Agenda and minutes

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Items
No. Item

Chairman's Opening Remarks

The Chairman welcomed everyone to the meeting and apologised for the late start due to technical issues.

1/21

Minutes (Agenda item 1) pdf icon PDF 114 KB

To confirm the minutes of the meeting held on 17 December 2020.

Minutes:

The Minutes of the meeting held on 17 December 2020 were confirmed as a correct record subject to the word ‘to’ being removed from Minute No. 55/20 (page 12 of the agenda pack, paragraph 4), to read: ‘Members were informed that this table linked to back to…’

2/21

Actions arising from the Minutes (if any) (standing item) (Agenda item 2)

Minutes:

None.

3/21

Apologies (Agenda item 3)

To receive apologies for absence.

Minutes:

None.

 

At this point, the Chairman welcomed Members of the Overview & Scrutiny Commission (O&SC) to the meeting.  All would be allowed to speak but not vote.   He was aware that O&SC Members had been invited to consider agenda item 13 and with this in mind, and following a proposal, it was agreed that the order of the agenda would be changed and agenda item 13 would be discussed earlier in the meeting following agenda item 6.

 

4/21

Urgent Business (Agenda item 4)

To note whether the Chairman proposes to accept any item as urgent business, pursuant to Section 100(B)(4)(b) of the Local Government Act 1972.

Minutes:

None.

5/21

Declaration of Interests (Agenda item 5)

The duties to register, disclose and not to participate for the entire consideration of the matter, in respect of any matter in which a Member has a disclosable pecuniary interest are set out in Chapter 7 of the Localism Act 2011.  Members are also required to withdraw from the meeting room as stated in the Standing Orders of this Council.

 

Minutes:

None declared.

6/21

Non-members wishing to address the meeting (Agenda item 6)

To note the names of any non-members wishing to address the meeting.

Minutes:

Councillor Suggitt was in attendance in her capacity as the Executive Member for Governance.

 

Also in attendance were Councillors Birt, Dale, I Martin and Morton, Members of the Overview & Scrutiny Commission.

7/21

Training (Standing item) (Agenda item 7)

To note if there are any training issues/ requests.

Minutes:

Councillor Birt asked about the Agile Working training session originally planned to take place on 29 January 2020 but had been cancelled.

 

The Chairman pointed out that this item was in respect of training for the Governance & Audit Committee and not general training for all Members.

8/21

Breckland Council Annual Audit Letter for the year ending 31 March 2020 (Agenda item 8) pdf icon PDF 2 MB

Report of the External Auditor.

Minutes:

Mark Hodgson, Associate Partner for Ernst & Young presented a detailed summary of the audit work carried out throughout the year ending 31 March 2020.

 

The purpose of this Annual Audit Letter was to communicate to the Council and external stakeholders, including members of the public, the key issues that had arisen from the External Auditors work.

 

It was noted that detailed findings had already been reported in the 2019/20 Audit Results Report and were not repeated in this letter.

 

The Vice-Chairman, Councillor Kybird referred to the Note in respect of IFRS 16 leases, and the comment stating that a substantial amount of work needed to be done.  He asked if such work needed to be included on the G&A Work Programme.

 

Alison Chubbock, the Chief Accountant & Deputy S151 Officer advised that IFRS 16 would mean a big change for some councils but not for Breckland as it had very few leases and would not have an influence on the commercial property it leased out and a specific work programme would not be required.

 

Mr Plaskett, the Independent Lay Advisor also mentioned IFRS 16 and the fact that this was the second time that it had been delayed and asked for it to be confirmed that the Council did have appropriate measures in place to fully document all the leases that Breckland Council had.

 

He also asked a question of the External Auditor.  He had noticed that the arrangements were being changed for securing economy, efficiency and effectiveness and asked how these changes were going to be made.

 

In response to the first question, the Chief Accountant & Deputy S151 Officer advised that the leases had now been documented three times due to the standard being delayed and would be documented again in preparation for 2022.

