Agenda and minutes

Audit & Governance Committee
Monday, 27th July, 2020 7.00 pm

Venue: Virtual Meeting on Zoom. View directions

Contact: Gary Woodhall  Tel: 01992 564243 Email:  democraticservices@eppingforestdc.gov.uk

Media

Items
No. Item

16.

Webcasting Introduction

This meeting is to be webcast. The Chairman will read the following announcement:

 

Please note that this virtual meeting may be filmed for live or subsequent broadcast via the Council's internet site - at the start of the meeting the Chairman will confirm if all or part of the meeting is being filmed.

 

You should be aware that the Council is a Data Controller under the Data Protection Act. Data collected during this webcast will be retained in accordance with the Council’s published policy.

 

Therefore by participating in this virtual meeting, you are consenting to being filmed and to the possible use of those images and sound recordings for webcasting and/or training purposes. If members of the public do not wish to have their image captured they should ensure that their video setting throughout the virtual meeting is turned off and set to audio only.

 

In the event that technical difficulties interrupt the virtual meeting that cannot be overcome, the Chairman may need to adjourn the meeting.

 

If you have any queries regarding this, please contact the Corporate Communications Manager on 01992 564039.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Chairman made a short address to remind everyone present that this virtual meeting would be broadcast live to the internet, and would be capable of repeated viewing, which could infringe their human and data protection rights.

17.

Declarations of Interest

(Monitoring Officer) To declare interests in any item on the agenda for the meeting of the Committee.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest pursuant to the Council’s Member Code of Conduct.

18.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 142 KB

(Democratic & Electoral Services Manager) To confirm the minutes of the meeting of the Committee held on 25 June 2020 (attached).

Additional documents:

Minutes:

          Resolved:

 

(1)        That the minutes of the meeting held on 25 June 2020 be taken as read and signed by the Chairman as a correct record.

19.

Matters Arising

(Democratic & Electoral Services Manager) To consider any matters arising from the minutes of the previous meeting of the Committee.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

There were no matters arising from the previous meeting which warranted further discussion.

20.

Audit & Governance Committee - Work Programme pdf icon PDF 102 KB

(Chief Internal Auditor) To consider the attached work programme for the Committee for 2020/21.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Chief Internal Auditor presented the Committee’s Work Programme for 2020/21.

 

The Chairman informed the Committee that consideration of the Council’s Statutory Statement of Accounts for 2019/20 would be considered at the Committee’s next meeting in September now, and not at tonight’s meeting.

 

The Committee noted its Work Programme for 2020/21.

21.

Planning Services Directorate Risks

(Service Director – Planning Services) To consider the risks involved with the stance of Natural England on planning applications affecting the Special Area of Conservation within Epping Forest, as well as the risks for other areas within the Directorate.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Service Director for Planning Services, N Richardson, updated the Committee on the risks currently facing his Directorate.

 

N Richardson stated that the biggest risk was the inability of the Council to issue planning permissions for new developments affecting the Special Area of Conservation (SAC) within the Epping Forest. The main issue affecting this risk was the increased amounts of traffic from developments affecting the SAC; therefore, any development leading to a net increase in traffic on the roads within 200 metres of the SAC should not be granted permission unless mitigation measures had been put in place. A small number of planning permissions had been issued where the Developer had been able to demonstrate that no harm would arise to the SAC, but Natural England was a statutory consultee and the Council could only depart from Natural England’s advice when it had strong reasons for doing so.

 

N Richardson reported that the District’s draft Local Plan had designated a number of sites across the District for residential development. The draft Local Plan was currently subject to independent inspection from the appointed Planning Inspector, who had identified a number of actions for the Council to take to resolve this issue. The Council had been working on this issue through modelling, but Natural England and the Conservators of Epping Forest had raised concerns about the methodology being used by the Council. The whole issue was highly technical and scientific, but the Service Director was optimistic that a solution could be found. The Cabinet had agreed the Mitigation Strategy at its meeting last week, and the Council would continue to work with Natural England and the Conservators to find a solution.

