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To consider the extent, if any, to which the Public and Press are to be excluded from the meeting.
There were no items on the agenda where the public and press were to be excluded.
Declarations of Interest, if any
There were no declarations made at the meeting.
RESOLVED that the minutes of the meeting held on 23rd July, 2020, be approved as a correct record.
Peter Jackson, Head of Internal Audit presented the Audit Committee Action Log which detailed all actions agreed at previous Audit Committee Meetings. It was noted that of the four actions previously requested at the January and October 2019 meetings, no actions were outstanding, one had been completed, and the remaining three were in progress and would be cleared in the course of future meetings. None of these represented longer running issues.
In noting the positive progress made against the actions which were classified as green, the Chair acknowledged the good work carried out by the Internal Audit team, particularly in view of the challenging circumstances as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic.
RESOLVED that the progress being made against the actions agreed at the previous Committee meetings, be noted.
The Committee considered a report which outlined proposed revisions to the Council’s Whistleblowing Blowing Policy and procedures following a review and sought approval of the revisions.
The Policy had been reviewed following the Council’s adoption of the Cooperative
Party’s ‘Charter Against Modern Slavery’, approved by Cabinet at its meeting on 30th June 2020. In line with the Charter requirements it was recommended that the Whistleblowing Policy made explicit reference to modern slavery, as set out at paragraph 6 of the report and section 2.12 of the Policy, respectively. It was noted that Councils across the political spectrum had signed up to the Charter to ensure exploitation has no place in their supply chains.
The Co-operative Party's Charter against Modern Slavery goes further than existing law and guidance, committing councils to proactively vetting their own supply chain to ensure no instances of modern slavery are taking place.
A further proposed change to the existing Policy was the addition of a paragraph at section 5.3, regarding ‘Anonymous Allegations and Confidentiality’ to make clear that where whistle blowers wished to remain anonymous, whilst their wishes would be respected, it would be useful for them to provide a means of contact that did not reveal their identity, but would allow for further information to be obtained.
It was noted that should the revisions to the Whistleblowing Policy be approved, the Monitoring Officer would email staff to advise of the changes and the process to follow if staff wished to raise concerns.
In response to a query regarding how many people to date had used the Policy, Helen Potts, Principal Legal Officer advised that during the last year there had been three whistleblowing complaints, one from a member of staff and two from members of the public. Members were reminded that the annual report of the Monitoring Officer submitted to the Committee in June had a section on whistleblowing activity.
During further discussion, in answer to a question regarding benchmarking, Members were advised that benchmarking had been carried out with neighbouring authorities and beyond to measure the effectiveness of the whistleblowing policy. It was noted that Barnsley in 2019 received 6 whistleblowing complaints and 4 in 2020; Sheffield recorded 8 complaints between 2014-2017; Manchester from March 2017-2018, received 28 complaints, which had reduced to 12 in 2018-2020. 36 whistleblowing complaints had been reported in Leeds in July 2019. Rotherham whistleblowing report was exempt and consequently information was not available.
The Committee in noting the low numbers of whistleblowing disclosures in Doncaster considered the Policy to be effective but, felt that this should be continued to be monitored.
Reference was made to paragraph 8 of the report, regarding the whistleblowing training course on the training portal and clarity was sought as to whether training on the whistleblowing policy was mandatory, optional, or for line managers only. Members asked if whistleblowing was covered as part of an employee’s induction, or was this communicated to staff via email. It was noted that the whistleblowing training was not mandatory ... view the full minutes text for item 58.
The Committee received a report introduced by Holly Wilson, Head of Procurement which provided details of all waivers and breaches to the Council’s Contract Procedure Rules for the two month period 1st July 2020 to 31st August 2020.
The report covered a shorter period than usual, due to the report presented to the Audit Committee in July 2020 which was by exception and gave an overview in relation to contracting, procurement and governance activity over the COVID-19 situation.
The table at paragraph 3 of the report provided a summary of the number of new waivers and breaches recorded for each Directorate since the last audit report submitted to the Committee in July 2020.
It was noted that there were 0 new breaches and 8 waivers to Contract Procedure Rules for this 2 month period, details of which were provided within Appendices 1 and 2 respectively. Details of the percentage of waivers granted against the amount of the contracts awarded for this period were set out at Appendix 3.
In presenting the report, the Head of Procurement drew Members attention to paragraph 24 of the report in relation to Covid-19 related activity and reported that no further information had been received from the Cabinet Office in respect of the supply and relief of PPE since the Procurement Policy Note 02 and 04/2020 released in June regarding dealing with supply chains up to 31st October 2020.
Following the presentation of the report, the Chair invited questions from the Committee.
In reference to the Covid-19 related activity, a Member asked whether the Council could be more proactive by using local contractors, thereby keeping money in the town, which would also help stop contractors from outside of Doncaster travelling in to the area. The Head of Procurement stated that at the current time it was appropriate to keep in place the incumbent contracts arrangements with suppliers outside of Doncaster. However, she assured Members that the Procurement team was working with local suppliers where possible.
In response to a question in relation to PPE Stock levels, the Head of Procurement advised that the Department for Health and Adult Social Care would now supply the Council with free PPE for sector organisations, including, domiciliary care, domestic violence and the educational sectors, which had taken away this pressures from the Council.
