Agenda and minutes

Standards and Audit Committee - Wednesday, 19th July, 2023 7.00 pm

Venue: Committee Room 2, Civic Offices, New Road, Grays, Essex, RM17 6SL

Contact: Rhiannon Whiteley, Senior Democratic Services Officer  Email:


No. Item


Minutes pdf icon PDF 134 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of the Standards and Audit Committeemeeting held on 23 February 2023.


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The minutes of the Standards and Audit Committee meeting held on 23 February 2023 were approved as a correct record.


Items of Urgent Business pdf icon PDF 88 KB

To receive additional items that the Chair is of the opinion should be considered as a matter of urgency, in accordance with Section 100B (4) (b) of the Local Government Act 1972.

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The Chair agreed to hear two internal audit reports as items of urgent business as they were scheduled for this meeting but had missed the deadline to be included in the published agenda. The reports had been circulated to members in advance of the meeting and were published online so they were available to the public.


Chief Internal Auditor’s Annual Report – Year ended 31st March 2023 (including summarised report for Year ended 31st March 2022)


The Chief Internal Auditor introduced the report and explained that under the Public Sector Internal Audit Standards, the Chief Internal Auditor is required to provide the Section 151 Officer and the Council with an opinion on the adequacy and effectiveness of the organisation’s governance, risk management and control arrangements. In giving this opinion it should be noted that assurance can never be absolute. The most that the internal audit service can provide is a reasonable assurance that there are no major weaknesses in the risk management, governance and control processes.

The Chief Internal Auditor confirmed that the report has been split into two sections. The first part of the report is a summary to cover off the 2021/22 audit opinion which did not get presented last year. The opinion for 2021/22 was delayed due to low resourcing of the Internal Audit team. The report was subsequently deferred to September 2022 but following Intervention of the Secretary of State, it was agreed that further work was required with the Commissioners in place. The second part is the 2022/23 opinion.

The Chief Internal Auditor confirmed that based on outcomes from the Intervention and BVI report his overall opinion on governance, risk management and internal control for 2021/22 isRed which is a No Assurance opinion.

For 2022/23, the Chief Internal Auditor was unable to give an opinion due to the resource issues, which resulted in very limited work being undertaken, and the Intervention and Best Value report.

The Chief Internal Auditor highlighted at paragraph 3.7 of the report what he plans to address and this will include the following: -

·               Improving communications, the supply of information and provision of training to members of the Standards & Audit Committee.

·               Meeting regularly with the Chair of the Standards & Audit Committee on a one-to-one basis to discuss any specific concerns around the governance, risk management controls of the Council.

Members were invited to ask questions, key points raised included:

-       The internal audit team recruited two internal auditors in September 2022, a senior auditor has also been recruited. There is still one vacant post in the team. The Chief Internal Auditor confirmed they are looking at utilising the APEX framework with Mazars. A meeting is taking place with Mazars on Friday to see how they can support the team. They are also considering the possibility of a shared service with another Local Authority.

-       The implications of the internal audit were discussed and it was confirmed there was no regulatory risk but the external audit cannot place much  ...  view the full minutes text for item 40.


Declaration of Interests

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No interests were declared.


Terms of Reference pdf icon PDF 378 KB

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The Senior Democratic Services Officer confirmed that on page 15 of the agenda the terms of reference for the Committee is set out as it is in the constitution. It sets out important information about the committee. Members are asked to note and comment on the terms of reference.

The Chair added that members can comment if there is something they feel should or should not be in the terms of reference.

-       It was confirmed the external audit strategy and materiality level remains the same

-       It was noted the frequency of meeting required is at least 4 but extraordinary meetings could be arranged it required

-       The size of the Committee is set by Full Council, if the Committee wanted to expand it this would need to be agreed at Full Council and this is also the same for substitutes. Through group leaders nominations can be made.

-       The Interim Director of Legal and Governance and Monitoring Officer confirmed that judging by other Local Authorities who have gone into intervention, it could take 3-5 years to get the direction lifted and get the Council’s powers back. At the moment, the powers are with the Commissioners until the Secretary of State lifts the Direction. In the future, more inspectoral work could be introduced though the audit team and regular peer reviews could achieve something similar to the BVI report.

