Minutes of a Working Group meeting held on Thursday, 18th March 2021 at 3.00 pm at Duchy Manor, Springfield Road, Mere. BA12 6EW
Present: Councillors A. Colman, Mrs. S. Symonds & Mrs. L. Traves + Town Clerk
Why are we holding this meeting:
The Audit & Account Regulations 2015 require smaller authorities, each financial year, to conduct a review of the effectiveness of the system of internal control and prepare an annual governance statement in accordance with proper practices in relation to accounts.
The proper practices in relation to the accounts are prescribed in the document called A Practitioners’ Guide prepared by the Joint Panel on Accountability & Governance (JPAG) – the current guidance was updated in March 2019.
Once the accounting figure have been prepared and the Annual Return is completed, the Town Council will be asked to confirm 9 assertions in the Annual Return:
A number of the statements within these assertions are addressed at other stages i.e. during the Internal Audit processes and during our day-to-day financial management processes.
Assertion 2 says ‘We maintained an adequate system of internal control including measures designed to prevent and detect fraud and corruption and reviewed its effectiveness.’ The AGAR suggests that if you agree ‘yes’ to this statement then you are confirming that you have made proper arrangements and accepted responsibility for safeguarding the public money and resources in its charge.
Assertion 5 says that ‘We carried out an assessment of the risks facing this authority and took appropriate steps to manage those risks, including the introduction of internal controls and/or external insurance cover where required.’
The AGAR suggests that if you agree ‘yes’ to this statement then you are confirming that you have considered and documented the financial and other risks the Council faces and dealt with them properly.
A risk is a situation that can either have huge benefits or cause serious disruption to the Council’s services and financial health. A risk assessment is a strategy that measures the potential outcomes of a risk.
Internal vs. external risks: usually a risk is either internal or external. Internal risks occur inside of your operations, while external risks occur outside and are usually out of your control.
Internal risks like financial risks, operational risks and workforce risks are often easier to control with the use of policies and procedures. In order to manage external risks, you might need to take a reactive approach.
After understanding potential risks, introduce policies and procedures to control them – internal controls.
It is also possible that policies and procedures could cause a barrier and stop the Town Council from being able to provide the level of service that it wants to or that the lack of policy or content within a policy could lead to a level of complaints or misunderstanding from the public. It is therefore important that they are reviewed periodically.
Hence the requirement to call this meeting.
The Clerk reported:
We did not actually hold an Internal Control review meeting last year – the last one we held was in April 2019, although in actual fact that was still within the last financial year and this one is within this financial year. The reason why we did not hold the review meeting was due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown measures. However, that did not stop us from working on Risk Assessments and Internal Control Measures – far from it – it seemed to be that this was all we were doing for a good few months last year.
I thought it would be helpful if I outlined the work we had done on Risk Assessments and Internal Control Measures since the last meeting:
- Working Safely during COVID-19 – Guidance for employers, employees and self-employed & associated risk assessments
- Guidance for providers for outdoor facilities & associated risk assessments
- Guidance for COVID-19 volunteers
- Risk Assessment for provision of public toilets
- Risk Assessment for the use of the Andy Young Pavilion
- Risk Assessment for use of Mere Town Council offices and foyer & other shared spaces
- Risk Assessment for Football, Cricket, Bowls, Tennis, Skate Park, MUGA and Children’s Play Areas
Andy Young Pavilion – had fire alarm maintained and set up maintenance contract with Wessex Fire
Youth Club – had Fixed Wire Test carried out and completed all actions identified
Policy for memorial seats & benches – Adopted
Policy for the use of sports facilities for financial gain – Adopted
Procurement Policy – adopted
Tree Management – tree management work has been ongoing in accordance with the last survey report and a new condition survey report has been commissioned
Legionella Risk Assessment has been completed (more work required on this)
Equality and Diversity Policy
Obviously, it is not going to be possible to review all of our policies and internal control measures in one meeting or, indeed in one year. I think it would be helpful if we could perhaps set out a spreadsheet listing all our policies and internal control measures, stating when they were adopted and reviewed and giving a schedule for the next review so that we have about 4 or 5 policies that we review each year on a rolling basis.
Also, I thought it might be helpful if we could identify areas that we think may need more work/input/support over the next year.
So…. I have started the ball rolling on this:
Please find attached draft review schedule for approval or comment
I am going to comment on the policies and plans that I have identified for review this year:
Standing Orders and Financial Regulations – The Clerk explained that these two documents are the main governing documents of the Town Council and, as such, should be reviewed each year at the Annual Town Council meeting. She said that this was particularly important this year as it was election year. The two documents are largely based on the NALC models and are designed to synchronise with each other. It will be necessary to make some amendments this year in order to take into account new banking procedures and contract limits etc. The Clerk would be working on this as a priority to put in draft amendments for adoption at the Annual Town Council meeting (17th May)
Audit Plan & Terms of Reference
This year our income will exceed £200,000. This puts us in the next bracket for External Audit and requires us to comply with the Local Government Transparency Code 2015 which involves the publication of further information on the Council’s website.
As Councillors are aware, at the beginning of the pandemic last year, we stopped the practice of settling invoices via cheque because it was too difficult and too risky (for staff and councillors) to get two councillors to sign all the cheques and we went over to paying all invoices online. At the present time we have not got in place all the protocols that we would like to safeguard the Clerk and safeguard Councillors.