 

N Richardson commented that there were many local developers frustrated with the current situation, some of whom had waited two years for their planning permissions, and the Council was not now submitting such applications for determination unless mitigation of the potential effects on the SAC had been clearly demonstrated. Air quality was an issue highlighted in the draft Local Plan, for which the Planning Inspector had queried some of the allocations and the Council had made some changes to these allocations subsequently. However, the Service Director was optimistic that the draft Local Plan would get adopted in early 2021.

 

N Richardson added that the situation was frustrating for Planning Officers also, as the permissions that could be released currently affected the whole of the District because, potentially, traffic could travel through the Forest. Fortunately, the majority of the planning applications received by the Council were for extensions to residential properties, which were not affected by this issue.

 

Cllr R Jennings queried if this Council was the only local authority in England in this position? N Richardson stated that Portsmouth City Council had water quality issues to resolve and the Council had been liaising with them. The Council had also been trying to engage with the District’s three Members of Parliament to highlight this issue at a higher level.

 

Cllr S Heap  ...  view the full minutes text for item 21.

22.

Annual Governance Statement 2019/20 pdf icon PDF 155 KB

(Section 151 Officer)   To consider and approve the Council’s Annual Governance Statement for 2019/20 (AGC-008-2020/21).

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Chief Internal Auditor, S Marsh, presented a report on the Council’s Annual Governance Statement for 2019/20.

 

S Marsh reminded the Committee that the Council’s Statutory Statement of Accounts had to be prepared in accordance with the Accounts & Audit Regulations 2015. Within the regulations, and in accordance with defined ‘proper practice’, there was a mandatory requirement to publish an Annual Governance Statement to accompany the Statutory Statement of Accounts. These arrangements were designed to provide stakeholders with assurance regarding the adequacy of the Council’s governance arrangements, and identify those areas where improvements were required.

 

S Marsh reported that the Annual Governance statement had identified progress on four significant governance issues during 2019/20; these being:

 

            (i)         Business Continuity Planning;

 

(ii)        the Economic Climate, and in particular the continuing uncertainty over Brexit;

 

(iii)       the compliance of the Council’s statutory posts with relevant legislation; and

 

(iv)       the close down of the Council’s Accounts.

 

S Marsh informed the Committee that four areas had been identified for improvement or monitoring during 2020/21; these being:

 

(i)         the monitoring and mitigation of risks to the achievement of the Council’s objectives;

 

(ii)        financial resilience due to the Covid-19 pandemic;

 

(iii)       the health and safety of staff, partners and the public during the Covid-19 pandemic; and

 

(iv)       the governance arrangements for the new Qualis group of companies.

 

S Marsh added that a number of common themes had been identified, including the need for a consistent Project Management approach, documented procedures and guidance notes to support critical functions, and the identification of mandatory training requirements for all staff.

 

S Marsh stated that the Annual Governance statement demonstrated the Council’s governance arrangements had remained ‘fit for purpose’, even when the Leader of Council invoked his Emergency Powers at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in March 2020, and there had been no significant detrimental effect on the Council’s ability to deliver its services. The longer term impact of the pandemic on the governance framework would be monitored throughout 2020/21.

 

In respect of the Council’s procedures and guidance notes, Cllr I Hadley commented that it would be beneficial to review them at some stage, and also enquired if all of the processes were in the same format? Cllr S Heap also added that the Council needed a standard process to ensure that future handovers were handled efficiently. S Marsh responded that that was being progressed.

 

Cllr S Heap asked in respect of the Financial Resilience item whether the Council was particularly worried about its current levels of debt, which he estimated to be approximately £8million (or about £61 per resident of the District). A Small agreed that the current debt was relatively small, but the Council needed to maintain an adequate level of reserves and the Covid-19 pandemic would have an impact on this. In addition, the financial landscape would be more complicated over the next few years so the Council could conceivably need a higher level of reserves. It would be unsustainable for the Council to continually  ...  view the full minutes text for item 22.

23.

