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Agenda item


To provide the Audit Committee with a summary of the work completed by Risk Services in quarter one of the 2020/2021 financial year.


Mrs Tracy Greenhalgh, Head of Audit and Risk provided the Committee with a summary of the work completed by Risk Services in quarter one of the 2020/2021 financial year. Mrs Greenhalgh explained that internal audit work had initially been paused at the beginning of the financial year as the Council dedicated its resources to responding to the Covid-19 medical emergency. In addition two members of the internal audit team had been redeployed to support the Community Hubs through the provision of administration and telephone support but had since returned to the team. Audit work had been recommenced via online auditing methods which had been developed in order to continue the delivery of the internal audit service during the pandemic. The Committee was informed that the performance data from the first quarter had been impacted as a result, but Mrs Greenhalgh assured Members that the internal audit plan would be reassessed in order to allow a new focus on areas of risk associated with the Covid-19 response. She reported that there had been limited progress in the updating of risk registers as delivery focus had instead been on ensuring that a robust business continuity plan was in place, but she felt assured that all risks had been managed appropriately across the Council.


Dr Arif Rajpura, Director of Public Health provided an update on the Council’s latest position regarding the pandemic. Dr Rajpura confirmed that cases had started to rise locally which in turn increased the demand for response efforts from the Council. With regards to Test, Track and Trace, Dr Rajpura confirmed that the Council was working in conjunction with the national system whereby all complex cases were being passed on to the Council to be dealt with locally. Blackpool had not experienced any major outbreaks of Covid-19 within care settings and the majority of positive cases had occurred within households. Regular testing was continuing within care home settings, with some positive asymptomatic cases being identified, particularly amongst staff and these were being dealt with in line with government guidelines. The Council was also undertaking work to trace positive cases where the national system had failed to make contact with the individuals within the initial 24 hour period. Dr Rajpura reported that the national system had an approximate success rate of 60-70 per cent whereas the Council had been able to make contact with approximately 85 per cent of cases. He stressed the importance of following up on all positive cases to help limit the spread of infection.


Dr Rajpura informed the Committee of the preventative Covid-secure work being implemented across the town, aimed at ensuring businesses, work places and schools continued to provide safe environments. Support was being offered by the Council to help ensure all venues could safely conform to the guidelines, but Dr Rajpura also stated that enforcement action would be taken in cases where business owners did not comply.


The Committee was informed that cases were expected to increase over the coming weeks and months, as respiratory infections such as Coronavirus spread more easily in winter conditions. In order to alleviate other pressures from the health system, eligible residents were being encouraged to have an influenza vaccine to protect themselves against the ‘flu.


With regards to a vaccine, Dr Rajpura reported that preparations were underway for the delivery of a large vaccination programme although he did not anticipate a vaccine to be made available until at least January 2021, most likely later.


Whilst noting the excellent work undertaken by the Council, the Committee sought assurance over the town’s provision of suitable testing facilities. Dr Rajpura confirmed that testing had proven to be challenging, with demand for tests outstripping available laboratory capacity. Demand had been further increased by individuals requesting tests who had not exhibited known Covid-19 symptoms and who were not required to be tested as directed by the government guidelines. The imminent increase of government laboratory capacity had been assured.


Mr Neil Jack, Chief Executive informed Committee Members that he had been appointed as Chair of the group tasked with coordinating testing across Lancashire via the Lancashire Resilience Forum. He outlined the regional testing facilities available across Lancashire and reiterated that the limiting capacity in testing was caused by the national laboratories. He explained that test appointments were being reduced as a result of a lack of capacity to process the tests at the laboratories. Three more permanent testing sites were planned, one of which would be situated within Blackpool. Mr Jack agreed to update Members once a date had been received for its implementation. Availability of new, larger laboratories was anticipated but these would not be operational for at least another four weeks.


Clarification was sought as to what constituted a close contact of an individual testing positive for Coronavirus. Dr Rajpura provided an explanation of the definition of ‘close contact’ and reiterated the public health message of staying at least two metres apart to avoid becoming a contact.


The Committee questioned whether the Council had been consulted on the recently introduced restrictions, with Mr Jack confirming that Blackpool Council had not been informed nor consulted about the changes in advance.


Committee Members questioned the impact of the pandemic on the internal audit plan and asked which of the risk registers requiring updating had been identified as a particular priority. Mrs Greenhalgh reported that revisions to the audit plan were underway and she would be updating the Committee on the full impact of Covid-19 at a future meeting. She stated that audit work had continued as normal from quarter two, albeit remotely and as a result she would be in a position to provide the annual assurance statement at the end of the financial year.


With regards to risk registers, departments had been given the revised deadline of 30 September 2020 for their completion after which internal audit would be carrying out a review and would report any areas of concern back to the Committee. Specific questions were raised around the reported performance of the completion of mandatory fraud awareness training by each directorate, with Members noting that only 59 per cent of employees within the Communications and Regeneration directorate had completed the training, which was markedly lower than the majority of other directorates. Members highlighted that Communications and Regeneration had previously been reported to the Audit Committee in relation to underperformance in other areas and requested that the issue be followed up with the responsible director.


Mrs Greenhalgh reported on those audits which had been completed within quarter one, noting that all of the assurance statements were either ‘Adequate’ or ‘Good’. Follow up work had been carried out on Priority One recommendations from previous audits with recommendations either being completed or revised deadlines agreed with the heads of service as a result of the impact of Covid-19.


The Committee expressed thanks to the Director of Children’s Services and her team in recognition of zero recommendations resulting from the ‘Troubled Families Grant Compliance’ audit. 


[Dr Rajpura left the meeting on conclusion of this item.]

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