Agenda and draft minutes

Standards and Audit Committee - Thursday, 9th July, 2020 7.00 pm

Venue: Committee Room 1, Civic Offices, New Road, Grays, Essex, RM17 6SL. View directions

Contact: Jenny Shade, Senior Democratic Services Officer  Email: Direct.Democracy@thurrock.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

39.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 226 KB

To approve as a correct record the minutes of the Standards and Audit Committeemeeting held on 12 March 2020.

 

Minutes:

The minutes of the Standard and Audit Committee held on the 12 March 2020 were approved as a correct record.

40.

Items of Urgent Business

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.

Minutes:

There were no items of urgent business.

41.

Declaration of Interests

Minutes:

There were no declarations of interest.

42.

Annual Information Governance Report pdf icon PDF 150 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Lee Henley, Strategic Lead Information Management, updated Members on the Annual Information Governance Report that covered the three main areas of Data Protection, Record Management and Freedom of Information and referred Members to the appendices in the report.

 

Lisa Laybourn, Co-opted Member, questioned whether the 9764 physical archive boxes in storage that formed part of the physical record questioned whether the nature of the information would be non-compliant with GDPR and was there a plan to address those records that needed to be destroyed. Lee Henley stated that this was a key reason to review those archive boxes and any records that exceeded the retention timeframes would be disposed of.

 

Councillor Johnson asked for some clarification on the three complaints received from the Information Commissioners Office regarding the management of Subject Access Requests. Lee Henley stated that one complaint was in relation to when the Council responded to a subject access request information had been withheld and the complaint was then made. The other two complaints were in relation to the Council not responding to the subject access review within the timeframe. Lee Henley stated the response time was good and was reflected in the 97% of those requests responded to in the timeframe.

 

Councillor Spillman gave praise to Lee Henley and his team and commended them on the figures and that the team had performed above expectations.

 

Councillor Rice referred to the Freedom of Information Status, Appendix 1 on page 19 of the report and asked for clarification on how a request would be refused. Lee Henley stated this would depend on what the request was in relation to. That there were a number of exemptions within the legislation where refusal could be made for example if the disclosure disclosed financial information in relation to a third party a commercial exemption would be applied or where the request would take the Council longer than the 18 hours to respond the request could be refused on cost grounds. Another example of this was where the information requested was already in the public domain.

 

RESOLVED

 

1.         That the Standard and Audit Committee noted the information Governance activity and performance.

 

2.         That the Standard and Audit Committee noted the Data Protection Compliance activity detailed within Appendix 2.

 

43.

Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) 2000 - Activity Report 2019/20 pdf icon PDF 142 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Lee Henley, Strategic Lead Information Management, provided members with an update on the usage and activity of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) requests during 2019/20. Members were also provided with a refreshed RIPA Policy for approval. Members were referred to page 28 of the report that highlighted the RIPA activity and the Policy Changes.

 

Councillor Rice asked for clarification on the nature of the Fraud Activity. Lee Henley stated this could be a RIPA covert surveillance for any fraud activity or trading standards investigations such as counterfeit goods, under age sales. Lee Henley stated this would be used as a last result and the Council had a responsibility to use less intrusive means. 

 

Councillor Rice questioned how the joint operation between the Police and the Council at a compound behind the Orsett Golf Club had been reported on. David Kleinberg, Assistant Director for Counter Fraud, Investigation and Enforcement, confirmed that RIPA activity would be a last result and where material cannot be sought from any other means. Joint operations with the Police and depending on who would be leading that operation would be the responsible agency to get the RIPA received.

 

RESOLVED

 

That the Standard and Audit Committee noted the statistical information relating to the use of RIPA for the period 2019/20.

 

44.

Chief Internal Auditor's Annual Report - Year ended 31 March 2020 pdf icon PDF 235 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Gary Clifford, Chief Internal Auditor, introduced the report that provided an independent opinion on the Council’s Governance, Risk Management and Internal Control frameworks and noted that assurance could never be absolute, with reasonable assurances being provided on the work undertaken. Members were informed that the COVID-19 pandemic had an impact on the work being undertaken between March and July 2020, which would normally be the time when end of year reports would be finalised, but this had been taken into account in the Chief Auditor’s opinion. Members were referred to the issues, options and analysis of options on page 58 of the report and were referred to the findings found in Appendix 1.

