Rod Alcott, external reviewer gave an overview of the conclusion and findings of the circulated report, and explained that he and Jack Straw were tasked with investigating the Council’s governance arrangements that were operating at the time and not conduct issues.
It was explained that there were there governance processes in place across the three reports which included School Reorganisation, Allt y Grug Cemetery and Cefn Coed Museum. The findings were that there were governance process in place and they were followed.
Rod Alcott went onto explain that across all three areas there were some flaws in the processes which were highlighted in the circulated reports. These flaws had been addressed in a series of recommendations attached to each report. In summary, flaws were found but not failures in governance terms, and the flaws found in the governance systems and process could be addressed. It was explained that based on extensive experience across Councils in Wales finding flaws in governance processes when you undertook reviews was not unexpected. If there was a theme to what was uncovered in terms of flaws it was around the recording of decision making, as good governance required the decisions to be recorded. If there was no documentary evidence then it was not transparent. It was highlighted that it was important that the Council learnt from this and addressed the issues through transparency of the recording of decisions.
The Chief Executive gave Members an overview of the Action Plan and recommendations as detailed in the circulated report.
Allt Y Grug Cemetery and the Highways and Engineering Works Programme
It was explained that the Director of Finance and Corporate Services would revise the decision making processes around the Council’s Capital Works Programmes so it would be clearer how the Council prioritises schemes and that would be regularly tested by the Internal Audit Service. This would mean the Governance and Audit Committee would be able to take a regular assurance that the Council was operating in accordance with the revised process that the Director of Finance and Corporate Services would be developing by the 30th September 2021.
It was noted that the role of the Capital Programme Steering Group (CPSG) would be documented in Terms of Reference. These had been drafted and would come forward to the Corporate Directors’ Group (CDG) for consideration and sign off. The points made by the reviewers regarding recording decisions appropriately were incorporated. It was highlighted that the CPSG did have notes of its meetings but did not have a comprehensive minute which set out what information had been considered at the meeting and the actions that had been agreed. It would be made clear in the new Terms of Reference that a fuller minute of those meetings was required and the CPSG would need to report to CDG regularly.
It was highlighted that the Report and all documentation would be forwarded to the Public Services Ombudsman and the Auditor General.
Action had already been taken around recording of meetings. The Terms of Reference for the Cabinet Members’ Briefing meetings would be refreshed. The terms of reference had not yet been presented to the meeting as yet but is scheduled in the next couple of weeks. Refresher training for all Members and Officers would be put in place to ensure everyone was clear of their roles and responsibilities.
The Chief Executive explained that in relation to Godre’rgraig the options appraisal around the risk of the spoil around the back of Godre’graig not having being done at the time this review was commissioned had been addressed. There had been a report to the Streetscene and Engineering Cabinet Board on 21st May where the Council commissioned specialist Civil Engineering advice on those options and once that report had been received it would go back to the Streetscene and Engineering Cabinet Board for a decision to be taken on what the next course of action would be in relation to that site.
Cefn Coed Museum
Cabinet had already been provided by a full position statement to ensure there was no confusion about what had happened to the Welsh Government Grant for the Cefn Coed Museum. There had been lengthy scrutiny of the report and the local member had participated in the meeting. A Steering Group had now been set up under the Chairmanship of the Director of Education, Leisure and Lifelong Learning to look at further options that could be brought forward in respect of Cefn Coed Museum.
The Chief Executive emphasised that in all three cases the documentation produced by the external reviewers had been shared with the Public Services Ombudsman and the Auditor General.
The Chief Executive explained that the external reviewers had also been asked to look at Member and Officer relationships. Refresher training had been arranged, funded by the Welsh Local Government Association to ensure the Member-Officer protocol is clearly understood and applied in practice. Members noted that the Auditor General had suggested that the Internal Audit Service make provision within their Internal Audit Programme to test the new arrangements that had been put in place once they had bedded in. The Chief Executive highlighted that there would be a Progress Report on how these actions had progressed and the testing done by the Internal Audit Service would come back to Governance and Audit Committee for assurance purposes.
Members questioned how the audit process would test procedures. The Chief Executive explained that the Council’s Internal Audit Service would have an input into the way in which we were proposing to change the current arrangements, so they could comment, challenge and test the changes before putting them in place. Audit Wales colleagues would also be asked to comment on the changes we are proposing to make before implementation. It was noted that after changes had some time to bed in they would take a number of transactions and test them against the processes to check the Council were working in accordance with the processes that had been designed. A report would be developed which would show the findings and whether there were any further recommendations that needed to be made. This would be expressed in the reports at Governance and Audit Committee.
The Audit Manager explained that audit would be involved in reviewing the new protocols going forward and challenging them as they needed to be measurable. The Audit Manager would attend CPSG meetings as an observer to issue any guidance and recommendations from an audit perspective and follow up reports would be issued, therefore it would be a combination of reviewing the documentation, attending the meetings, issuing reports and recommendations, this would be a rolling programme.
The Chair thanked the external reviewers for their reports and presenting at today’s committee and also thanked the Chief Executive and the external reviewers for their work.
1. That the reports provided by the external reviewers, be noted.
2. That the action plan that has been developed to respond to the findings and recommendations presented in the review reports, be noted.
2. That the Internal Audit Service will be asked to include provision within the forward audit programme to periodically test how the changes described in the action plan are being implemented and to support the Governance and Audit Committee in monitoring the progress being made, be noted.