Report of the Director of Corporate Services
The interim Head of Audit and Financial Services asked Members to approve the Annual Governance Statement 2018-19 which forms part of the Annual Accounts and is overseen by the external auditor. Following approval by the Audit and Standards Committee, the Statement was required to be signed off by the Chief Executive and the Leader of the Council.
The Statement followed the same format as in 2017-18. It had been prepared in line with guidance issued by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (SOLACE). The document described what the Council was responsible for; the aim of the governance framework; the governance framework; a review of how effective the Council’s governance framework is and significant governance issues. Annex 1 to the Statement reproduced “The Annual Review of the Effectiveness of the Governance Framework including the system of internal control – 2018-19”.
Details of the way in which the Annual Governance Statement had been prepared were detailed in the report. Six key questions had been agreed and approved by the Corporate Governance Group to act as a guide on what constituted a significant governance issue to inform the completion of the 2018-19 statement. These were detailed in paragraph 7 of the Statement.
Details were given of the arrangements for monitoring and evaluation of the Statement. The annual review of effectiveness was explained and attached to the Statement. This explained the key governance issues and actions taken to complete them against the Code of Corporate Governance and Annual Review. Some governance issues in the 2017-18 Statement were ongoing and had been carried forward into the 2018-19 Statement. The interim Chief Internal Auditor’s Annual Report had given an adequate assurance opinion on the overall control environment and this had been reported to the June meeting of the Committee. An unqualified opinion had been given by the external auditor in 2017-18. The external auditor had indicated their intention to give a qualified opinion by exception, based on the SEND Ofsted report that had been received in November 2018.
As reported to the Committee as part of the Annual Outturn Report the Council has an effective system of internal audit; during 2018-19 the Monitoring Officer and the Chief Finance Officer have not had to use their official powers; the Council has effective processes in place and scrutiny arrangements that reflected the Council’s key priorities; Children’s Services maintained a ‘Good’ rating from Ofsted; there was positive feedback regarding the Council’s governance processes from the Peer Challenge in September 2018; an Action Plan in regard to SEND had been put in place and would be overseen by the Families Strategic Partnership Board; the Audit and Standards Committee had received an Annual Report on the management of elected member related complaints and ‘unconscious bias’ training had been arranged for Members. Moving forward detailed Member Code of Conduct reports would be included where appropriate. Finally, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman did uphold a complaint regarding the management of the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards.
The remainder of the report highlighted the key elements of the Governance Framework and the principles, statutory obligations and organisational objectives were described on a ‘Single Sheet’. The key roles of those responsible for developing and maintaining the framework were described. These reiterated management and employee compliance. The key governance matters in 2017-18 and actions taken were described and were listed on pages 51-54. The ten key governance issues for 2018-19 were summarised and were listed on pages 55-56.
Members asked if the Corporate Governance Group was happy with the progress being made regarding AGS 1-5, in particular the transformation of Children’s Services “ongoing” (AGS 4) and questioned the pace in regard to the digital road map (AGS 6) as there was no sign of any material projects for Members to see. The interim Head of Audit and Financial Services responded that positive responses had been received from the individual Lead Officers, including the Chief Executive. Digital was a key enabler in the Council’s Corporate Strategy and would continue to be monitored and actions taken where necessary.
Members asked if the Council had adequate capacity and capability to deliver transformational change (AGS 5), given the reference to “issue of capacity” identified last year, on page 27 of the report. Given further reductions in staffing this would give less flexibility to make transformational change. Members asked how focussed the organisation was on the issue of capacity. The Director of Corporate Services responded that the Council must live within its means. He added that the issues raised were not capacity issues. The work regarding Digital was ongoing. A great deal had been achieved with the roll out of Office 365, the improvements to the Council’s website; the introduction of agile working and the Council was now switching off some of its phone services as the online service was available. Transformation was ongoing.
In regard to Children’s Services, the place-based approach had led to some overall successes and the number of children coming into the care system had moreorless stabilised. The main issue was the numbers coming into the ‘higher end’ of care which was costlier.
The issue regarding SEND was in regard to demand. He stated that it was important to work closely with parents and schools to enable them to understand why it was important that pupils remained in mainstream education and how they would be supported in that system. It may be necessary to inject extra capacity into SEND in order to deliver the transformation.
The Leader of the Opposition stated that the SEND Ofsted report had come as a surprise to herself and others and she had concerns that a reduction in capacity across the whole system may mean that there may be other issues that the Council is not currently aware of that may become significant cost pressures. The Chairman reminded Members that the Committee had written to the Cabinet Member for Children and Young People last year expressing concerns regarding SEND.
RESOLVED – That the report be approved.