In relation to the waivers outlined at Appendix 2 of the report, Members were assured that the Procurement Team provided robust challenge to contractors before applying for a waiver.
With reference to the contract ceasing on YMCA Goodall House, it was reported that this service related to a hostel arrangement for young people, which was to be de-commissioned and alternatives were being considered which would engage Doncaster Children’s Services Trust in developing a strategic programme of works. Members were assured that new arrangements would be put in place when the contract expired in March 2022.
Following further questions, the Committee welcomed the improvement in the reduction of breaches and waivers and would want this trend continue. ... view the full minutes text for item 59.
Peter Jackson, Head of Internal Audit presented a report which provided an update on the work carried out by Internal Audit for the period 1st July 2020 to 30th September and showed this in the context of the Audit Plan for the year. The report also included progress on the implementation of the audit recommendations and performance information, as detailed in Sections 3 and 4 of the report.
Following the presentation of the report, discussion followed, during which the Head of Internal Audit responded to a number of questions from Members seeking clarity on aspects of the report.
Members welcomed the work that had been undertaken with management in reviewing the Service Plans and assessing changes in service provision which had not identified any additional areas for urgent review.
In response to a question from Kathryn Smart, the Head of Internal Audit advised that he was still assessing the service areas and activities requiring Audit engagement in order to discharge the Internal Audit Service requirements and his personal responsibilities.
Following further questions, it was noted that where there had been slippage in implementing the audit recommendations, this was primarily linked to the impact of Covid-19 and revised completion dates had been agreed with service managers in all instances.
With regard to the revised Audit Plan, as detailed at paragraph 4 of the report and Section 1 of Appendix 1 respectively, it was noted that a review was ongoing. Once agreed with management, the updated plan would be circulated to the Committee.
It was noted that in common with other local authorities, audits were taking longer to complete when done virtually.
Arising from further questions, it was noted that in taking the Audit Plan forward, regard would be had to the operational experience of working in a Covid environment.
During further discussion, the Director of Corporate Resources advised that whilst Internal Audit had been supporting the Council’s Covid responsive work, given the importance of delivering the Audit Plan, the Internal Audit team would not be deployed in the same way as previously in supporting the Covid responsive work.
It was noted that the current level of resource was sufficient to provide an opinion. However, if there was a significant increase of unplanned work this would cause difficulties for the Internal Audit team. It was noted that resource levels for delivering the Internal Audit Plan would be agreed between the Head of Internal Audit and the Assistant Director of Finance and Corporate Services.
(1) to note the position of the internal audit plan;
(2) to note the internal audit work completed in the period;
(3) to note the position with regards to the implementation of previous audit recommendations; and
(4) to circulate the revised Audit Plan to Audit Committee Members when approved.
The Committee considered a report which sought approval of the Council’s audited Statement of Accounts 2019/20, as attached to the Appendix to the report and the key issues that the Committee should consider before the External Auditor issues their opinion of the financial statements.
Rob Isaac, Financial Planning and Control Manager introduced the report. It was highlighted that since the unaudited accounts were presented to the Committee in July, whilst there had been no significant changes made to the accounts, the ISO 260 providing a summary of the key aspects of Grant Thornton’s work had been updated. It was noted that overall, the report was a positive one, with 5 adjusted misstatements made to the accounts relating to Pension Fund liability and group consolidation of Doncaster Children’s Services Trust. Whilst Grant Thornton had not concluded the audit, it was anticipated that there would be no major issues identified. In these circumstances, it was recommended that the Chief Financial Officer in consultation with the Chair sign off any changes.
Grant Thornton presented the ISO 260 report, detailing the key aspects of the external auditors work for the 2019/20 audit of the statement of the accounts. The Engagement Lead highlighted the key headlines from the executive summary, in particular regarding the work on the accounts this year had been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, which had resulted in the audit taking longer than anticipated to complete, due to the audit of the accounts being done remotely which had been a challenge. It was noted that the audit was nearing completion, subject to the completion of outstanding matters in respect of the Pension Fund Liability and Group Consolidation accounts for Doncaster Children’s Services Trust,as detailed on pages 3 and 4 of the ISO 260 report. Grant Thornton had raised a small number of recommendations arising from the audit, as detailed in the Action Plan at Appendix A.
It was anticipated that Grant Thornton would give an unqualified position, subject to assurance being provided from the Pension Fund auditor in relation totheir work on the South Yorkshire Pensions Fund and the material uncertainty in relation to the valuation of the Council’s assets as a direct result of Covid 19, which was not a unique risk to Doncaster. The External Auditor concluded by stating that it was anticipated to give an unqualified Value for Money conclusion for 2019/20 which detailed work in relation to the Council’s financial standing and the Council’s preparations for Brexit.Furthermore, the Council had not had to exercise any additional statutory duties.
Following the presentation of the report, the Chair on behalf of the Committee commended representatives from Grant Thornton and Officers of the Council for their work in challenging circumstances.
It was noted that due to the impact of Covid-19 and the audit being carried out remotely, the time taken to deliver the audit has significantly increased. The proposed variation in fees to cover this additional time was due to the additional work relating to the impact of ... view the full minutes text for item 61.