Internal Audit Monitoring Report - July 2020 pdf icon PDF 317 KB

(Chief Internal Auditor) To review the work undertaken by the Internal Audit and Corporate Fraud Teams since the last meeting of the Committee in June 2020 (AGC-009-2020/21).

Additional documents:

Minutes:

S Linsley presented the Internal Audit Monitoring Report for the period June to July 2020.

 

S Linsley reported that one report had been issued since the Committee’s previous meeting on 25 June 2020. This report had been focused on the governance arrangements for the Harlow Gilston Garden Town project and had been issued with substantial assurance. The current Recommendation Tracker showed 14 audit report recommendations had passed their due date, of which one was high priority. The progress of all audit recommendations continued to be monitored by the Corporate Governance Group.

 

S Linsley highlighted the other activities being undertaken by the Internal Audit Team, which included: providing advice and assistance for the Local Authority Discretionary Grants Fund for small businesses not eligible for the other Government schemes; and assisting with developing a schedule of responsibilities for each level of the Council’s management structure. The Corporate Fraud Team had been instrumental in the withdrawal of five Right-to-Buy applications, and had also been involved in a fraud resilience project concerning Council Tax Student Exemptions.

 

In respect of personal data being shared by email with Members, S Linsley reported that a new solution was being developed for those Members using their personal email addresses. Cllr R Jennings enquired if steps were being taken to ensure that confidential information was not able to be accessed by individuals passing by a Councillor’s home. Cllr J Philip informed the Committee that if the Councillor was using a Council laptop computer then no data would leave the laptop unencrypted.

 

Cllr I Hadley queried if all staff working from home during the pandemic had completed personal safety assessments? A Small responded that some issues with working from home had been highlighted by staff, and consequently the Cabinet had agreed an allowance should be made available for each member of staff working from home to address these issues. The Council took the mental health and general wellbeing of its staff seriously, and any issues identified by staff were being addressed.

 

Cllr S Heap reiterated his belief – mentioned in previous meetings of the Committee - that the Committee needed to be notified about any allegations of fraud by members of staff.

 

            Resolved:

 

(1)        That the summary of the work undertaken by the Internal Audit Team and the Corporate Fraud Team during the period June to July 2020 be noted.

24.

Any Other Business

(Democratic & Electoral Services Manager) Section 100B(4)(b) of the Local Government Act 1972 requires that the permission of the Chairman be obtained, after prior notice to the Chief Executive, before urgent business not specified in the agenda (including a supplementary agenda of which the statutory period of notice has been given) may be transacted.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee noted that there was no other urgent business for discussion at the meeting.

25.

Exclusion of Public and Press

Exclusion:

(Democratic & Electoral Services Manager) To consider whether, under Section 100(A)(4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the public and press should be excluded from the meeting for the items of business set out below on grounds that they will involve the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in the following paragraph(s) of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the Act (as amended) or are confidential under Section 100(A)(2):

 

Agenda Item No

Subject

Exempt Information Paragraph Number

Nil

Nil

Nil

 

The Local Government (Access to Information) (Variation) Order 2006, which came into effect on 1 March 2006, requires the Council to consider whether maintaining the exemption listed above outweighs the potential public interest in disclosing the information. Any member who considers that this test should be applied to any currently exempted matter on this agenda should contact the proper officer at least 24 hours prior to the meeting.

 

Background Papers: 

(Democratic & Electoral Services Manager) Article 17 of the Constitution (Access to Information) define background papers as being documents relating to the subject matter of the report which in the Proper Officer's opinion:

 

(a)        disclose any facts or matters on which the report or an important part of the report is based;  and

 

(b)        have been relied on to a material extent in preparing the report and does not include published works or those which disclose exempt or confidential information and in respect of executive reports, the advice of any political advisor.

 

The Council will make available for public inspection one copy of each of the documents on the list of background papers for four years after the date of the meeting. Inspection of background papers can be arranged by contacting either the Responsible Officer or the Democratic Services Officer for the particular item.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

The Committee noted that there was no business which necessitated the exclusion of the public and press.