Agenda and draft minutes

Audit and Governance Committee
Thursday, 29th July, 2021 7.00 pm

Venue: Civic Offices - St Nicholas Way, Sutton, SM1 1EA

Contact: Benjamin Kiang, Committee Services Officer  Tel.: 020 8770 4990, Email:  committee.services@sutton.gov.uk

Media

Items
No. Item

1.

Welcome and introductions

Minutes:

The Chair, Councillor Sam Weatherlake, welcomed those present.

2.

Apologies for absence

Minutes:

Apologies for absence were received from Councillors Nali Patel and James McDermott-Hill with Councillors Vincent Galligan and Param Nandha attending as substitutes. Apologies were also received from Councillors Tim Crowley, Richard Clare and Nick Mattey.

3.

Declarations of interest

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest.

4.

Minutes of the previous meeting pdf icon PDF 80 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of the meeting held on 29 April 2021.

Minutes:

RESOLVED: that the minutes of the meeting held on 29 April 2021 be agreed as an accurate record.

5.

Operation of the Code of Conduct pdf icon PDF 151 KB

Minutes:

Alexa Coates, Deputy Monitoring Officer, presented the report.

 

The committee discussed how complaints are reported to members. Ms Coates confirmed that all complaints undergo an initial assessment by the Monitoring Officer who decides if further investigation is warranted. It was confirmed that every complaint received is reported, based on the information provided by the complainant.

 

The committee also discussed the time taken and money spent on conducting investigations. Ms Coates explained that investigations should be completed in a reasonable time frame but the length of time taken is often dependent on the nature and complexity of the complaint. It was explained that the process of recruiting an Independent Person (IP) had delayed some investigations from being completed. It was clarified that there is no additional cost to the council, beyond existing budgets, from completing an initial assessment into a complaint. It was confirmed that the cost of an external investigation would vary depending on its length and the cost of any ongoing investigation would be reported to the committee upon completion.

 

RESOLVED: To note the actions taken by the Monitoring Officer in addressing complaints.

6.

Member Development Update pdf icon PDF 152 KB

Minutes:

Alexa Coates, Head of Committee and Management Support, presented the report.

 

The committee discussed how training is delivered, including online training and sessions that members can complete in their own time. Ms Coates explained that this would form part of the consultation with members and that different options would be explored in terms of how the training is delivered.

 

RESOLVED:

1.    To note the progress of the core Member Development Programme.

2.    To note the outcomes of the recent relaunch of the Members’ Information Bulletin.

7.

HR Update pdf icon PDF 229 KB

Minutes:

Emily Nice, Assistant Director, Human Resources and Organisational Development (HR and OD), presented the report.

 

The committee discussed the figures relating to agency workers, particularly in social care. Ms Nice explained that recruiting to Children and Adult Social Care is particularly difficult in London and the council continues to work with services to manage the cost and length of agency worker tenure. It was confirmed that the cost of training courses is budgeted for and managed by the HR and OD service.

 

The committee also discussed long-term workforce absences caused by sickness, depression and mental health issues. Ms Nice outlined the range of wellbeing activities and support provided to staff in such cases, including the Employee Assistance Programme, occupational health referrals, risk assessments around wellbeing, and support given to managers to ensure staff are offered a managed return to work when able. Ms Nice offered to provide more detailed figures on the number of absences caused by long-term sickness following the meeting.

 

Finally, the committee discussed the poll survey completed by 48% of the workforce and the work being done by the organisation to facilitate conversation around discrimination. Ms Nice spoke about the programme of activities undertaken corporately, including engagement with staff networks, panel discussions, council-wide webinars, anonymous surveys, race equality week and reverse mentoring. It was confirmed that this programme of activities has been well received by staff. The committee welcomed the introduction of anonymous application forms and blind recruitment.

 

RESOLVED - To note the analysis provided of key HR workforce data and the overall direction of travel of the Human Resources and Organisational Development (HR&OD) service.

8.

Annual Governance Statement pdf icon PDF 151 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Vicky Goddard, Assistant Director, Finance, presented the report.

 

The committee sought clarification on governance procedures around the Beddington Lane Capital Scheme. Ms Goddard confirmed that the opinion given on the scheme by Internal Audit was a limited assurance and that action was subsequently implemented to give greater oversight of capital schemes. These actions included a review of how capital schemes were managed and the introduction of a capital board to increase scrutiny and governance.

 

The committee also discussed the issues identified with the blue badge and oyster card schemes as well as how the council recorded declarations of interest. On the blue badge case, Ms Goddard explained the process by which fraud or suspected fraud would be investigated, in line with the council’s Fraud Policy. On the oyster card case, it was confirmed that there was no evidence of significant loss to the council from fraudulent activity but measures, such as log books, had been brought in to mitigate against future risk. It was also explained that there is built-in flexibility in the Audit Plan so the council can respond to trends or address emerging issues within the year.

 

Finally, the committee discussed the Environmental Strategy and Climate Emergency Response Plan, in the light of recent severe weather events in the borough. Ms Goddard explained that the strategy focuses more on the preventative work to mitigate climate change, and response to extreme weather would be covered by emergency planning procedures. Ms Goddard confirmed she would pass on the concerns and the committee suggested that it be picked up in the risk register.

 

RESOLVED: To endorse the final 2020/21 Annual Governance Statement (as contained in Appendix A) for inclusion within the Council’s final Statement of Accounts.

9.