ACTION 2: Democratic Services to complete a benchmarking review of Standard and Audit Committees in terms of membership and Terms of Reference.



Verbal Update - External Audit Progress Report 2020/21

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Rachel Brittain of BDO confirmed she had circulated an update timeline for the external audit. She explained that there are many factors involved in delivering the audit and it depends on receipt of good quality working papers. At the end of July the working papers needed to complete the audit were agreed. BDO are currently assessing and discussing the impacts from the Best Value Inspection report and undertaking a full revised risk assessment.

In September the revised audit plan and risk assessment will be brought to Committee. The finalisation process will be completed in December with a view to presenting the complete report to Committee in late December or January.

-       The Interim Director of Finance and S151 officer confirmed that an additional resource has been brought in 2-3 days a week to assist with the audit. They will also be looking at prior years to 1st April 2018 to adjust accounts and assess the value of investments in light of what is known now and to confirm the values of investments at different points in time. The Interim Director of Finance and S151 officer confirmed it is a complex piece of work and although Thurrock’s position is unique, numerous audits are delayed at various other Local Authorities.

-       An audit request tracker is in place called the in-flow system which monitors all requests made and the finance team at Thurrock Council can respond on the tracker.




Gifts and Hospitality pdf icon PDF 90 KB

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The Interim Director of Legal and Governance and Monitoring Officer introduced the report. She explained that it is the first report of its kind to be presented to the Standards and Audit Committee.


The Members Code of Conduct provides that Members must register with the Monitoring Officer any gift or hospitality with an estimated value of at least £50 within 28 days of the date it was received. The Monitoring Officer is responsible for the register and any declarations must be made to the Monitoring Officer. A form is now required to be completed even to register a nil return to ensure members apply their mind to this issue. The presumption is that Members should always not accept significant gifts or hospitality.

Members were invited to ask questions, key points raised included:

-       The Co-Opted Member requested that the register be made available to the public to check at any time

-       Councillor Liddiard queried that favours and hospitality were often harder to define than gifts. The Monitoring Officer confirmed that if in doubt a member should declare it to the Monitoring Officer and also if they feel they are being put under pressure by anyone. There are lots of different scenarios where undue pressure and influence can arise and depending on the circumstances the Monitoring Officers advice will differ.

-       The meeting discussed when businesses donate money for mayoral events. The Monitoring Officer clarified that this was different as the Mayor would be receiving it as a civic duty as the First Citizen. A Mayoral Register was discussed and the Monitoring Officer agreed she will look into this.

-       It was clarified if a Member fails to declare the Monitoring Officer will complete an investigation and if found in breach of the Code of Conduct sanctions could be applied and the matter will be brought back to this Committee and a hearing could take place.

The Chair proposed an additional recommendation at 1.4 which was seconded by Councillor Liddiard and unanimously agreed by the Members of the Committee.


ACTION 3: The Head of Democratic, Scrutiny, and Member Services will look into making the register of Gifts and Hospitality to be published online so it is available to the public at all times

ACTION 4: Members Services will look into a Mayoral Register and provide feedback to the Committee




That the Standards and Audit Committee:

1.1          Notes the report.


1.2     Receives a review of the Gifts and Hospitality Register for Councillors on an annual basis.


1.3      Notes and comments on the process for great transparency and accountability for gifts and hospitality set out in paragraph 2.7.


1.4      Asks the accountable Director to look into whether a live Register of Gifts and Hospitality can be published online and updated regularly so the public can see it




Member Training Schedule 2023/24 pdf icon PDF 94 KB

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The Head of Democratic, Scrutiny, and Member Services introduced the report and explained it has been brought to the Committee so they can provide input and comment on the training schedule, which had been refreshed following the intervention.

