Meeting documents

Audit Committee
Tuesday, 20th December, 2016 9.30 am

Date: Tuesday 20th December 2016 Time: 9.30 a.m. Place: Council Chamber, Civic Centre, Ebbw Vale

Please note: all Minutes are subject to approval at the next Meeting

PresentAndWithAlsoReport toReport of
COUNCILLOR J. MASON (CHAIR)
Item
No
Item/Resolution Status Action
PUBLIC
1. APOLOGIES

Apologies for absence were received from Mr. P. Williams (Co-opted Member).

Noted
2. DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST AND DISPENSATIONS

No declarations of interest or dispensations were reported.

Noted
3. AUDIT COMMITTEE
Report (243K/bytes)

The minutes of the Audit Committee held on 27th September, 2016 were submitted, whereupon:-

Councillor Dally reported that his attendance had been omitted from the minutes.

The Chief Accountant Corporate Services referred to page 11 of the minutes and reported that information had been received from CIPFA on the 9th November, 2016, stating that the new accounting requirements for the Highways Network Asset was now expected to be implemented in 2017/16, and as result would not impact on the 2016/17 accounts.

RESOLVED, subject to the foregoing, that the minutes be received as a true record of proceedings.

Agreed
4. ACTION SHEET

There were no actions arising from the meeting of the Audit Committee held on 27th September, 2016.

Noted
5. WALES AUDIT OFFICE ANNUAL IMPROVEMENT REPORT 2015/16.
Report (80K/bytes)
Appendix 1 (464K/bytes)

Consideration was given to report of the Wales Audit Office.

The Team Leader Performance & Scrutiny presented the Wales Audit Office Annual Improvement Report for Blaenau Gwent. Each year the Auditor General was required to audit the improvement planning and reporting arrangements of Welsh Councils to assess whether they would meet statutory continuous improvement duties, and this work was undertaken by the Wales Audit Office. He said progress would be monitored via the appropriate Scrutiny Committee, and future Wales Audit Office reports would be reported to the Audit Committee.

The Chair confirmed that the report had been submitted to the Corporate Overview Scrutiny Committee and the Executive Committee.

RESOLVED that the report be accepted and the Audit Committee acknowledge the content of the report and receive future reports from the Wales Audit Office.

Agreed
6. WALES AUDIT OFFICE CERTIFICATE OF COMPLIANCE FOR THE AUDIT OF BLAENAU GWENT COUNTY BOROUGH COUNCIL'S ASSESSMENT OF 2015-16 PERFORMANCE
Report (27K/bytes)
Appex (104K/bytes)

Consideration was given to Wales Audit Office report.

The Team Leader Performance & Scrutiny presented the report and pointed out that the Wales Audit Office Certificate of Compliance followed the audit of the Council's assessment of the 2015/16 performance, and not 2014/15 as stated on page 58 of the report.

He said under the Local Government (Wales) Measure, the Council was required to annually publish an assessment which described its performance before 31st October in the financial year following that to which the information related.

RESOLVED, subject to the foregoing, that the report be accepted and the Audit Committee acknowledge the content of the report and receive future reports from the Wales Audit Office.

Agreed
7. AUDIT PLAN PROGRESS REPORT JULY TO SEPTEMBER 2016
Report (95K/bytes)
Appex A (66K/bytes)
Appex B1 (93K/bytes)
Appex B2 (89K/bytes)
Appex B3 (90K/bytes)
Appex B4 (95K/bytes)
Appex C (61K/bytes)
Appex D (92K/bytes)

Consideration was given to report of the Audit Manager.

The Head of Internal Audit presented the report which updated the Audit Committee on progress against the Internal Audit Plan for the period 1st July, 2016 to 30th September, 2016.

The Officer reported that as at 30th September, 2016 the section had completed 42.06% of the Audit Plan against a target of 40.16%. This figure was reflective of the overall Internal Audit productivity to September 2016. However, the adjusted plan percentage of 38.77% reflected the Audit Activities that supported her annual audit opinion, and it was intended to develop this approach further for next year.

Members went through the report and sought clarification on the following:-

Audit of Town Centre Regeneration Loans and Grants

The Officer explained that the audit looked at grants in relation to the Vibrant and Viable Places and Tredegar Heritage programmes in terms of what the grant provided, and tested applications to ensure that they were awarded in line with the criteria.

Appendix B1 Systems Audit - Housing Benefit

In response to a question raised by a Member regarding overpayments of Housing Benefit, the Head of Revenues, Benefits & ICT said every effort was made to recover all overpayments relevant to the individual.

However, this could sometimes be a lengthy process particularly when people were in receipt of benefits.

A Member referred to the summary of findings, in particular where a claim had been paid without receipt of the necessary evidence of proof of rent. The Officer said it was possible to make payments on account in anticipation of evidence being received, but in this instance the award should have been suspended at an earlier stage.

She confirmed that systems for housing benefits management checks were in place, and these were undertaken by very experienced members of staff. Training issues had been identified as part of the audit, and arrangements would be made for this to be undertaken. The action plan to address the issues would be monitored on regular basis to ensure that issues did not recur.

The Head of Financial Services reminded Members that the vast majority of overpayments were due to changes in circumstances of housing benefit claimants and not staff errors.

In response to a Member's question regarding the amount of overpayment, the Head of Internal Audit said it was a 'moving target' and was very difficult to quantify at a point in time.

A Member requested an analysis of benefit overpayments to be provided to a future Audit Committee providing information on the number of overpayments raised and those that have been recovered.

