Agenda and minutes

Audit and Governance Committee - Tuesday, 20th September, 2016 6.00 pm

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Venue: Council Chamber, Town Hall, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN1 1RS

Contact: Mike McGeary  Democratic Services Officer

No. Item


Apologies for Absence

Apologies for absence as reported at the meeting.


Apologies for absence were reported from Councillor Dawlings, Independent Member Mr Hedges and Parish Councillor Henshaw.


Declarations of Interest

To receive any declarations of interest by members in items on the agenda.


For any advice on declarations of interest, please contact the Monitoring Officer.


There were no declarations of interest made, within the provisions of the Code of Conduct for Members.


Notification of Visiting Members Wishing to Speak (in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 18)

Members should indicate which item(s) they wish to speak on and the nature of their concern/question/request for clarification.


There were no other members of the Council who had registered their wish to address the Committee, within the provisions of Council Meetings Procedure Rule 18.


Minutes of the Meeting of the Audit and Governance Committee dated 26 July 2016 pdf icon PDF 188 KB

The Chairman will move that the minutes of the previous meeting, dated 26 July 2016, be signed as a correct record. The only issue relating to the minutes which can be discussed is their accuracy.


In accordance with Council Meetings Procedure 16.1, the Chairman will sign the minutes of today’s proceedings at the next scheduled meeting.


The minutes of the meeting of the Audit and Governance Committee dated 26 July 2016 were submitted.


RESOLVED – That the minutes of the Audit and Governance Committee dated 26 July 2016 be approved as a correct record.


Update on Complaints Received Under the Members' Code of Conduct pdf icon PDF 138 KB


John Scarborough, the Head of the Legal Partnership, presented an update report on complaints received under the authority’s Members’ Code of Conduct, for the period ending 2 September 2016.


Mr Scarborough advised that, since the meeting of the Committee on 28 June, one new complaint had been received. He said that, following the first stage of his investigations, he had determined that the allegations did not amount to a breach of the Members’ Code of Conduct, adding that no further action would be taken.


In addition, Mr Scarborough said that there had been one outstanding complaint which he reported upon at the June meeting. Since then, he added, he had concluded at the initial assessment stage of his investigations that this also did not amount to a breach of the Members’ Code of Conduct.


Finally, Mr Scarborough advised the Committee that he would be leaving his post as Head of the Legal Partnership and Monitoring Officer on 2 October, to take up a position at the London Borough of Greenwich. He added that Estelle Culligan, his Deputy within the Legal Partnership, had been appointed on a temporary basis as his replacement.


RESOLVED – That the update on complaints received under the Members’ Code of Conduct be noted.


Proposed Changes to the Constitution (Planning Scheme of Delegation) as Recommended by the Constitution Review Working Party pdf icon PDF 118 KB

Additional documents:


John Scarborough, the Head of the Legal Partnership, and Stephen Baughen, the Acting Head of Planning Services, jointly reported on proposed amendments to the Council’s Constitution, specifically two parts of the Planning Scheme of Delegation.


Mr Scarborough explained that the proposed amendments set out in the agenda had been considered – and approved – by the Constitution Review Working Party at its meeting held on 11 August. He added that there had been other proposed amendments to the Planning Scheme of Delegation which had been considered by the Full Council in April 2016 which had been referred back to the Working Party for further examination. He advised that these could all be dealt with under the Monitoring Officer’s delegated powers as and when required, and would be reported back to the Working Party. It was noted that two other amendments had been proposed at the Full Council meeting in April 2016 by Councillor Stewart; Mr Scarborough advised that these had been discussed direct with her and would be presented to the Working Party at its next meeting.


Stephen Baughen, the Acting Head of  Planning Services, provided the Committee with the background detail to the two proposed amendments set out in the agenda. With the first of these, Mr Baughen explained that the inclusion of the word ‘notifications’ as part of the councillor call-in rules presented significant risk that consent would be granted by default for these notifications. He added that this was because it was highly unlikely that a notification could be determined within the statutory time limit if called-in to a Planning Committee meeting. It was therefore proposed that it be removed from paragraphs 8.1 and 8.5 of Section 8 of Table 3 to Part 3 of the Constitution.


