appeared to be a recurring theme with issues with cash handling. The Audit Manager agreed that there had been several investigations into cash handling and where a criminal offence was committed this was referred to the Police.

The Audit Reports generally recommended segregation of duties when dealing with cash. Unfortunately, this was not always possible and was likely to become more difficult as the number of employees was reduced due to the austerity measures.

 

Progress to implement any outstanding Priority 1 actions was included in Appendix 3. No further Priority 1 recommendations had been made as yet as a result of 2013/2014 audit work.

 

With regard to the Foster Carers Payment Module, the Audit Manager confirmed that the new IT system, CHARMS, was being implemented and training was scheduled for December 2013. The system would go live in January 2014 and would address all the issues raised in the audit report. However, the recommendation would remain 'open’ until after implementation and an update would be presented to the Audit and Governance Committee.

 

A number of audits had been added at the request of management or in response to emerging risks. The additional days required for these audits had been accommodated by using the blocks of contingency time.

 

All proposed variations to the agreed Audit Plan arising as the result of emerging issues and/or requests from directorates were communicated to the Audit and Governance Committee for information and comment. To date, only one assignment had been removed from the Plan and this was a Risk Management Audit. The Audit Manager explained that this audit had been removed at the request of the Director of Legal and Democratic Services to avoid duplication. Zurich, the Council’s insurers had been asked to undertake a similar audit. Appendix 4 to the submitted report provided more detail as to the one audit removed from the Plan and the main assignments to which the contingencies had been allocated to date.

 

It was clarified that the audit on Safeguarding Young People would be undertaken in the new year and was at the request of the Executive Director of Wellbeing, Care and Learning in response to recent "grooming" cases nationally. A similar piece of work had been undertaken at Redcar and Cleveland Council and good practice would be shared across the two audits as appropriate. In addition, a data quality review of the submissions made as part of the Trouble Families initiative would be carried out. Again, a similar audit had been undertaken at Redcar and Cleveland Council and it was intended that best practice and any issues could be shared.

 

The Service’s opinion methodology was detailed in Appendix 5 to the submitted report.

 

According to the Public Sector Internal Audit standards (PSIAS), the responsibility for, and ownership of, the internal audit charter remained with the organisation but should be reviewed by the Audit Manager and approved by the Audit and Governance Committee. The Charter should include various statements relating to the scope of internal audit activity, its responsibilities, objectives, independence and reporting lines.

 

A proposed charter, based on a template used by similar organisations, was included for Members’ comment and consideration at Appendix 6 to the submitted report.

 

AGREED that:


1. the information provided was received and noted.
2. the Audit Manager would provide a report on the number of investigations completed in relation to cash handling and the sums of money involved.
3. an update on the implementation of the CHARMS system would be presented to a future meeting of the Audit and Governance Committee.
4. the Tees Valley Audit and Assurance Service’s Internal Audit Charter was approved.

13/15 ANY OTHER BUSINESS

Staff Travel

 

Reference was made to recent press coverage regarding the cost to Middlesbrough Council of funding staff travel both within the UK and abroad. The Deputy Director of Resources clarified that all travel arrangements were now processed through a company called Click Travel. Since using this Company there had been a substantial reduction in costs due to the discounts they offered. With regard to overseas travel, a form had to be completed which detailed travel, accommodation and subsistence costs and an Executive Director’s signature was required prior to any bookings. Whilst all travel costs were now coded to a single code on the SAP system, it was possible to obtain a full analysis of all bookings.

 

It was suggested that in order to reduce costs further, employees should be urged to give consideration to the use of video conferencing in place of travel.

 

Fleet Management

 

A copy of the Internal Audit Report on Fleet Management had been circulated. In view of the Auditor’s recommendations and the limited assurance given, Members agreed that the Head of Service should be invited to attend the Audit and Governance Committee and provide assurance that the recommendations had been implemented.

 

Overpayments

 

Reference was made to an item previously highlighted in the significant internal control issues section of the Annual Governance Statement at a meeting of the Audit and Governance Committee held on 23 May 2013. Members voiced concern that insufficient detail had been provided in relation to a control error in the Council’s payroll system that resulted in a significant overpayment to one member of staff. The Deputy Director of Resources gave a further detailed explanation as to the issue, including the amount involved, and the steps taken to rectify the overpayment. Further discussion took place in relation to overpayments and the controls in place to ensure that monies were reclaimed in full, without causing hardship to employees.

 

National Fraud Initiative

 

The Deputy Director of Resources informed Members that the National Fraud Initiative had recently produced a report in relation to the different types of fraud occurring within local authorities. A report summarising the findings and detailing the measures Middlesbrough was taking to combat fraud would be presented to the next meeting of the Audit and Governance Committee.

 

Thanks

 

The Chair informed Members that the Deputy Director of Resources would be retiring from the Authority on 19 December 2013. On behalf of the Committee, the Chair thanked Bryan Baldam for all the support he had provided and wished him well for the future.

 

The Chair highlighted the importance of the active challenge provided by the Audit and Governance Committee and the requirement for continued support from Strategic Resources.

 

AGREED that:

1. the Assistant Director Environment Services would be invited to the next meeting of the Audit and Governance Committee to provide an update on the recent Internal Audit Report on Fleet Management.
2. a summary of the recent National Fraud Initiative report on fraud in local authorities would be presented to the next meeting of the Audit and Governance Committee.

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