 

Councillor Rice referred to the Risk Management on page 67 of the report and asked what this meant and how would this be operated. Gary Clifford stated that meetings were arranged with senior managers to determine their levels of risk and the risk register was reviewed and discussed with the Corporate Risk & Insurance Manager, Andy Owen. The Risk & Opportunity Register was presented to the Standard and Audit committee on a regular basis to ensure that Members received assurance on how risk management was being operated.

 

Councillor Johnson asked for clarification between an assurance report and an advisory report. Gary Clifford stated that an assurance report would look at a system and provide management with assurance around the controls, risk management and governance around that system. An advisory report would usually be driven by the service who had identified an issue and would look for advice on how to tighten up their controls and risk management around the specific areas of concern.

 

Councillor Johnson questioned how the assurance reports were selected each year. Gary Clifford stated that the audit plan was developed with senior managers who prioritise their key risks which were then included within the annual plan. As a result, the majority of work in the plan would be made up of assurance reports.

 

Councillor Rice questioned how engagement was undertaken and the process for reviewing applications, commissioning and the inspection processes to manage footway crossings. Gary Clifford stated that inspections would take place alongside a review of all the documentation from the application right through to the agreement. In addition, comparisons would be undertaken against other local authorities in terms of charges to ensure Thurrock residents were getting value for money.

 

Councillor Spillman asked about the actual performance for management responses received within 10 days in the last audit report and questioned whether the chasing of management was normal or was this a one off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gary Clifford stated that this was a problem in some areas. Councillor Spillman questioned who set the targets and what was the rational of that 10 days. Gary Clifford stated the 10 days tended to be a service standard format and was laid down in the audit protocol which had been presented to, and agreed by the Standards & Audit Committee and Director’s Board. Councillor Spillman questioned  ...  view the full minutes text for item 44.

45.

Internal Audit Strategy 2020/21 to 2022/23 and Annual Internal Audit Plan 2020/21 pdf icon PDF 231 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Gary Clifford, Chief Internal Auditor, stated that between December 2019 and March 2020 a comprehensive Audit Needs Assessment had been undertaken with officers and as a result a three year Strategy for Internal Audit 2020/21 to 2022/23 and an annual plan for 2020/21 had been developed. It was noted that although implications from the COVID-19 pandemic had started to emerge with changes to working practices, the timeframe of the planning process meant that changes had not been reflected in the plan. Therefore the plan would need to be constantly reviewed to ensure that Internal Audit Service was utilising its resources to best meet the needs of the Council. Members were also referred to the Appendix 1 that set out the approach taken to develop the Internal Audit Strategy.

 

Councillor Spillman noted that COVID-19 was not a separate external factor in Appendix A and questioned whether this only sat with Public Health. Gary Clifford stated that this was added before the COVID-19 pandemic had hit and was a general risk.

 

Councillor Rice asked for clarification on what “emerging” meant in terms of Major Projects that the Council will face. Gary Clifford stated this was work that had been carried out towards the end of the year and this would be covered more in the following items on the agenda.

 

Councillor Rice also asked for clarification on how Brexit as an issue, would affect the Council. Gary Clifford stated that this factor was still emerging as the details were unknown at this stage. Sean Clark, Corporate Director of Finance, Governance and Property, stated there was a need to put this factor into the report but until the issues were known, this factor would be flagged and the Council would react as necessary.

 

Lisa Laybourn, questioned whether those audit areas to be looked at in three years were inherently higher risk areas or were they areas which had issues in the past. Gary Clifford stated that some of the areas would have been carried forward and some would not have been audited for a number of years. However, they would mainly be those areas which had been discussed with service managers and looking forward, would need to be picked up in the future.

 

RESOLVED

 

That the Standard and Audit Committee received and agreed the Internal Audit Strategy 2020/21 to 2022/23 and the Annual Internal Audit Plan 2020/21.

46.

Counter Fraud & Investigation Annual Report & Strategy pdf icon PDF 211 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

David Kleinberg, Assistant Director for Counter Fraud, Investigation and Enforcement, presented the report to Members which outlined the performance of the Counter Fraud and Investigation Team over the last year. Members were referred to the proposed new Counter Fraud Strategy to tackle fraud for Thurrock Council in 2020/21 and to the Appendices of the report.

 

Councillor C Kent questioned whether Thurrock Council could be at risk by helping out other local authorities especially with new challenges and pressures that COVID-19 may have put on the services that Thurrock Council undertake. David Kleinberg stated that main role and the primary function was to protect Thurrock and the team had been resourced accordingly. With the expanded team funded by third parties enabled the resilience to do those roles and if it became known that resources were not available this work would stop.

