Agenda and minutes

Audit and Governance Committee - Tuesday, 21st July, 2020 10.30 am

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Venue: Skype Meeting

Contact: Emer Moran  Democratic Services Officer

Media

Items
No. Item

AG1/20

Chairman's Introduction pdf icon PDF 53 KB

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Minutes:

The Chairman opened the meeting, introduced Committee members and officers in attendance, and outlined procedural matters of the meeting.

AG2/20

Apologies for Absence pdf icon PDF 5 KB

Apologies for absence as reported at the meeting.

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Minutes:

There were no apologies for absence.

AG3/20

Declarations of Interest pdf icon PDF 5 KB

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.

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Minutes:

No declarations of interest were received.

AG4/20

Notification of Visiting Members wishing to speak (in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 18): pdf icon PDF 6 KB

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

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Minutes:

Councillors Dawlings and Hayward registered to speak on agenda item AG52/19

Cllrs Bailey, Pope and Pound have registered to speak on agenda item AG53/19

And Cllr Pope has also registered to speak on agenda item AG54/19

AG5/20

Minutes of the meeting of the Audit and Governance Committee dated 26 November 2020 pdf icon PDF 155 KB

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Minutes:

The minutes of the meeting of the Audit and Governance Committee dated 26 November 2019 were submitted.

 

Members formally approved the Internal and External Plans which had previously been agreed by email on 31 March 2020 following the cancellation of the meeting.

 

RESOLVED – That the minutes of the Audit and Governance Committee dated 26 November 2019 be approved as a correct record;

 

And that the Internal and External Plans be approved.

AG6/20

Annual Internal Audit Report and Opinion pdf icon PDF 164 KB

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Minutes:

Mr Clarke, Head of Audit Partnership presented his report which includes the his annual opinion on the overall adequacy and effectiveness of the organisation’s framework of governance, risk management and control.

 

Members of the Committee took account of the report and raised a number of questions and issues within their discussions. These included:

·         At the time of issuing the opinion Mr Clarke was aware that Tunbridge Wells Council intended to revise its Strategic Risk Register because of the pandemic and had only seen drafts of these changes, details of which will be taken into account when producing the next plan in September.

·         Clarification was given on the Critical recommendation and Mr Clarke explained that it was typically only at that level Audit would automatically draw details to the Committee’s attention, this was not something that has had to happen and Tunbridge Wells to date.

·         The ratings in the annex 1 relate to individual engagements. So, an individual engagement, might occasionally draw priority 2 recommendations but still attain an overall “sound” rating. The specifics did not track to a similar rating given at an all Council level but, as an overall expression of satisfaction (or concern), the ratings are comparable.

·         Mr Clarke advised that a couple of correspondents who spoke to the Audit Assessor, when asked about ways the service could improve, expressed a wish to see more use made of them as a ‘partnership’ by seeing more comparator information with other authorities. As well as the direct comparisons between the four, the assessor also pointed them towards some available general statistical information we could use for similar context and they will be looking at how best to incorporate this sort of information in the audit engagements through 2020/21.

·         When asked about the Budget setting in paragraph 42 and 51 it was advised that the budget setting audit referred to in the table was looking at the budget setting process that operates wholly across Tunbridge Wells Council and not just one individual project.

·         Mr Clarke assured members of the independence, objectivity and standards conformance of the audit partnership.

 

RESOLVED:

 

1.    That the Head of Audit Partnership’s opinion, be noted; and

 

2.    That the work underlying the opinion and the Head of Audit Partnership’s assurance of its completion with sufficient independence and conformance with Public Sector Internal Audit Standards, be noted; and

 

3.    That the conclusion of CIPFA’s External Quality Assessment of Mid

Kent Audit that the Audit Partnership Fully Conforms with applicable Standards, be noted.

AG7/20

Strategic Risk Review June 2020 pdf icon PDF 109 KB

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Minutes:

Mr Lee Colyer, Director of Finance, Policy and Development introduced the report and explained to Members the following points:

 

·         On the 23 March 2020 following the national emergency due to the Covid-19 pandemic Mr Colyer notified the Audit & Governance Chairman that the Council had put its Business Continuity Plan into full operation. The Strategic Risk 6: Service Interruption had increased from Red to Black, with a likelihood of Almost Certain and an Impact of Major.