With the second proposed amendment, Mr Baughen advised that its intention was to ensure that the most significant planning decisions for approval were consistently taken by members of the Planning Committee and not under delegated powers by the Head of Planning Services. This specifically related to the proposed threshold for non-residential development, which it was proposed should be lowered from 5,000m2 to 2,000m2. Mr Baughen said that this could be achieved by amending paragraph 8.3(b) of Section 8.1 of Section 8 of Table 3 to Part 3 of the Constitution.


Independent member Mr Quigley, Chairman of the Constitution Review Working Party, said that these two proposed amendments had been thoroughly discussed at his meeting and, with a minor addition to the explanatory wording in relation to the first of these, had been supported by the Working Party.


Councillor Ms Palmer said that she was not supportive of the first proposal, on the basis that it was removing the ability of members to be able to call-in a notification.


Other members of the Committee accepted the rationale and explanation provided by Mr Baughen and supported both recommendations.


As this was the last meeting before Mr Scarborough left the authority, the Chairman thanked him for his support work, his  ...  view the full minutes text for item AG30/16


Annual Complaints Report and Local Government Ombudsman Annual Review pdf icon PDF 276 KB

Additional documents:


Jane Clarke, the Head of Policy and Governance, presented a report on: (a) formal complaints received by the Borough Council during 2015/16; (b) the decisions of the Local Government Ombudsman in respect of those complaints which had been escalated to that level during the year; and (c) amendments to the authority’s formal Complaints Policy. The first two elements were for the Committee to discuss and note; the revised Complaints Policy was submitted for the Committee’s endorsement.


Ms Clarke began by saying that a total of 465 formal complaints had been made about Council services during 2015/16; she added that, at 83.5%, the authority had failed to meet its performance target to respond to 94% of complaints within the specified timescale. As a result of that performance outcome, Ms Clarke said that a review of complaints’ handling had been undertaken and it was proposed to reduce the number of stages to two under the Council’s Complaints Procedure.


Ms Clarke also focused on some of the key trends within those services that were the subject of the largest number of complaints, namely from the Parking, Contracts and Planning Services as well as at the Assembly Hall Theatre. She added that, across the full range of complaints, some general lessons could be learnt, from which all services of the Council could benefit; these were set out in the report.


In respect of those complaints which had been referred to the Local Government Ombudsman – 21 in total – it was noted that four had been the subject of an in-depth investigation, with two of those being upheld against the authority. 


With the Council’s Complaints Procedure, members were advised that, following discussion at the Management Board of senior officers, it had been proposed that the number of formal stages be reduced from three to two, to help improve response times for complainants as well as cut down on the amount of officer duplication. A copy of the revised Complaints Procedure had been circulated with the agenda.


Councillor Moore referred to the revised Complaints Procedure, specifically the response times set out for each stage (within 15 working days under stage 1 and 20 working days as part of stage 2). She felt that, even with reducing the stages from three to two, that was still a long period of time for the complainant to have to wait for a response. Ms Clarke advised that those particular time periods were not changing from the existing process, but stressed that, because of the reduction in the number of stages, the total amount of time to resolve a complaint – should it have taken all three stages in the past – would be shorter.


Parish Councillor Coleman asked where in the statistics complaints about the Fiveways public realm scheme appeared. Ms Clarke advised that it depended upon the exact nature of the complaint, adding that the Head of Environment and Street Scene was the lead officer for this project.


Councillor Coleman felt that, in a case such as  ...  view the full minutes text for item AG31/16


Strategic Risk Report pdf icon PDF 92 KB

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Lee Colyer, the Director of Finance and Corporate Services, presented a risk management report, which described the authority’s arrangements for managing strategic risk. The report provided an update on the evaluated threat level as well as the controls in place for each of the 10 risks identified. Mr Colyer added that the Chief Executive, William Benson, had been invited to the meeting, to report on the risks where he was the named ‘officer risk owner’, namely risks 3, 5, 7 and 9.


Risk 3 – resident engagement 


Mr Benson advised that, in the recent past, this work had been focused on initiatives such as ward walks and an annual residents’ survey. He said that, to a large extent, this had been replaced with more active engagement and dialogue with a wide range of interest groups, such as Tunbridge Wells Together, the Town Forum, parish and town councils etc, as well as far greater use of social media.


The Chairman sought clarification on the extent of consultation undertaken with the authority’s budget proposals each year. Mr Benson said that the Council went well beyond the minimum requirements in consulting on its spending plans each year, with active engagement with key groups, as well as proposals being provided on the website consultation portal.


