Agenda and minutes

Audit and Standards Committee
Monday, 24th March, 2014 10.00 am

Venue: Oak Room, County Buildings, Stafford. View directions

Contact: Jackie Fair  Email: jackie.fair@staffordshire.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

45.

Declarations of Interest

Minutes:

 

Member

Minute No.

Type of interest

Reason

Kevin Jackson

50

Personal

His wife is a member of the Staffordshire Pension Scheme

Alison Spicer

50

Personal

She is a member of the Staffordshire Pension Scheme

 

46.

Minutes of the Meeting held on 9 December 2013

Minutes:

RESOLVED – That the minutes of the meeting held on 9 December 2013 be confirmed and signed by the Chairman.

47.

Minutes of the Special Panel re: Appointments to the Independent Remuneration Panel - 26 February 2014

Minutes:

The Committee considered the minutes of a meeting of a Special Panel of the Committee, established to recruit members for the Council’s Independent Remuneration Panel.  The Panel had conducted interviews and recommended two candidates for appointment by the County Council.

 

RECOMMENDATION TO COUNTY COUNCIL – that Leslie Trigg and Michael Murray be offered appointments to the Independent Remuneration Panel (subject to receipt of satisfactory references.)

48.

Proposed Changes to the Constitution

Minutes:

The Committee considered reports of the Director of Democracy, Law and Transformation as follows:-

48a

Recording Votes on Budget and Precept Setting Decisions at County Council Meetings

Minutes:

It was reported that, following the Local Authorities (Standing Orders) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2014 coming into force, the Council was required to conduct a named vote for decisions at Council meetings relating to the setting of the budget and issuing a precept.  The report included suggested amended wording for the Procedural Standing Orders in Section 12 of the Constitution to reflect the new requirements which had been highlighted by the Communities Secretary in letters to the Leader and Chief Executive. These letters had outlined the rationale for the new requirement as part of the government’s commitment to transparency and democratic accountability.

 

RECOMMENDATION TO COUNTY COUNCIL – That the proposed amendments to paragraph 14.9 of Section 12 of the Constitution outlined in the report relating to the recording of votes at full County Council meetings on decisions on Budget and Precept setting.

48b

Members' Code of Conduct

Reports of the Director of Democracy, Law and Transformation

 

Minutes:

It was reported that, following the establishment of a new Members’ Code of Conduct in line with the requirements of the Localism Act 2011, advice had been received from auditors that additional provision relating to the registration of gifts and hospitalities to meet the requirements of the Bribery Act 2010 should be added to the Code.  In addition, the opportunity had been taken to reflect on the wider contents of the Code of Conduct and it was proposed that reference should be included to the planning protocol and mechanisms for dealing with complaints.

 

Members commented on the importance of careful consideration of issues relating to offers of gifts and hospitality and highlighted the value of clear advice from officers on this issue.

 

RECOMMENDATION TO COUNTY COUNCIL – That the proposed amendments to the Local Code of Conduct relating to registration of gifts and hospitalities, reference to the Planning Protocol and mechanisms for complaints be approved.

49.

External Audit Plan 2013/14

Report of PricewaterhouseCoopers

Minutes:

The Committee considered the External Audit Plan for 2013/14 that had been prepared by the Council’s auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).  Richard Bacon, the Engagement Lead from PwC was in attendance and highlighted the fact that the plan was prepared according to international standards in line with a national framework outlined by the Audit Commission.  This gave the auditors a number of key responsibilities including:-

  • Assessing the effectiveness of the Council’s internal control measures;
  • Considering whether any reports in the public interest should be issued if any issues were uncovered;
  • Reporting on the accuracy of the authority’s return to the Whole of Government accounts to the National Audit Office.