·         The Covid-19 pandemic was unprecedented and continued to have a profound impact on the Council and the borough.

·         This issue is of strategic importance and a new strategic risk was created namely; Risk 11: Pandemic.

 

Mr William Benson, Chief Executive updated Members briefly on Risk Scenario 5: National policy changes in short term that impact negatively on Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and Risk Scenario 7: Capacity fails to keep pace with ambition and outlined the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on these.

 

Mr Benson then gave a detailed update on Risk Scenario 11: Pandemic; which looks at the longer-term impact of a pandemic on the Borough and the local community/economy.

 

·         Members considered the report and points were raised which included:

·         A detailed explanation of the process leading up to a section 114 Notice being issued was provided.

·         An update regarding Royal Victoria Place and the plans that the owners British Land had in place was given including projects such as the Ely Court outside eatery and internal refurbishment to the inside of the building which have been successfully completed, further plans for redevelopment and possible extension are now on hold due to COVID-19.

·         Details of how the pandemic has affected the Waste Contract and the plans put in place to rectify the issues.

·         A progress update on The Amelia Scott project was given. 

·         The Council’s approach to any future recruitment was explained to ensure capacity for a second wave of the pandemic should it occur.

·         Mr Benson confirmed that he would speak to Mr Paul Taylor regarding questions raised about Risk Scenario 9: The Amelia Scott and Risk Scenario 10: Climate Change. 

·         Members offered their thanks to Mr Benson and his Officers for the work carried out throughout the pandemic and also to the Town and Parish Councils for their efforts.

 

RESOLVED:

 

1.    That the risk management report and arrangements for managing strategic risk, be noted.

AG8/20

Draft Financial Report and Audit Findings 2019/20 pdf icon PDF 129 KB

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Minutes:

Councillor Dawlings registered to speak and made the following points:

·         Thanks was given to the finance staff, Mid Kent legal services and Grant Thornton who prepared and audited the Council’s accounts in the time frame set by Government.

·         A description on how the audit process had to change due to the COVID-19 pandemic and how it had affected the Council and residents of the borough financially. 

 

Councillor Hayward registered to speak and made the following points:

·         That in his opinion the auditors could not have had sight of the Avison Young monthly reports in preparation for the Calverley Square audit.

·         That in his opinion Members had not been given reports regarding a number of issues that the Calverley Square project experienced such as increase of costs.

 

Jane Fineman, Head of Finance & Procurement presented the draft Annual Financial Report (AFR) for 2019/20 and Appendix A which was the conclusion of the external audit process for the 2019/20 accounts.

 

Members of the Committee took account of the report and raised a number of questions and issues within their discussions. These included:

·         The accounts for Tunbridge Wells Property Holdings Ltd were published at Companies House in the same way other Ltd. Companies would be and the information shown was in line with what the Code of Practise said to include.

·         The Government relief grants to small businesses had mitigated the Council’s risk of bad debt related to business rates.

·         The Council’s reserves and how they could be used to ease some of the pressure caused by loss of funds in the first quarter of the year caused by the pandemic.

·         The potential loss of rateable value from reviews was discussed.

·         An explanation was provided about what reports were shown to auditors and it was advised that the auditors had unfettered access to all documents, information and Officers that they require in order to form their opinion.

 

Mr Ade Oyerinde, Senior Manager Grant Thornton presented Appendix B: The Audit Findings for Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.

 

Members of the Committee took account of this report and raised a number of questions and issues within their discussions. These included:

·         Councillor Barrington-King requested that it be noted that he was a Member of the Kent County Council Superannuation Committee after a section of the report referred to pensions.

 

Ms Sarah Ironmonger, Director Grant Thornton presented Appendix C: The Value for Money Review – Calverley Square Governance. Ms Ironmonger explained that the review had been undertaken by a specialist with no previous involvement with the Council who undertakes value for money and governance reviews.  