 

Councillor Johnson questioned whether any fraud found on the COVID-19 business grants would be for Thurrock to action or would this be a Government action to get the money back. Councillor Johnson stated if it was the Government were Thurrock at any risk if they were asked for the money back. David Kleinberg stated that since COVID-19 had started himself and Sean Clark had attended Department of Business Enterprise Industrial Strategy and Ministry of Housing Community and Government meetings and had provided assurance that they would underwrite this money if it was due to fraud but was confident that with the extra systems put in place these incidents should be at a low lower or not at all in Thurrock.

 

Councillor Rice asked for some clarification on the £3.5 million of fraud detected last year. David Kleinberg stated the main type of fraud was tenancy fraud which included unlawful sub-letting and claims for social housing. Members were referred to the Operational Activity, Social Housing Fraud on page 117 of the report that referenced that 36 social housing properties had been recovered.

 

Councillor Spillman asked whether there was an estimate or a projected figure for this year based on last year’s figures. David Kleinberg suggested that the figure may be lower this year based on the COVID-19 lockdown where people were not sub-letting as they had remained in their properties. This was a positive but until the data could be analysed and meetings taken place with Police partners this figure would not be known at this time.  

 

Councillor Rice congratulated the Counter Fraud and Investigation Team on the performance of the team by demonstrating that for every £1 spent on the service by the Council it had detected £3 in fraud.

 

RESOLVED

 

1.         That the Standard and Audit Committee noted the performance of the Counter Fraud and investigation team over the last year.

 

2.         That the Standard and Audit Committee approved the Counter Fraud and Investigation Strategy and work programme for 2020/21.

47.

Investment Briefing pdf icon PDF 247 KB

Minutes:

Following the request from the Chair, Councillor Rice, for a report to address his concerns on the Council’s borrowing levels and investments and in particular how the £1.2 billion rising to £2 billion had been invested, how safe were Thurrock’s investments and what the impact would be should there be a collapse brought about by the looming economic depression. Sean Clark, Corporate Director of Finance, Governance and Property, presented a report that set out the actual levels of investments and related financial returns with a section on the security and viability of the solar portfolio especially in the current economic climate

 

Sean Clark stated that there had also been a lot of conversations around the democratic oversight with Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee putting forward in January 2020 for Cabinet to consider the improvement of that oversight. This was agreed by Cabinet in February 2020 and reinforced at July Council in debate on investments and in Councillor Hebb’s portfolio holder report. Sean Clark stated that Councillor Hebb would be writing to Leaders of each group to arrange this first meeting where options would be put forward on future scrutiny of the investment portfolio and new opportunities. Members would be included in the briefings and to establish what could be undertaken publically and to receive a full briefing on where the Council was now.

 

Sean Clark provided Members with an introduction to the report and provided information as to why the Council were undertaking investments and background information on the Council’s investments in the past. Another key factor that had been raised was that the Council used inter-local borrowing for short term loans and the Council had continued with the shorter term approach as was seen as a financial benefit to the Council and also a financial benefit to the other local authorities that lend it.

 

Members were referred to the table on page 135 of the report which was a breakdown of the Council’s borrowings at high level as of 31 March 2020 and the spread of the investments. The view was that the renewable energy sector was the stronger option available in terms of national and international drive and for the Government’s support for it. Members were informed that no loss of income on investments had been lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic unlike other local authorities who had invested in property-related investments.

 

Sean Clark reminded Members that investments were at risk and referred Members to the mitigating list on page 136 of the report that were in place which had given the Council confidence and security against any such risk.

 

Councillor Spillman asked what the average term for an inter-local borrowing undertaken by Thurrock Council had been. Sean Clark stated these ranged between one week and one year but there were a couple that go into two years.

 

Councillor Spillman asked when the Bonds would mature. Sean Clark stated that when the Bonds were taken out there was mixture of between three and five years with the five  ...  view the full minutes text for item 47.

48.

A13 Widening Project pdf icon PDF 241 KB

Minutes:

Following the request from the Chair, Councillor Rice, for a report to be provided on the A13 Widening Project, the completion date and whether there were any budget implications for Thurrock Council in the current and subsequent financial years. Andy Millard, Director of Place, introduced the report by referring Members to the report that provided the introduction and background to the project, the complicating factors to the delay and cost issues with the A13 and the three significant issues which had impacted on the delivery of the scheme. Members were also referred to the Issues and Options which covered the programme review, current out turn forecast and budget implications.

