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 at the time and in their view those papers enabled Members to make informed decisions.
· In response to concerns raised by Councillor Reilly that in his opinion Members were not kept fully updated on developing cost concerns in a timely manner, it was advised that the point at which Members made decisions the cost implications were clear in the reports available to Members at that time.
· Ms Ironmonger confirmed that GT were aware of the monthly project management reports but these contained estimates at a point in time. It is only at the point when the costs are confirmed that members were asked to make a decision, which is the appropriate point to consider the information available to members.
· Following a request by Councillor Reilly to meet and discuss with GT details of the project management documents that he believed was key information, GT agreed in principal however, advised that they are independent and their work cannot be influenced by others. GT agreed to discuss with the Council’s Statutory Officers the request and reiterated the need to be clear about the process of this if it related to challenging a decision that GT had reached.
· GT advised that they were looking at decisions that were made and whether Members were in a position to make informed decisions and it was not within their scope to look at what alternative decisions could be made.
· It was advised that GT were aware of the minutes of meetings and concerns raised regarding the Calverley Square project and it was their conclusion that they were satisfied that Members had sufficient information to make an informed decision about terminating the project in October 2019.
· GT advised that they had access to any documents that they determined were necessary to undertake their independent external review. The decision on release of documents related to Calverley Square was one for Officers and Members to make together, that the need for which the project was initially designed to address still remained to be addressed and Members should be involved in the future discussions regarded to the civic assets and how they link with the strategic objectives.
· The Monitoring Officer advised that the Council does have a governance structure and a decision-making structure and decisions were made taking into account statutory consultation requirements and discretionary requirements. The Council is obliged to follow the legislation and guidance issued by Government. If Members were minded to review the Council’s consultation process that would be possible through the Council’s decision making process.
· Members agreed to note the report however some members had supported Cllr Reilly in his concerns in the discussion and requested that these be referenced in the response to the recommendations. Councillor Reilly agreed to liaise with Officers and GT with regard to his concerns.
1. That the Grant Thornton’s Audit Findings Report – Appendix B, be noted.
2. That the draft Statement of Accounts and the Annual Governance Statement – Appendix A, be approved.
3. That the Chairman and the Director of Finance, Policy & Development to sign a Letter of Representation based on Appendix A and the Audit Findings Report, be authorised.
4. That the findings of the independent external Value for Money Review of Calverley Square Governance – Appendix C, be noted; and
5. Councillor Reilly agreed to liaise with Officers and Grant Thornton to further explain the concerns he raised during the discussion.