 

Members of the Committee took account of this report and welcomed the recommendations and raised a number of questions and issues within their discussions. These included:

·         In support of a concluding quote where it was stated that Grant Thornton (GT) were satisfied that at each stage members had access to sufficient supporting papers and analysis to make informed decisions, it was advised that GT reviewed a number of papers that were available to Members  ...  view the full minutes text for item AG8/20

AG9/20

Code of Conduct and Complaints Handling Process Review by the CRWP pdf icon PDF 148 KB

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Minutes:

Councillor Bailey registered to speak and made the following points:

·         That having listened to suggestions that the Council had a general culture of bullying, Councillor Bailey was pleased with the conclusion of the Constitution Review Working Party that it was clear that there was no widespread culture of bullying.

·         Issues with Councillors bullying behaviour on social media were highlighted.

·         A request was made that definitions in paragraph 2.8 of the report to be modified to include the more subtle forms of online bullying and harassment for Councillors that act individually or as a group.

 

Councillor Pope registered to speak and made the following points:

·         That although he acknowledged the powers the council has to deal with Code of Conduct complaints are weak limited by legislation, Councillor Pope was pleased the process is being reviewed and supported the recommendations.

·         Paragraphs from the Local Government Ethical Standards Report, a review by the Committee on Standards of Public Life were highlighted which related to the abuse of social media by Councillors.

·         Where the Council is unable to resolve a complaint, a suggestion was made that party groups got involved and the possibility that they would remove an individual from a position or in more serious cases from the party.

 

Councillor Pound registered to speak and made the following points:

·         That having read the report Councillor Pound was pleased that two of the suggestions he made to the Constitution Review Working party were included in section 5.2.

·         With reference to section 3.4 of the report, several requests were made to the Constitution Review Working party and the Audit & Governance Committee, that they:

o   Explored in more detail between the date of November 2019 and July 2020 how many different subject Members were complained about and how many different complainants there were.

o   Calculate what the cost has been to Mid Kent Legal Services in dealing with these complaints.

o   Advise of the specific legislation that prohibits the naming of Members that are sanctioned in accordance with the constitution as it was currently or to be constituted.

o   Explored the possibility that all complaints against 1 Member can be taken as one complaint.

o   Explained how Members could be advised of the range of sanctions that can be placed on a subject Member.

 

Ms Narebor, Head of Legal Partnership and Monitoring Officer presented her report which provided an update of the Constitution Review Working party’s work and provided an update on the work of the Local Government Association (the LGA).

 

Members of the Committee took account of the report and raised a number of questions and issues within their discussions. These included:

·         Thanks and congratulations were given by Councillor Reilly to Tony Quigley and Ms Narebor along with the rest of the team for a robust review of such a serious issue which he said he was glad to see diminish in recent times.

·         Clarification was given on recommendation 15, that is was a process already in place which reported on a quarterly basis the  ...  view the full minutes text for item AG9/20

AG10/20

Update on complaints received under the Members Code of Conduct pdf icon PDF 169 KB

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Minutes:

Councillor Pope registered to speak and made the following points:

·         That he felt the report was high level and limited in the information given.

·         Further information such as confirmation on whether one Councillor dominated the complaints and what proportion of the complaints came from members of the public would be welcomed among others.

 

Ms Patricia Narebor, Head of Legal Partnership and Monitoring Officer presented the report which provided an update on complaints received under the Members’ Code of Conduct in the period 14 November 2019 to 9 July 2020.

 

Members of the Committee took account of the report and raised a number of questions and issues within their discussions. These included:

·         With regard to whether there was a mechanism in place to ensure that an apology is issued and then received, it was advised that the process was revised slightly so that the apology when issued was sent to the Monitoring Officer or Legal Team and then forwarded on to the complainant, or sent directly if requested by the complainant.

 

RESOLVED:

 

1.    That the update on complaints received under the Members’ Code of Conduct, be noted.

AG11/20

Forward Plan dated as at 10 July 2020 pdf icon PDF 276 KB

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Minutes:

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

 

RESOLVED – That the work programme be noted.

AG12/20

Urgent Business pdf icon PDF 5 KB

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Minutes:

There was no urgent business for consideration.

AG13/20

Date of Next Meeting pdf icon PDF 6 KB

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Minutes:

The next meeting of the Audit & Governance Committee was 15 September 2020.