Annual Audit and Inspection Letter 2007/08 (Agenda item 7)
Presented by Gill Bannister from the Audit Commission.
The Annual Audit Inspection letter is attached as a separate document.
The Policy and Performance Manager introduced Gill Bannister from the Audit Commission who was in attendance to present the Annual Audit Inspection letter. She informed Members that this would be the last time the letter would be presented in its current format.
The report drew on the findings and conclusions from the audit of the Council and from any inspections that had been undertaken in the last year. The letter included the Commission’s review on how well the Council had progressed and the auditor’s assessment of how well the Council had managed its finances.
The main messages for the Council were as follows:
- Breckland Council was continuing to improve its performance although the rate of improvement had slowed. A higher than average proportion of the Council’s performance indicators was amongst the best performers and most local priorities were being effectively tackled.
- Crime levels were generally decreasing and the Council was showing stronger community leadership. Services were becoming more accessible to different groups within the community, and were better tailored to their needs.
- Strategic planning was strengthening with clear links being made between corporate, community and county plans. Performance management was robust and the Council had capacity to deliver its plans.
- An unqualified audit opinion on the 2007/08 statement of accounts and certified the completion of the audit had been issued.
- It was concluded that, in all significant respects, the Council had made proper arrangements to secure economy, efficiency and effectiveness in its use of resources for the year ending 31 March 2008.
- The Council had been assessed as performing at level 3 in the ‘use of resources’ judgement which represented a significant improvement and indicated that the Council was performing well.
The action needed by the Council was as follows:
- to continue to implement improvement plans to meet its key service priorities including those highlighted in the direction of the travel report;
- to exercise strong governance and financial management to combat the pressures brought by the current economic climate; and
- to continue to exercise strong governance through the period of uncertainty as the proposals for Norfolk local government re-organisation were clarified.
Breckland Council had 43% of its performance indicators amongst the highest performing for district councils in 2007/08; this was 10% above the national average.
A number of community events had been organised under the ‘Pride in Breckland’ banner; however, it was unclear what impact this had had on achieving the Council’s main aims.<1>
In 2007/08 the Council was amongst the worst performers for payment of invoices; however, the initial problems with the new electronic ordering system regarding invoice payments had since been addressed.
Support had been provided to specific areas and business sectors, for example through the major Rural Enterprise Valley project. This had been completed and had met most of its aims in terms of support for the motorsport and advance engineering sector based along the A11 corridor. The outcomes had been the sharing of best practice, increased turnover and creation of a substantial number of jobs. The Audit Commission wished for further updates on this matter.<2>
Council performance in helping to ensure sufficient affordable decent housing and dealing with homelessness had been mixed. The number of affordable homes being built in the district had been well above average but the percentage of private sector homes vacant for six months or more had been worse than the district council average in 2007/08. The number of households accepted as priority homeless had decreased but was still above the national average. Despite the Council’s efforts, homelessness remained a challenge; however, the Commission would be looking to assess the recent position on this matter taking the economic climate into account.
Sickness absence had increased year on year and had been worse than average in 2007/08; however, the new data that had been received showed that there had been some improvement.
The Council had recently been awarded the Member Development Charter in recognition of its provision of the support, skills and training for councillors. More attention would be paid to this in future by the Audit Commission.<4>
Norfolk was currently subject to a review by the Boundary Committee into the future of local government across the county. There was a risk that improvement levels might not be sustained if this went ahead; the Audit Commission would be looking for a smooth transition if it did so.<5>
The Executive Member for Transformation thanked Gill Bannister and the Audit Commission for a very fair and good report. He also thanked the Chief Executive and Breckland Officers for their assistance and co-operation throughout the audit inspection, particularly the Performance and Finance teams. He was extremely pleased by the overall assessment score of 3.
The Chief Executive echoed the aforementioned comments.
The Audit Inspection letter was otherwise noted.