 

In terms of value for money and in response to the second question, the External Auditor explained that the three key areas as set out on page 26 of the agenda pack had always been covered but not necessarily reported if the findings had been positive. The new requirement was to be more public facing and to have a summary of findings against each of the three areas under the value for money criteria irrespective of the overall outcome. 

 

Councillor Birt referred to page 31 of the agenda pack in respect of governance and how the Council ensured that it made informed decisions and properly managed its risks.  He asked the External Auditor how these assessments were made and mentioned the Waste Management contract decision as an example where certain documentation was not provided to Members in a timely manner and how this applied to the ‘informed decisions’ and ‘managing risks’ criteria.

 

Members were informed that the example provided would have been one that had been considered by External Audit and if there happened to be a matter that demonstrated an inappropriate arrangement, a review would take place to underpin any conclusion. 

 

The Annual Audit Letter for the year ending 31 March 2020 was otherwise  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8/21

9/21

Self-Assessment Report (Agenda item 9) pdf icon PDF 70 KB

Report by Faye Haywood, Internal Audit Manager.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Faye Haywood, the Internal Audit Manager for Breckland Council presented the Self-Assessment report.

 

Members were reminded that prior to the pandemic an off-line discussion had taken place in respect of the Committee’s performance.

 

The Committee had considered that it was able to demonstrate best practice in all key areas against CIPFA best practice and as a result no further actions had been added to the Work Programme.  It was also agreed that the self-assessment exercise would be undertaken annually going forward. 

 

It had been brought back to this meeting to consider whether any additional comments should be added to the commentary section and if any of the scoring needed to be amended and, due to the fact that meetings were now being held on-line.

 

Suggestions from Members were welcomed.

 

Members’ attention was drawn to Appendix 1 of the report and comments/suggestions were invited.

 

Mr Plaskett mentioned the Committee’s Terms of Reference and asked if they had been seen recently and whether it was worth sending them to Members to confirm whether they remained relevant and accurate.

 

The Internal Audit Manager was not aware of any changes to the Terms of Reference but would be happy to circulate to Members as requested.

 

Councillor Monument had been through the answers and was happy with all of them but had been surprised at the answer between nos. 6 and 7 and asked if ‘Functions of the Committee’ was just a heading.  If it was a heading, she felt that the ‘tick’ should be removed.

 

Councillor Kybird referred to item 9 of the appendix and said that he would be hard pressed to tick the ‘yes’ box on this matter and suggested that this should be carried out as a formal piece of work.

 

The Internal Audit Manager informed the Committee that this matter had been discussed at the last off-line session, the CIPFA’s position statement was not a huge document and contained little detail in terms of additional responsibility but would be circulated along with the Terms of Reference for comment.

 

It was confirmed that the document had not changed since it was last reviewed by Members.

 

The Executive Manager for Governance referred to the earlier comment in respect of the Terms of Reference and reminded Members that they were set out in Part 3 of the Council’s Constitution.

 

On page 40 of the agenda pack, Councillor Monument pointed out a small detail under no. 12 where it stated that ‘has an effective audit committee structure and composition of the board had been selected’.  She was aware that the word ‘Board’ was rarely used and asked if this should be changed to ‘Committee’.  The Internal Audit Manager explained that the wording had been taken directly from the CIPFA self-assessment questionnaire so would cover both.

 

Mr Plaskett referred to page 42 of the agenda pack.  He had always been reluctant to suggest increasing the scores from a 4 to a 5 but having reread it and looking at the work that the Committee  ...  view the full minutes text for item 9/21

10/21

Accounting Policies 2020-21 (Agenda item 10) pdf icon PDF 60 KB

Report of Alison Chubbock, Chief Accountant & Deputy Section 151 Officer.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Chief Accountant & Deputy S151 Officer presented the report.

 

This report was presented to the G&A Committee on an annual basis for Members to consider the accounting policies that the Council would be using for the year.  It was good practice to consider and agree the accounting policies in advance of the production and approval of the draft accounts.