 

He also briefly outlined the audit approach that would be taken and highlighted specific work that would be covered, including work required by national standards to assess the risk of fraud due to management override of controls and incorrect recognition of revenue and expenditure.  Other specific work included high risk areas of the Council’s work relating to the Education Support Services Joint Venture Entrust, the PFI waste scheme and the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS).  He also commented on issues relating to these areas, including the potential issues with Entrust having a different year end and the approach taken to counter these and work to test the assumptions made in the preparation of the MTFS.  The plan also included detail on the level of materiality used to assess the impact of adjustments, the audit fee and details of the team conducting the audit.  Richard Bacon highlighted the positive working relationship between the auditors and the County Council and the fact that no issues requiring reporting had been identified during previous audits.

 

Members had a number of queries about the reporting and cost arrangements relating to Entrust and the relationship with Capita.  The Head of Financial Strategy and Support commented on the due diligence process undertaken and a number of relevant clauses in the contract.  In response to queries about the impact of commissioning on accountability, Richard Bacon referred to work to assess contracting arrangements and the effectiveness of performance management processes to provide overall assurance.  The Head of Financial Strategy and Support also referred to internal work to assess the impact of commissioning on issues such as business continuity planning.  Assurances were also given to Members about the assessment of the authority’s measures to detect fraud and whistleblowing procedures and the fact that having the same auditor for the County Council and Pension scheme was standard practice nationally for a number of reasons, including the high volume of transactions between the Council and pension scheme.

 

RESOLVED – that the Annual External Audit Plan for 2013/14 be noted.

50.

Staffordshire Pension Fund - External Audit Plan 2013/14

Report of PricewaterhouseCoopers

Minutes:

The Committee considered the External Audit Pan for the Staffordshire Pension Fund for 2013/14, prepared by the auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers.  Richard Bacon, the Engagement Lead for PwC advised the committee that the plan had been considered by the Pensions Committee as part of the Pension Scheme’s governance arrangements.

 

The plan had been prepared in line with national standards and gave details of the audit approach, including approaches to specific work on anti-fraud measures and valuation of hard to value investments.  Details of the team working on the audit and the audit fee were also included.

 

In response to Members’ queries it was confirmed that the recent changes to pensions announced in the budget would not have a major impact on the scheme and it was noted that it was possible for scheme members to make additional voluntary contributions.

 

RESOLVED – that the Annual External Audit Plan for the Staffordshire Pension Fund be noted.

51.

Annual Certification Report 2012/13

Report of PricewaterhouseCoopers

Minutes:

The Committee considered the annual certification letter for 2012/2013 from the Auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers.  The letter summarised the results and fees for certification work during the 2012/13 financial period on the Teachers’ Pension Return.  The return did not require a qualification letter, was not subject to amendment and had been well prepared.

 

RESOLVED – that the Annual Certification Letter for 2012/13 be noted.

52.

Annual Report on Information Governance

Report of the Director of Democracy, Law and Transformation

Minutes:

The Committee considered the report of the Director of Democracy, Law and Transformation which gave details of the provision of Information Governance assurance for the County Council.

 

The report gave brief details of the legislative framework for information governance, including key items of legislation such as the Data Protection Act 1998 and Freedom of Information Act 2000 and highlighting the dynamic nature of regulation in this area.  The County Council had an Information Governance Framework to provide strategic direction and the report highlighted a number of key issues within this framework including:-

·           The volume and complexity of Freedom of Information requests continued to grow.  The Council had well developed procedures for dealing with requests and within the context of a 40% increase in volume 88% of requests were responded to within the statutory deadline of 20 working days.

·           The Council’s Information Governance Unit (IGU) was working with partner agencies to develop protocols for safe and appropriate sharing of personal data across Staffordshire.  Details were also given of responses to requests for the release of personal data for the prevention of crime.

·           The Council had been granted Public Sector Network (PSN) accreditation.  This was a national standard for information security requiring over 60 different controls being satisfied.  In addition, work was underway to establish additional security through two factor authentication for remote access to the network.  Benchmarking work had indicated measures in place ensured a low level of risk to information security in key areas.

