Executive Member Portfolio Update (Agenda Item 6)
Councillor Ellen Jolly, Executive Member for Finance, has been invited to attend the meeting to update Members on key ongoing issues and policies within her portfolio and to answer any questions.
Councillor Ellen Jolly, Executive Member for Finance had been invited to update the Commission on her Portfolio. At her previous visit to the Commission she had given an overview of the roles and core responsibilities of her Portfolio. This time she updated Members on the following current issues.
· The Audit Committee had approved a new risk based approach to internal audit. There had been problems with outstanding audit recommendations in the past and with the new process the aim was to address 100% of those matters. Currently 89% had been dealt with.
· The withdrawal of the Co-operative Bank meant that the Council had had to find a new banker and was in the progress of a transition to Barclays Bank which should be completed by early February. It had caused an enormous amount of work for the Finance Team and she thanked them for their efforts.
· With regard to the Council’s money in Iceland she was able to advise that overall £10.9 out of £12million had been recovered so far.
· The External Audit report had raised no issues, which was a very good sign.
· The Finance Team had been providing support for the Local Asset Backed Vehicle (LABV) project. The project had required a shift in traditional requirements with a more pro-active regenerative role. Those skills would be required in other Council projects. The project had been challenging and she commended the Officers for doing a very good job.
She then gave a short presentation on the Anglia Revenues & Benefits Partnership (ARP) which had been added to her Portfolio. The Partnership had started in 2003 with two Councils (Breckland and Forest Heath) and had recently expanded to seven Councils with two Members from each Council sitting on the ARP Joint Committee (JC). Each Council received monthly performance reports on the Revenues and Benefits service. Performance was good as the Partnership was an extremely efficient operation.
The ARP JC had delegated authority to the Operational Improvement Board (OIB) which was made up of Directors from each of the member Councils. They advised the Joint Committee of changes in legislation and identified and prioritised any issues.
Members were given information about the size of the ARP in National terms and were advised about current projects and future challenges to the Partnership.
Councillor Gilbert thought that the Partnership was a fantastic success but he asked if it was getting too big.
Councillor Jolly said it was working well at the moment but that the introduction of Universal Credit was a big challenge and no-one knew how that would pan out. All Members were cautious about future growth. She went on to advise Members that ICT for the ARP was managed by West Suffolk and they were already PSN (Public Services Network) compliant. A business continuity plan was being developed. Data was backed up at two different centres for security. All Partners could connect to the network through safe links and if anything happened to Breckland House in Thetford staff could be deployed and work from other sites.
Members were invited to ask questions and the Vice-Chairman asked how the Council compared to others in recovering money from the Icelandic banks.
The Finance Manager advised that the Council was operating closely with the LGA and all authorities were receiving more or less the same level of returns.
The Chairman asked who owned the outstanding internal audit recommendations and the Executive Director Place advised that each recommendation was assigned to a named officer but that collective responsibility sat with her, as the Council’s Section 151 Officer.
The Chairman asked for clarification of the LABV finance. He had thought that the Council was putting in land and relying on the Partner for finance and skill. The Executive Director Place explained that risk still had to be weighed against benefits and the work done internally provided an important evaluation of where the Council was at the present and the benefit of taking on new risk. It was crucial that the Council had robust numbers that it could trust.
The Chairman thanked the Executive Member for her update.