Councillor Moore referred to the ‘current controls/mitigations in place’ under this risk, specifically the updating of the Five Year Plan. She asked whether, within that context, the Council planned to produce only a digital version of the Local magazine. Mr Benson advised that this proposal was being examined. He added that Tunbridge Wells, along with Maidstone and Swale Borough Councils, had recently purchased the required software to be able to digitise this magazine as the three authorities were keen to encourage residents towards this platform. He added that members would be consulted on this further.


Councillor Podbury asked whether parish and town councils could be encouraged to lead on future ward walk surveys. She added that it was important for the authority always to keep in mind that there were still significant numbers of residents who could not access information about Council services on-line. On the first issue, Mr Benson said he would be happy to provide relevant material for parish and town councils to undertake ward walks, if they wished, adding that it might be possible for Borough Council staff to assist. On digital access to services, Mr Benson stressed the cost advantages to the Council of greater numbers of residents using on-line facilities but he acknowledged the need to recognise that not all residents had this choice.


Councillor Hamilton endorsed the proposal that parish and town councils be given the opportunity to continue the ward walks initiative and expressed the hope that this idea be progressed. Mr Benson responded by saying that the Borough Council would support those local councils wishing to carry out their own local ward walks.


Councillor Coleman said that there was a good working relationship between the Borough and his Parish Council.  ...  view the full minutes text for item AG32/16


External Auditor Procurement pdf icon PDF 204 KB

Additional documents:


Further to minute AG22/16, Rich Clarke, the Head of the Audit Partnership, provided an update on the specific points raised by members at the last Committee meeting regarding the alternative options for appointing a new external auditor. His report provided additional information on the following issues previously raised:


The likely costs of an individual procurement


Mr Clarke advised that there would be limited cash costs to the Council undertaking the procurement process alone. However, he added that it was likely that there would be somewhere between 10 and 15 days of officer time required in carrying out the various procurement processes.


Attitude of neighbouring and other authorities towards the procurement routes


Mr Clarke advised that there was strong evidence to show that the significant majority of local authorities who had already expressed their procurement preference would be opting for the ‘sector-led body’ route. He added that he had found no evidence of a local authority opting for the creation of an auditor panel as their preferred procurement method.


Experience of the NHS in auditor selection


Mr Clarke said that his research into the experience of the NHS – specifically hospital foundation trusts – showed that they had benefited from a sharp fall in audit fees at the earlier time when they had been able to seek audit approval from a newly-created regulator – Monitor – to work with less oversight from central NHS control. However, in more recent times, Mr Clarke said that his research had shown that there had been very little change in the fees that the trusts were required to pay for their statutory audit.


Mr Clarke added that his conclusions were that it is not the external audit process which will impact on the fees that local government will be required to pay but the scope of the audit required.


Mr Clarke advised that evidence he had gained to date showed that there was clear support for handing the appointment decision and contract management over to an ‘appointed person’ (i.e. the ‘sector-led body’ option). He added that the only ‘appointed person’ to have come forward to date was Public Sector Audit Appointments Limited (PSAA), although details of their offer were not yet known.


Mr Quigley asked to what extent did the current external audit arrangement help with scale, adding that he hoped to see an analysis of cost benefit. Mr Clarke said that acting on its own, the Borough Council had no historical data from which to draw any firm conclusions. He did however say that the existing fee level was likely to have a strong influence on the level of fee which the authority would face.


Mr Quigley also asked for confirmation of the length of any agreement entered into with a sector-led body. Mr Clarke advised that PSAA were likely to ask for a three to five year contract period, with the industry norm probably set at three years. He added that the eight-week opt-in opportunity was at first felt to be a one-off  ...  view the full minutes text for item AG33/16


Future Work Programme pdf icon PDF 24 KB


The Committee’s work programme was presented for members’ information.   


Lee Colyer, the Director of Finance and Corporate Services, said that, with the decision taken on the external auditor appointment (minute AG33/16 above), this item could be removed from the list of agenda items for the 5 December meeting.  


RESOLVED – That, with the above amendment, the work programme be noted.


Urgent Business


The Democratic Services Officer advised that there were no additional items for the Committee’s consideration which had arisen since the publication of the agenda.


Date of Next Meeting


It was noted that the next meeting of the Committee would take place on Monday 5 December 2016 at 6pm.