 

There were no major areas of accounting change within the Code in 2021 due to the deferral of IFRS 16 as mentioned earlier in the agenda.

 

The only changes were updates to dates and years.  Further areas would be updated such as the ‘useful lives’ shown in the policies and would be updated as required when the capital accounts closed in April.

 

Attention was drawn to page 47 of the agenda pack.  The collection fund was an area that could potentially change in respect of how the Council calculated the provision for bad debts and appeals. As this year had been so different to others, changes to the provisions set would not be established until the end of March. Any such change would be communicated to Members with the Statement of Accounts.

 

In response to a question as to who would make that decision to change those provisions, Members were informed that it would be the Finance Team using the evidence available from the Rating Advisors at year end.  

 

Councillor Monument asked if that was a matter of maths rather than policy.  Members were informed that it was matter of maths, but the maths had to be stated within the policies. 

 

Mr Plaskett asked if the Council should have a policy should the Bank of England move to a negative interest rate.  He also asked a question about interest in companies and other entities as described on page 50 of the agenda pack as he had noticed that there was no mention of South Holland District Council. 

 

The Chief Accountant & Deputy S151 Officer explained that in respect of the negative interest rates, the policies only reflected the current year up until the end of March 2021 and therefore no policy was required.  She agreed, however, that if interest rates did change in the future this would need to be mentioned and would be kept under review.

 

In response to the latter question, the Council only had to have an accounting policy for material items and South Holland District Council was treated as a working partnership and such information would be reflected in the notes of the accounts but not in policy.   

 

The Vice-Chairman referred to section 1.4 of the report where it stated that changes may be made to these policies if necessary and reported to the Governance & Audit Committee at the June meeting.  He asked how Members were supposed to know what was necessary or would total reliance be put on the Finance Team to determine that.  

 

The Chief Accountant & Deputy S151 Officer agreed that Members were reliant on the Finance Team’s professional judgement but anything that was changed  ...  view the full minutes text for item 10/21

11/21

Risk Management Policy (Agenda item 11) pdf icon PDF 64 KB

Report of Councillor Sarah Suggitt, Executive Member for Governance and Maxine O’Mahony, Executive Director for Strategy & Governance.

 

Jason Cole, Executive Manager for People & Innovation and Ryan Pack, Innovation and Change Business Partner will be in attendance to present the report.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Ryan Pack, the Innovation & Change Business Partner presented the report.

 

Jason Cole, the Executive Manager for People & Innovation was also in attendance.

 

Members were provided with a brief overview of the report. 

 

The Risk Management Policy was seen as a best practice example by the External Auditors for the rest of the audit consortium but was in need of renewal.

 

The Council was currently in the process of recruiting a temporary Performance Framework Manager to identify, enhance and implement a new framework across the Council.

 

The Innovation & Change Business Partner was content with the Policy as it stood but if a decision was made to formally review the Policy for a further 18 months, this would limit the scope of the Performance Framework Manager’s role and could result in them either being unable to make alterations to the Risk Policy or having to provide and entirely new Policy for approval.  It was therefore proposed that a shorter extension be given to the current risk management framework of six months instead of 18 months.

 

The Chairman asked what the new Manager’s timeframe would be to complete this work.  The Innovation & Change Business Partner informed Members that a six-month extension was being proposed but both he and the Executive Manager for People & Innovation were committed to looking at the framework themselves if the post was not filled.

 

The Vice-Chairman felt that the recommendation was rather open ended and suggested that it should also include a further recommendation to be brought back to the Governance & Audit Committee in September for review.

 

Mr Plaskett had read on page 57 of the agenda pack that the Council’s Policy was seen as best practice by the External Audit Team which, in his opinion, meant that the current Policy was in good shape and was acceptable but felt that six months was not long enough due to the fact that the Council was finding it difficult to recruit to this temporary post. 