 

Councillor Spillman questioned whether in hindsight if a proposal was now presented to Thurrock, would the Council still be in favour of going ahead or should the Council steer clear of such a project. Anna Eastgate, Assistant Director, Lower Thames Crossing, Place, agreed that the Council should not have steered clear of the project as Thurrock, the size of the authority, were capable of delivering projects on this scale and with the ambition of the borough we needed to make sure we were. That there was no single issue that had caused the issues, rather a number of circumstances including adapting existing infrastructure which carries greater risk.  Having been involved in the project for the last 10 months, Officers were confident that the Council had understood fully the challenges and risks that were being dealt with and the Council were fully and appropriately mitigating them as much as possible. Discussions had taken place with directors on what needed to be addressed on the commitments to large scale projects in the future and that was being implemented.  Further discussions were needed about the funding phasing on future schemes as the need to spend grants by particular deadlines was driving less than optimum decisions. Anna Eastgate stated during COVID-19 the delivery of the site remained open and that had mitigated some further cost and impacts of delivery and praised the contractors for working within such difficult circumstances, however any cost and delay to the scheme as a result of Covid-19 was still to be assessed.

 

Councillor C Kent asked what had been put in place and what lessons had been learnt to ensure that Thurrock did not end up in a similar scenario again. Councillor C Kent also questioned why had it taken so long for the amount of overspend to come out into the public domain and asked about the contracts. Andy Millard, reiterated that Thurrock Council needed to have the ambition to delivery projects of such a nature and in relation to this project there were significant benefits in terms of improving journey times and reliability and less pollution through the reduction in congestion and it was vital that the Council got those projects right. That lessons could be learnt from some of the issues that had come out of this particular project and some intensive work had been undertaken already  ...  view the full minutes text for item 48.

49.

Stanford Le Hope Transport Projects pdf icon PDF 234 KB

Minutes:

Following the request from the Chair, Councillor Rice, for a report to be provided on the Stanford Le Hope Transport Project, to include the £7 million spend on consultants and how that £7 million was financed and what was achieved and who had authorised this and to inform Members on the price for the Old Brewery to accommodate the parking and waiting areas for buses and coaches going to DP World.  Andy Millard, Director of Place, introduced the report by referring Members to the report that provided the introduction and background to the project and the Issues and Options that included costs of the Old Brewery Site.

 

Councillor Rice questioned whether there was an overall figure that had been expended on consultants through the period of the project so far. Anna Eastgate stated there was not an overall figure on what was spent on the consultancy but £7 million had been spent on the project to date which included project management resource and was the original design and build contract that had been procured at the start of the project.

 

Councillor Rice asked for an estimate as to when the project would be completed. Anna Eastgate stated that the Council were in detailed design stage, there would now be two phases – phase 1 going out to market on a fixed price tender and anticipated that completion of the station site would be summer 2021 then in parallel once phase 1 was up and running, phase 2 would start on the design and commence with the old brewery site being used as the construction compound. Therefore once phase 1 was completed, subject to planning approval, work would commence on the construction for the phase 2 works. With no final completion date available for phase 2 as the designs had not been development sufficiently to understand what the programme for that would be, but as these would be general civil works should be completed in a relatively short period of time.

 

Councillor Spillman asked for reassurance on behalf the residents of Stanford Le Hope that this project would finally get sorted out. Anna Eastgate spoke with confidence that the project following the acquisition of the old brewery site had given this project a whole new opportunity to deliver something substantially better than what was originally proposed. The revision to the scheme had given the Council the opportunity to acquire an asset and improve facilities for local people including additional car parking. That a Project Steering Group had been set up with key stakeholders such as the ward members, key stakeholders and resident representatives who had local knowledge and had a valuable contribution to make in helping to shape those proposals. This had already been acknowledged by Councillors Hebb and Piccolo as a positive step and had every confidence that the project team would bring this project forward.

 

Councillor Rice stated that the project was needed and welcomed with the potential expansion of DP World.

 

Councillor Rice requested that this report be  ...  view the full minutes text for item 49.

50.

Work Programme pdf icon PDF 127 KB

Minutes:

Members agreed to add:

 

-        Investment Briefing be scheduled onto the work programme to be presented at every quarterly meeting.

 

-        A13 Widening Project be scheduled onto the work programme to be presented at every quarterly meeting.

 

-        Stanford Le Hope Transport Project be scheduled onto the work programme to be presented at every quarterly meeting.