·           Work to meet changing legislative requirements relating to transparency was ongoing.  The IGU also had supported work on privacy, training both specifically for Senior Information Risk Owners and more widely as part of the corporate induction and the development of records management software to store emails efficiently.

·           During March 2013 an inspection by the Interception of Communications Commissioners Officer had concluded that the Council was acting appropriately within the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000.  In addition the Investigatory Powers Tribunal received a complaint about the Council during 2013 and confirmed no breach of RIPA had occurred.

 

Members asked for further details about the increase in Freedom of Information Requests including whether the increase for the County Council was in line with similar authorities, the impact on resources and the source of requests.  The Head of Information Governance advised that the increase in requests was in line with national trends, confirmed that resources and systems were under continuous development to support this process including referring requests to where information was published and highlighted that requests from the public, local and national press and commercial organisations were received in broadly equal proportions.  In response to further queries, he commented that the direction of travel was to towards making increasing amounts of information available.

 

RESOLVED – That the report on Information Governance be noted.

53.

Procurement and Financial Regulations

Report of the Director of Finance and Resources

Minutes:

The Committee considered the joint report of the Director of Democracy, Law and Transformation and Director of Finance and Resources that set out an approach to reviewing the Council’s Procurement and Financial regulations.

 

It was reported that the current Financial and Procurement Regulations, approved in 2011, stated that they would be fully reviewed every two years by the Audit and Standards Committee.  Preparations for a review had begun in 2013 and it had become clear that, due to developments in the Council’s strategic direction and structure, the work involved would be more complex than originally envisaged.  As a result, the Committee were asked to defer the review to be completed by March 2015.

 

Members noted that this work supported the view expressed during the recent Peer Review of the County Council that further work on developing procedures and structures to support the Council’s approach to commissioning.  In response to further queries, the Head of Financial Strategy and Support confirmed that work on joint procurement would form part of the review.

 

RESOLVED – That the deferment of the review of Procurement and Financial Regulations to be completed by March 2015 be noted.

54.

Work Programme for the Audit and Standards Committee/ Member Training Update

Report of the Director of Finance and Resources

Minutes:

The Committee considered the report of the Director of Finance and Resources which set out a work programme for the committee and gave details of training undertaken by Members.

 

The Chairman asked Members to pass any suggestions for future items for the work programme on to him for consideration.  In response to questions from Members, the Head of Financial Strategy and Support advised that the next update on the programme would give an indication of when future items would be considered.  The Head of Democracy also clarified the Committee’s role in reviewing the Council’s constitution and the authority given to the Director of Democracy, Law and Transformation to make minor and consequential amendments when required.  It was also confirmed that the update report on Mental Health Commissioning arrangements would give background for new Members on previous work by the committee.

 

RESOLVED – That the rolling work programme be approved.

55.

Exclusion of the Public

The Chairman to move:-

 

“That the public be excluded from the meeting for the following items of business which involve the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in the paragraphs of Part 1 of Schedule 12A (as amended) of the Local Government Act 1972 as indicated below”.

 

 

PART TWO

(reports in this section are exempt)

 

Minutes:

RESOLVED - That the public be excluded from the meeting for the following items of business as the reports for consideration involve the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in paragraph 3 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A (as amended) of the Local Government Act 1972 as indicated below.

56.

Exempt Minutes of the meeting held on 9 December 2013 (exemption paragraph 3 – information relating to financial or business affairs)

Minutes:

RESOLVED – That the exempt minutes of the meeting held on 9 December 2013 be confirmed and signed by the Chairman

57.

Internal Audit Reports - High Risk Reviews plus Limited Assurance Reviews plus Special Investigations (exemption paragraph 3 – information relating to financial or business affairs)

 

Report of the Director of Finance and Resources

Minutes:

The Committee considered internal audit reports in respect of the following issues:-

57a

Infrastructure plus - Invitation to Submit Final Bids

57b

Debt Recovery Processes - Legal Services Follow-up Review

Reports of the Director of Finance and Resources