Members were invited to ask questions, key points raised included:

-       Committee members had noted an increase in training

-       Committee members raised the issue of training clashing with other meetings. It was confirmed that there are a lot of evening committee meetings which made it difficult to slot in evening training sessions that didn’t clash with anything. Training in the daytime was a challenge as lots of members work during the day. It was clarified that mop up sessions would be provided to assist with this and online or video recorded training sessions were also being looked into.

-       Committee members were assured that training must be useful and accessible to them.

-       The use of a Member Training Passport was discussed to identify gaps in training.

The Chair proposed an amendment to recommendation 1.5 that the Committee would delegate a representative from Democratic Services to work with Group Leaders to obtain nominations for the sub-committee and this was unanimously agreed by Members.




1.1          For the Standards and Audit Committee to review and comment on the Member Training Schedule for 2023/24.


1.2          The Committee agree to receive a quarterly report, where necessary, on Member attendance and feedback at training sessions.


1.3          Establish a Sub-committee of the Standards and Audit Committee to oversee and engage with Member Learning and Development.


1.4          Agree the terms of reference attached at appendix D for the proposed sub-committee.


1.5          To make and agree nominations to the sub-committee membership. The Committee agree to delegate a representative of Democratic Services to work with Group Leaders and obtain nominations for the sub-committee.




Complaints received under the Member's Code of Conduct - Report to Follow pdf icon PDF 90 KB

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The Interim Director of Legal and Governance and Monitoring Officer introduced the report. She explained that the report sets out, in summary, details of complaints against members of theCouncil received during the municipal year 2022/23.


The Interim Director of Legal and Governance and Monitoring Officer confirmed that the report was very restricted and did not confirm names or detailed information about the complaint however more information could be given to members in an exempt session. There is an exempt spreadsheet which is restricted due to personal and confidential data contained within. The spreadsheet in the report going forward can contain additional information requested by members. The Interim Director of Legal and Governance and Monitoring Officer confirmed they can also look at themes of complaints and link this with member learning development.


Members were invited to ask questions, key points raised included:

-       Members queried the length of time it took to investigate complaints. The Monitoring Officer confirmed she was happy to bring this back to Committee.

-       The Committee discussed the possible sanctions for complaints eg an informal apology or an agreement for a member to attend further training

-       Vexatious complaints were discussed. The Monitoring Officer confirmed she will need to look if Thurrock has vexatious policy.

-       Members queried if the number of complaints was high. The Monitoring Officer confirmed they do look on the high side however she can complete some benchmarking work and bring this back to Committee.

-       The meeting discussed members attendance at committees and issues when meetings clashed with other meetings and this affecting their attendance as they cannot be in two places at once. Members requested that this is noted as it should not affect their attendance.

-       The meeting discussed if the Council uses AI now and what plans there might be to use it in the future


ACTION 5 – The Monitoring Officer will update the Committee if Thurrock Council has a vexatious policy


ACTION 6 – The Monitoring Officer will look into providing the Committee with training on how to run a complaints hearing including a mock complaint hearing


ACTION 7– The Monitoring Officer to bring back to Committee the results of benchmarking from other Local Authorities the number of complaints made


ACTION 8 – The Committee requested a report on Members Attendance at Committees


ACTION 9 – The Head of Democratic, Scrutiny, and Member Services will look into whether Mod Gov can offer a category in the attendance section to cover when a member is engaged on other Council business.




1.1         That the Committee note the outcomes on complaints received under the Members Code of Conduct.




Work Programme pdf icon PDF 78 KB

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The following reports will be added to the September meeting; Public Sector internal audit self assessment and the Code of Corporate Governance for Thurrock Council.


The Monitoring Officer confirmed a private meeting with Committee members and the external auditors will be arranged for 30 minutes before the next Committee meeting.


External and internal audit updates will now be a regular standing item on the work programme


A report on the Counter Fraud Strategy should be included on the work programme as the Council will be developing a Fraud Charter.


A report on the whistle blowing, Corruption and Bribery policy.


An item on Contract Management/ lessons learnt could be brought back to Committee and the person in charge of contracts can confirm that provisions are now in place.


A briefing note on the new changes to Procurement law in 2024 to be provided.