Our present practice is to have the Clerk list the payments, the Council authorise the payments at a meeting and then the Chairman oversees the Clerk making the payments online. However, there are sometimes interim payments that need to be made outside meeting dates for emergency items and these payments are authorised by the Chairman outside the meeting environment and then listed in the next payment schedule.
The online banking system does provide for improved mechanisms whereby the Clerk can set up the payments online and then the payment requests will be sent (via mobile device) to one or two councillors for authorisation. The Chairman and Clerk have been trying to set this up but it is a fairly complicated process and requires the councillors that are going to authorise the payments to set up things with the banking team. We now have a telephone number to contact at Lloyds and we were going to start the process quite recently but it has occurred to us that it would be more sensible to wait until after the elections now in case our authorised signatories are not re-elected.
In view of the fact that the Town Council had now broken into the new audit bracket (income over £200k) and that this was likely to be a future scenario considering the S.106 funding that would be coming in over the next year or two, the Clerk expressed concern about the internal audit requirements and the fact that these may now exceed what can be reasonable expected from volunteer support. The Clerk said that whilst the Town Council’s current internal auditor, Mrs. Mary White, was extremely competent and responsible, the task was becoming more onerous and may become an unacceptable burden. The Clerk suggested that it may be prudent to carry out some research into costs and resources for a sector specific internal auditor.
Code of Conduct
The Clerk adopted a new Code of Conduct in July 2012 in accordance with The Localism Act 2011. The Code of Conduct adopted was based on a model published by Wiltshire Council with an approved modification. I am aware that this is currently being reviewed and that NALC has been working with the Local Government Association to take forward the recommendation to develop an updated national model code of conduct for all tiers of local government. There has been a consultation on a proposed national model member code of conduct. I am not aware that a review timetable has been published but would imagine that we may be reviewing the code of conduct in the next year or two.
Burial & Cemetery Regulations
In view of some of the problems we have encountered this year, I would like to suggest some additional wording
- recommend that the words ‘edging stones’ are added in brackets after the words ‘kerbing’, ‘kerb’ and ‘kerbstones’ for the benefit of those that might not be aware of this terminology.
- recommend that ‘old cemetery’ is followed the words (east of lane) and that ‘new cemetery’ is followed by the words (west of lane) so that there is some geographical context to this distinction
Members of the working party agreed with the additional wording suggested by the Clerk.
Information for dealing with Gypsies & Travellers
The Town Council’s policy is long overdue for review having been adopted in 2010 following an incident. There is government guidance available online that was produced in 2015 but the Clerk advised members that new legislation was being introduced that will make it easier to prosecute travellers who set up illegal camps. The Clerk suggested, therefore, that the Town Council should revise this policy when details of the new legislation was available.
The Town Council staff has undergone training, Risk Assessments have been carried out on all properties and the Clerk was given monitoring sheets last year with a water management logbook. However, the Clerk had not yet had time to has been given all the monitoring sheets just before Xmas. However, the Clerk reported that she still needed to do a lot of work on this in order to get the Council’s day-to-day management practices organised and yearly tasks prepared.
Fire Risk Assessment
The Clerk said that although the Town Council has fire extinguishers checked annually and a fire alarm maintenance contract, she was concerned because Wessex Fire had raised some points that may be prudent to address for the Andy Young Pavilion and the Clerk had concerns about the Changing Rooms. Members recommended that a professional company should be appointed to carry out a Fire Risk Assessment on the Andy Young Pavilion and Changing Rooms.
Tree Management Plan
The Clerk explained that the Town Council has a professional tree inspection carried out every 3 – 5 years and that a survey was due to be carried out within the next couple of months. No doubt this would raise an action plan which the Town Council would need to address in accordance with the risk identified.
The Clerk reminded members that the Council had discussed applying mobile CCTV cameras to trouble spots as they arise but she was aware that this would require a CCTV policy as there were certain rules and regulations relating to signage and GDPR. The Clerk was aware that other Town Councils had implemented policies and these were available online and suggested that this might be something to explore over the next year. Cllr. Mrs. Symonds said that she would be happy to do some research work on this.
Scheme of Delegation
The Clerk advised that it would be prudent to adopt a formal scheme of delegation which will set out the Council’s authority to delegate tasks to the Clerk and/or Chairman when there is an emergency (such as last year, when the Council couldn’t meet).
Data Retention Policy
The Clerk said that there were two reasons why she thought that a Data Retention Policy would be helpful. Firstly, she feared that too much paperwork is being kept because of possible historic interest and that ALL councillors should be aware that this is no longer considered to be acceptable in terms of GDPR. Secondly, the Council had agreed to employ a temporary worker to carry out a digital scanning system of the council’s documents and it would therefore be helpful to have a written policy to identify which records/documents needed to be kept and for how long.
Review Schedule for Internal Control Measures
With reference to the draft review schedule that the Clerk had distributed, members requested that the Clerk had produced, members pointed out that it would be very helpful if the publication or last review date was shown on the spreadsheet. Cllr. Colman felt that the Health & Safety Policy and Risk Management Strategy should be reviewed every 3 years.
Cllr. Colman also requested that various Employment Policies should be reviewed during 2021/22 and offered to work with the Clerk on reviewing these policies over the next year.