 

Mr Plaskett also pointed out a couple of minor typing errors on page 57 at section 1.5 and on page 60 of the agenda pack where it stated that “Where an operational risk retains a high-risk score despite mitigation for three quarterly reporting periods it will be escalated to become a strategic risk”, he was not aware that this had ever happened and asked if the Internal Auditors looked through this as part of their process to ensure that this transpired.

 

The Internal Audit Manager confirmed that this did happen and asked Members to cast their minds back to a previous risk management audit review where a number of recommendations had been raised in that regard and thus ensuring the process was followed in accordance with the Policy.

 

Councillor Morton asked for clarification on section 1.2 of the report where it stated that the Policy had been recognised as best practice, yet the Council was now seeking to set up a whole new structure. He felt that if everyone was happy with the current Policy  ...  view the full minutes text for item 11/21

12/21

Q3 Strategic Risk Update (Agenda item 12) pdf icon PDF 64 KB

Report of Councillor Sarah Suggitt, Executive Member for Governance and Maxine O’Mahony, Executive Director for Strategy & Governance.

 

Jason Cole, Executive Manager for People & Innovation and Ryan Pack, Innovation and Change Business Partner will be in attendance to present the report.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Councillor Suggitt, the Executive Member for Governance introduced the report.

 

Since the G&A Committee meeting in December a number of minor changes had been made to the report that related to the strategic risks that the Council currently faced. 

 

Covid-19 remained as the Council’s highest risk; however, there were robust mitigations in place.   These ensured that the Council could continue to operate and deliver its services throughout the pandemic.  This risk would remain in place for the foreseeable future.

 

It was also worth noting that since the Committee last met the Council had outlined its financial plans for the upcoming year and this had resulted in two of the financial risks being downgraded in terms of their immediate risk impact.  The reasons for this could be found in Appendix A of the report.

 

The Innovation & Change Business Partner explained that the only other risk that he wanted to highlight was in respect of the ICT security risk. Conversations had been had with the Head of IT, the Legal Department and the Finance Department in respect of this particular risk and had been outlined in the comment why it remained and why he had been content with the current assessment.

 

The reasons behind certain risk scores and the Strategic Risk Matrix at Appendix B were then explained in detail.

 

In terms of the current risk score of 25 for the pandemic, which was having a huge impact on the Council, the Internal Audit Manager felt that the current score was a little high and most probably warranted further discussion between Officers as to where this score originally stemmed from

 

The Innovation & Change Business Partner was more than happy to have a conversation with Executive Management Team about this risk and whether such a score was still appropriate.

 

Referring to page 88 of the agenda pack, critical breach of ICT security, under the 3rd paragraph of the latest note, Councillor Monument had noticed a word missing and asked for this to be clarified.  Members were informed that the Council was in the process of rolling out the Doja cyber security training. 

 

The Executive Member for Governance pointed out that the training was all on-line for Members to complete on the Members’ page.

 

Mr Plaskett felt that there were some very good notes attached to all the strategic risks of which he was grateful and felt that a number of big improvements had been made.  However, he was concerned about the time drift on when the targets were expected to be met.  Many had been delayed by many months and he felt that this should be made clearer as to what was meant by target dates - were these dates ever refreshed or had some of these risks not been met which, over a 24-month period, in his opinion, was not particularly acceptable.

 

The Innovation & Change Business Partner explained that the Council did consider this at the last meeting. There were risks that had had their target dates refreshed including the  ...  view the full minutes text for item 12/21

13/21

Constitution - call-in of officer non-key decisions/definition of key decision (Agenda item 13) pdf icon PDF 140 KB

Report of Councillor Sarah Suggitt, Executive Member for Governance and Maxine O’Mahony, Executive Director for Strategy & Governance.

 

Mark Stinson, Executive Manager for Governance to present the report.

Minutes:

Cllr Suggitt, the Executive Member for Governance presented the report.