A Member said benefit claimants should be informed of their responsibility to inform the Department of any changes in their circumstances as soon as possible.

The Head of Revenues, Benefits & ICT said all claimants were notified and reminded of their duty to inform of changes in circumstances, and it was also published on the Council's website. Also from January 2017 the Council would be able to accept notification of change of circumstances by telephone.

The WAO Representative informed Members that WAO undertook an audit of Housing Benefit Subsidiary claims that the Authority received from the DWP on an annual basis. This involved checks being undertaken of a wide range of cases, and he assured that the Authority had very few adjustments compared with the vast number of subsidiary claims it dealt with.

The Chair said the work of the Audit Team was very complex and commended them for their excellent work, in light of reduced resources.


Appendix B4 - Systems Audit - Homelessness Grant

The Audit Manager said there was no Officer available from the relevant Department to attend the meeting, but confirmed that any specific issues would be fed back.

In response to a question raised, the Audit Manager said this was a new grant for the Authority and the deadline for acceptance of the grant funding was not met this time, however, the Officer would ensure that future deadlines are kept.

A Member referred to the issue of duplicate invoices being included, and the Audit Manager confirmed that verification systems were now in place to prevent this happening in the future.

A brief discussion ensued regarding the number of audits being undertaken compared with other Local Authorities, and the Head of Financial Services confirmed that potential options for reporting performance measures to Committee would be considered.

RESOLVED that the report be accepted and the Audit Committee acknowledge the progress made during the period 1st July, 2016 to 30th September, 2016.

Agreed
TO RECEIVE AND CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING REPORT(S) WHICH IN THE OPINION OF THE PROPER OFFICER IS/ARE AN EXEMPT ITEM(S) TAKING INTO ACCOUNT CONSIDERATION OF THE PUBLIC INTEREST TEST AND THAT THE PRESS AND PUBLIC SHOULD BE EXCLUDED FROM THE MEETING (THE REASON FOR THE DECISION FOR THE EXEMPTION IS AVAILABLE ON A SCHEDULE MAINTAINED BY THE PROPER OFFICER)
8. INTERNAL AUDIT - REVIEW OF ALL 2014/15 HOUSING BENEFIT CLAIMS PAID IN RESPECT OF PROPERTIES RENTED FROM AN INDIVIDUAL LANDLORD
Report (94K/bytes)
Appendix 1 (114K/bytes)

Having regard to the views expressed by the Proper Officer regarding the public interest test, that on balance the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighed the public interest in disclosing the information and that the report should be exempt.

RESOLVED that the public be excluded whilst this item of business is transacted as it was likely there would be a disclosure of exempt information as defined in Paragraph 16, Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended).

Consideration was given to report of the Senior Auditor.

The Officer presented the report which detailed the findings of the review of all Housing Benefit claims that were paid in respect of tenants of an individual landlord operating within the Local Authority area, which was undertaken as part of an internal investigation in response to alleged maladministration of Housing Benefit and Discretionary Housing Payments. The report had been received by the Benefit Section with further investigations made in respect of all the findings, and appropriate actions taken where applicable.

In response to a question raised, the Head of Revenues, Benefits & ICT said regular management checks were undertaken of certain staff, however senior staff in post for several years would not undergo the same level of checks.

A Member referred to the Officers Code of Conduct, and whether it was appropriate for Officers to process claims made by a landlord that was known to them.

The Officer explained that the Officers Code of Conduct was strictly adhered to, and employees would have to declare a relationship etc. However, in this particular case it would not have benefitted the individual to declare the relationship.

A discussion ensued when the Head of Revenues, Benefits & ICT clarified points raised by Members in relation to the investigation. She confirmed that a number of processes had been changed as a result of this case.

The WAO Representative reported that Internal Audit notified WAO immediately of their suspicions of maladministration, and kept WAO updated throughout the review. He said assurance was provided through both the Local Authority and DWP, and WAO was content with the course of action taken by the Local Authority.

RESOLVED that the report which contained information relating to a claim for legal professional privilege could be maintained in legal proceedings, be accepted and the Audit Committee:-

i. Support the findings made; and

ii. Receive a further report on the subsequent systems and processes put in place.

Agreed
9. UPDATE ON INTERNAL AUDIT REVIEW
Report (109K/bytes)
Appendix 1 (239K/bytes)
Appendix 2 (129K/bytes)

Having regard to the views expressed by the Proper Officer regarding the public interest test, that on balance the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighed the public interest in disclosing the information and that the report should be exempt.

RESOLVED that the public be excluded whilst this item of business is transacted as it was likely there would be a disclosure of exempt information as defined in Paragraph 15, Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972 (as amended).

Consideration was given to report of the Head of School Improvement & Inclusion.

The Head of School Improvement & Inclusion presented the report which provided an evaluation of progress made at one of the Borough's Primary Schools in response to concerns reported by Internal Audit in January 2016.

The report had been received and acted upon by the Corporate Director of Education and the Acting Head-teacher, and the actions agreed to address the weaknesses identified have been fully implemented. The Governing Body of the school has received a copy of the report and the Memorandum relating to the follow-up review.

The Officer informed the Audit Committee that the warning notice had now been removed from the School, as they had made sufficient progress, and it was anticipated that the School would move from category red to amber following national mediation in January.

A discussion ensued when the Head of Internal Audit clarified points raised by Members, and it was

RESOLVED that the report which contained information relating to consultations or negotiations in connection with any labour relations matters be accepted, and the Audit Committee support the findings made.

Agreed
DECISIONS UNDER DELEGATED POWERS