The Head of Corporate Resources introduced the report. He highlighted that officers were 3 weeks behind where they wanted to be but were confident they would complete the work by end of April, to be ready for the Panel meeting in June. He informed Panel Members that segregation of duties and reconciliations would be included in this update going forward.
The Head of Corporate Resources said follow ups for audit recommendations continued to go well but officers have discovered that some managers were prolonging their work-in-progress phase to delay things. He said there were 4 superseded recommendations which had required the manager to be brought to this meeting but unfortunately the Manager was on holiday. The Head of Resources said this would be follow up for the next meeting.
The Chair asked Mr Pleace and Mr Warren if they knew of anyone that would be interested to fill in the Independent Panel Member vacancy it would be helpful, meanwhile the search would continue.
The Chair said he was concerned about the budget deficits facing Sedgehill and Forest Hill school, he said with the changes to the national schools funding formula other schools could be at risk. The Chair asked how this was being addressed. The Head of Corporate Resources said this would be discussed at the Schools Forum and it has been included in the Public Accounts Select Committee Work programme for the next municipal year.
The Head of Corporate Resources said the Council had strengthened its budget monitoring for schools. He added that although the Council could put in sanctions as a last resort, accountability lay with the Headteacher and Board of Governors. Councillor Brown said this information had been in the public domain for a while and Councillors were being asked how they had allowed the deficits to happen, and what they intend to do to address the problem.
The Head of Corporate Resources said unfortunately he had not got information on hand to update Panel Members but would do an update to be circulated to Panel Members. Councillor Brown said it would be useful to include information on what Members could have done to avoid this situation. The Head of Corporate Resources said he would do a briefing specifically for Forest Hill school, plus a general overview to be circulated to Panel Members.
Action >>>>>> Head of Corporate Resources
Councillor Brown asked how schools get funded, and was told that there were two sections of the education budget, one of them is based on the number of pupils in the school, this budget is currently held centrally by the Council, and the second budget for special aid goes directly to the schools. He said from 2018/19 the new funding formula would be in place and all the money would go directly to the school, the school would then pay for services provided by the Council. The Chair said he had noted that despite control being with the schools when things go wrong the local authority gets blamed.
Mr Pleace said as part of segregation of duties if the supplier access control was not secure then the Council was running a fraud risk. The Head of Corporate Resources said officers could get a systems resolution. He said currently only 5 people could change suppliers details, and managers were trying to keep it as manual segregation.
In response to Councillor Ingleby’s question about compliance with the Code of Connection and Public Sector Network, the Head of Corporate Resources explained that because the Council had to meet high level standards set by this code to avoid security risk sometimes the IT system might not look as if it was functioning well, but things were constantly being monitored to avoid hacking.
Councillor Ingleby asked if the Panel could get an update on progress about Houses in Multiple Occupation especially on rogue landlords. He said he had been a victim of a rogue landlord. The Head of Corporate Resources said other Councils had been more successful in this area than Lewisham, as officers had discovered that the persistent offenders were very cunning and knew how to avoid being prosecuted. He said in the end officers had to settle for one of the offenders being named and shamed, which was a step forward.
RESOLVED that the report be noted.
Any Other Business – New Bermondsey CPO
Mr Pleace stated that in connection with the Millwall and Renewal issue which had been consistently in the national press, as Independent Panel Members any aspect of the Council’s financial arrangements would be associated with them. He asked for assurance that the Audit Panel had nothing to be worried about, and the appropriate sensible decision had been made. The Chair explained that the Council had agreed to have an Inquiry into the process and up to £1/2m had been put aside to fund this.
Mr Warren asked if the Council would be able to balance the independence of the budget and the person holding the Inquiry. Panel Members requested the Head of Corporate Resources to find out the following:
i. what controls have the Council put in place to efficiently and effectively manage the cost of the Inquiry.
ii. what controls have the Council put in place to ensure the cost would lead to an independent Inquiry.
Action >>>>>> Head of Corporate Resources
The Chair informed the Panel that this would be Councillor Brown’s last Audit Panel meeting. He thanked Councillor Brown for all his work as a Panel Member.
Meeting ended: 8.50pm Chair………………..