 

The report had already been considered by the Governance & Audit Committee and the Overview & Scrutiny Commission in October 2020.  The report was then included on the agenda for the Full Council meeting on 10 December 2020 but was deferred and subsequently referred back to the Governance & Audit Committee for further consideration.

 

The Executive Member for Governance stated that, although there were not any problems with the current process, further discussions should take place to establish whether the Council had the right balance between efficiency and Member oversight when it came to lower level and lower value Officer decisions.  

 

There had not been any call-ins in respect of any lower-level Officer decisions made but the system that the Council currently had meant that such decisions had to wait 5 clear working days before the decision could be implemented.  This was felt to be an unnecessary delay in the process and was worthy of further discussion.

 

The current position that the Council found itself in, in respect of the call-in procedure for these lower-level decisions, had not been adopted deliberately.  This had come about by the terminology used in the Council’s Constitution and a change in the law.   The Constitution referred to Executive decisions, without separately identifying Officer decisions and the law change intended to require publication of Officer decisions for reasons of transparency; however, the change in law did not require the call-in of lower-level Officer decisions. 

 

At the Governance & Audit Committee meeting in October 2020, a valid point had been raised about the importance of clarifying the definition of a key decision.  The Council’s current definition referred to it being 25% of the relevant budget; however, there was no clear indication as to which budget was relevant for use in that calculation.  In some cases, it could be argued that the current value of a key decision could be higher than the figure proposed in the report. 

 

A fixed value financial threshold had therefore been proposed.  Officers had looked at a range of values from neighbouring authorities and a figure roughly in the middle of these had been selected as there was a balance to be found between efficiency and oversight. 

 

The implications of a decision being defined as a key decision, also had an impact on the speed of decision making.  The Council had to provide advanced public notice that a key decision was going to be made, a total of 28 days before the decision could be taken.  Added to this would be the usual 5-day call-in period with the additional 7 to 14 days should the decision be called in.  The lower the figure that was set for a key decision would be subject to more decisions falling into this category and would be delayed by the 28-day period.  This would be for Officer, Portfolio Holder, Leader or Cabinet decisions.

 

The Executive Member for Governance fully supported the recommendations as she believed they would help to  ...  view the full minutes text for item 13/21

14/21

Work Programme (Agenda item 14) pdf icon PDF 56 KB

A copy of the Committee’s work programme is attached.  The Committee is asked to consider whether any additions, deletions or amendments to the programme are required.

 

NB: Future reports will be added to the Work Programme accordingly.

Minutes:

The Vice-Chairman asked that the quarterly risk updates be added to the work programme accordingly.

 

The Chief Accountant & Deputy S151 Officer advised that since the agenda was issued, a recent consultation was in progress with MHCLG in respect of the timing of the accounts for this year.  It had been proposed that the accounts no longer had to be completed by 31 May 2021, therefore, the date would be changed to July 2021 and the audit did not have to be completed until the end of September 2021. 

 

The Chairman asked if there was any reason why the original timetable could not remain.  Members were informed that in terms of the audit this was ultimately led by Ernst & Young (E&Y), but it was possible to complete the accounts by the end of June and bring them to the July Committee meeting as a draft. 

 

The Vice-Chairman felt the Chief Accountant should have the authority to state what meetings she felt was appropriate for any rescheduling. 

 

Mr Plaskett agreed with the Chief Accountant’s comments and felt that it would allow the Committee plenty of time to look at the draft accounts prior to E&Y getting involved with their audit. 

 

In response to the Chairman, the Chief Accountant said that she would be content to work to that timetable.  E&Y had already indicated that they would not be starting any audits until July.

 

The Work Programme would be amended accordingly.

 

It was agreed that the Risk Management Policy be added to the September meeting.

 

A copy of the updated Work Programme would be emailed to Members after the meeting.

15/21

Next Meeting (Agenda item 15)

To note the arrangements for the next meeting to be held on Thursday, 10 June 2021 at 10am.

Minutes:

To note the arrangements for the next meeting on Thursday, 10 June 2021 at 10am via Zoom.