To receive and consider report 15/09 of the Audit Manager.
The Committee received and considered report 15/09 of the Audit Manager which set out details of recent Internal Audit activity, including reports on ten individual audits of the Council’s operations. Of these audits, one had been given a full assurance rating, five were rated as satisfactory and four were given a limited assurance rating. It was these four audits with limited assurance the Committee focussed its attention.
Housing and Council Tax Benefits
The Committee questioned the service managers on various aspects of this audit which had received a limited assurance rating.
Internal Audit had recommended that Capita should provide the Council with a list of outstanding cheques to facilitate the cancellation on the financial banking system. Furthermore, the Council should be provided with information to support the reconciliation of housing benefit between the Academy and Agresso systems to provide assurance to the Audit Commission that prudent financial management had been established between the Council and its service provider. Members stressed the importance of bank reconciliation and were given assurances that all cheques up to the end of the 2008/09 financial year had been reconciled and the general bank account reconciliation was up to date. The Officers agreed to prioritise bank reconciliation and ensure that monthly checks were made to keep this up to date. (Note - Since the Committee meeting, the Head of Finance has confirmed that all bank reconciliations are up to date in 2009/10.)
Members queried why two of the Internal Audit’s recommendations had not been agreed by Capita. These recommended (1) that Capita’s system be used to denote the checking process undertaken by team leaders to enable them to provide assurance to the Council that the level of checking was adequate and effective, and (2) that Capita should review the components of the Quality Check Analysis report to ensure the information stated the number and nature of errors to assist the Client Team to improve and develop the benefit assessment process. Darren Keen, Capita’s representative, reported that he disagreed with the recommendations as he saw no reason for further detail. His own internal client information provided sufficient detail for the client manager to check on Capita’s performance. The Council’s Contract Manager agreed with Capita’s response. The Audit Manager was satisfied that acceptable alternative controls were being used. However, these would be checked at the follow-up audit stage.
In answer to a question from a Member, it was noted that the Council Tax and Housing Benefits service was monitored by the Ridgeway Shared Service Partnership Strategic Board on a monthly basis, either formally or by way of informal briefings. Internal Audit also carried out annual audits of this service. The Audit Manager reported that despite only achieving limited assurance, the service had improved since the audit had been undertaken. However, the Committee requested that an interim report was made to a future meeting on the operation of this service.
Freedom of Information
It was noted that an officer group consisting of representatives from each service area was responsible for the management of Freedom of Information requests. Of the 184 requests in 2008, only a few had not been correctly dealt with. The Legal Services Manager had been requested to ensure that all such requests were correctly responded to and cited an example in one service where this had not occurred. The public had the right to ask for information and there was a need to convey this message to all staff. It was noted that the Freedom of Information Policy would be reviewed in the autumn by the Legal Services Manager.
The creditor payments service had again received a limited assurance rating but the auditor was hopeful that recent improvements would result in a better assurance rating at the next audit.
It was noted that further to the report, all of the actions had since been agreed by the service manager. The Audit Manager had been asked to temporarily act as Payroll Manager to improve the service following the transfer of the Payroll service to Finance and following previous limited assurance ratings by Internal Audit. A contract auditor would be used to carry out audits of the payroll service for the next three years to ensure no conflict of interest.
Despite receiving a satisfactory assurance rating, Members queried why the emergency plan for some services was incomplete. It was noted that the Council was in the process of reviewing its emergency planning processes and it was intended to adopt similar arrangements to those operating effectively at South Oxfordshire District Council. However, work on this had been suspended temporarily pending a county-wide review of emergency planning by Oxfordshire County Council.
This had received a satisfactory assurance. However, Members suggested that the officers checked whether Criminal Records Bureau checks should be introduced for emergency planning volunteers.
(a) that the report be noted; and
(b) that an interim audit report on the Housing and Council Tax Benefits service be made to the meeting of the Committee due to be held in January 2010.