To consider the attached report regarding an amendment to the Constitution to give the Audit and Governance Committee delegated authority for approving the Council’s annual Statement of Accounts, with effect from the 2020/21 financial year.
For information: The latest Constitution update of 5 August 2021 is published on the Council’s website and can be viewed at this link: https://rds.eppingforestdc.gov.uk/ieListMeetings.aspx?CId=638&Info=1
A Small, Strategic Director (Corporate) and 151 Officer, introduced the report. Currently on completion of the external audit, the Statement of Accounts underwent detailed consideration by the Audit and Governance Committee but required the approval of Full Council under the Constitution, in particular, the Council’s Terms of Reference – Article 4 under Section 1(c). Regulation 20 of the Accounts and Audit (Amendment) Regulations 2021 had now amended Regulation 10 of the 2015 Regulations and required the Council to publish its 2020/21 Statement of Accounts and supporting documents (together with any external audit certificate or opinion) by 30 September 2021, which had moved the deadline forward from 30 November requirement for the 2019/20 Statement of Accounts. This was a challenging timeframe. Council had supported giving delegated authority to Audit and Governance Committee at its meeting on 29 July 2021, subject to consideration by the Constitution Working Group.
Members raised the following questions:
· If the Statement of Accounts did not go to Council at what stage would members see the accounts?
· Audit and Governance was not high profile enough nor did it seem right for the Committee to both scrutinise and approve the Statement of Accounts.
· The Statement of Accounts was more prominent on the Council agenda.
· Was there a way to publicise to members that the accounts had been through Audit and Governance so that there was more an advisory announcement to Full Council, in the interests of transparency, rather than a requirement?
A Small replied that the whole process was a struggle to co-ordinate with the external auditors, then present to Audit and Governance in addition to seeking Council approval. Thus, moving the completion date forward by two months had only increased the pressure on finance officers and the external auditors. The members of the Audit and Governance Committee had a greater understanding of the technicalities of accounting. The Statement of Accounts was fairly impenetrable and took account of the findings in the external auditor’s report, which was presented alongside. All members could attend Audit and Governance Committee and the agenda was published online accompanied by all the relevant documents. In previous years the Statement of Accounts had not generated much scrutiny at Council but was more a straightforward process of approval.
Councillor J Philip, Portfolio Holder (Finance, Qualis Client and Economic Development), fully supported approval of the Statement of Accounts by Audit and Governance Committee. There had not been any significant issues raised at Full Council in past years. Audit and Governance was a specialist committee that received input from the external auditor and looked at the Statement of the Accounts in great detail. From an overall operational view, the opinion of Audit and Governance Committee was already accepted, so there was no point in having Full Council rubberstamp the Statement of Accounts. Therefore, to keep to the timescales it was the sensible and straightforward approach to take. He would continue to notify Council members about the progress of the Statement of Accounts as this was important and would highlight any issues at appropriate times.
Councillor M Sartin remarked that councillors should be following the progress of the Statement of Accounts and suggested it was also publicised in the Bulletin when it was due to go before the Audit and Governance Committee.
That the Constitution Working Group recommended to Council the amendment of the Constitution under Article 4, section 1(c), to give the Audit and Governance Committee delegated authority for approving the Council’s annual Statement of Accounts, with effect from the 2020/21 financial year.