Internal Audit Annual Report pdf icon PDF 161 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Kevin Holland, Head of the South West London Fraud Partnership, presented the report.

 

In response to questions, Mr Holland clarified that the rise in the number of occasions they have used powers under the Council Tax Reduction Schemes (Detection of Fraud and Enforcement) (England) Regulations 2013 did not equate to a rise in fraud investigations but referred to the number of times they had requested information. Mr Holland also confirmed that the major new fraud type for 2020/21, covered in the data as ‘other investigations’, relates to business relief support grants and work around this will continue as the sector catches up on all the activity done to support businesses quickly in the early stages of the pandemic.

 

The committee discussed the issues around budget deficits accrued by schools. Mr Holland pointed out that the audit had highlighted these issues as concerns and whilst the council offers support and advice to the schools it is limited in its ability to do so as the schools are not required to accept it.

 

Under the delegation of management to schools, the school budget deficits are not an issue for decisions at the People Committee. Therefore, members asked that there be a regular report back to the Audit and Governance Committee on the progress in clearing the deficits.

 

Finally, the committee discussed the management of council buildings under the corporate landlord model, particularly how buildings are assessed for fire and water risk. Mr Holland agreed to provide further information following the meeting.

 

RESOLVED:

1.    To note the Annual Report on Internal Audit

2.    To endorse the Head of Internal Audit’s opinion on the Council’s internal control environment and the Annual Review of Effectiveness of Internal Audit.

10.

Treasury Management Annual Report 2020/21 pdf icon PDF 181 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Vicky Goddard, Assistant Director, Finance, presented the report.

 

The committee discussed the £100 million bond and the mechanism of repayment. Ms Goddard confirmed that it had a weighted average life of thirty years and a fixed interest rate of 1.73%. The committee discussed the option for the council to draw more than the initial £100m.

 

RESOLVED:

1.    To note the Treasury Management activity undertaken during 2020/21.

2.    To note that the Council performed within the Prudential Indicator limits set for 2020/21.

3.    To approve this report as the Treasury Management Annual Report 2020/21.

11.

SWLFP Fraud Referrals and Investigations Update pdf icon PDF 200 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Kevin Holland, Head of the South West London Fraud Partnership, presented the report.

 

The committee discussed fraud cases related to business relief support grants. Mr Holland provided further information about the work being carried out, including the use of external verification tools, to investigate applications from businesses but explained that the work was ongoing due the amount and speed of the work done to support businesses through the pandemic.

 

RESOLVED: To note and comment on this report.

12.

Annual Review of Risk Management Strategy and Review of Corporate Risk Register pdf icon PDF 165 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Sam Barker, Assistant Director, Customers, Transformation and Strategy, presented the report.

 

RESOLVED:

1.    To agree the updated Risk Management Strategy and Guidance (Appendix A)

2.    To note the Council’s updated risk statement (Appendix B) and updated corporate risk register (Appendix C) as part of the ongoing management of risk across the Council.

13.

Update on Cyber Security Risks pdf icon PDF 173 KB

Minutes:

Steve O’Connor, Assistant Director, Digital and IT, presented the report.

 

The committee discussed the need for staff and councillors to change their log-in details including passwords. Mr O’Connor clarified that the council was considering changing its protocols in line with updated National Cyber Security guidance. It was also explained that the digital team complete scans of passwords and do contact people if they feel the password is too easy to guess.

 

The committee also discussed the experiences of local authorities that have been targeted by cyber-attacks and lessons that could be taken. Mr O’Connor emphasised the importance of recovery planning and offered to provide more information to members following the meeting.

 

The committee discussed what steps councillors could take to improve cyber security. Mr O’Connor highlighted the importance of completing training on cyber security and of reporting any spam to IT and to Google. It was also confirmed that there are controls in place to limit the data that can be accessed by members, including restrictions on downloads and scanning, as well as the filtering or blocking of certain data.

 

Finally, the committee discussed the role of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). Mr O’Connor explained that the NCSC offered support and guidance for all organisations in the UK by sharing intelligence about emerging threats and offering a suite of tools to boost security.

 

Mr O’Connor offered to provide a briefing to members if they wished to go into more detail on cyber security and information management.

 

RESOLVED:

1.    To note the measures in place and steps being taken to mitigate the cyber security risks to the Council.

2.    To note that despite the measures set out in this paper it is impossible to fully mitigate the risk of a disruptive cyber attack on the Council given the evolving nature of the threat. Therefore, being prepared to manage and recover from an attack is a vital part of the risk mitigation.

14.

Verbal Update on the Managing Unreasonable Customer Contact Policy

Minutes:

Sam Barker, Assistant Director, Customers, Transformation and Strategy, provided a verbal update on the Managing Unreasonable Customer Contact Policy following a meeting of the task and finish group.

 

The main points raised by Mr Barker were:

 

·         That the task and finish group set up by this committee had met to discuss the purpose of the policy and to suggest changes to make it fit for purpose

·         That the policy would be updated to make the following changes

o   To make clear that the policy would only be implemented in exceptional circumstances where other options had been exhausted

o   To include the option for mediation at an informal stage, including a review of the evidence conducted by the Independent Person

o   To have a clear reporting mechanism back to the Audit and Governance committee where the Policy had been applied

·         That the updated policy would come back to the next meeting of the Audit and Governance committee for discussion and approval

15.

Provisional Work Plan pdf icon PDF 43 KB

Minutes:

There were no comments or questions.