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Agenda item


To provide the Audit Committee with the opportunity to review and approve the Annual Governance Statement for 2020/2021.



Councillor Lynn Williams, Leader of the Council and Mr Mark Towers, Director of Governance and Partnerships presented the Annual Governance Statement (AGS) for 2020/2021 for consideration by the Audit Committee.


Mr Towers reported that the AGS provided a reflective review of the Council’s previous financial year in conjunction with the annual Statement of Accounts, in line with the reporting deadline of 30 September 2021. A review had been undertaken on the effectiveness of the Council’s systems of internal control within the parameters of the Governance Framework, with assurance being provided to the Audit Committee that risk had been adequately managed to a reasonable level. As such, Mr Towers made the recommendation that the Committee should approve the AGS as presented.


The Committee was informed of the process by which the AGS had been developed, with Mr Towers explaining that a Good Governance Group had been established in 2016 and had led on the review of effectiveness and the production of the Annual Governance Statement, including reviewing the 2020/2021 statement, to ensure that any governance issues previously identified had subsequently been addressed. He outlined that the group was chaired by himself and attended by the Head of Audit and Risk, the Head of Democratic Governance, the Transformation Manager, the Head of Legal Services, the Head of ICT, the Chief Accountant, the Head of Information Governance and the Head of Organisation and Workforce Development. Furthermore, he reported that a workshop had been held in September 2021 with Councillor representation from Scrutiny, Audit and Standards and that the Corporate Leadership Team had been required to complete a self-assessment questionnaire providing assurance that their directorates were compliant with a number of key controls.


Mr Towers advised that the AGS Action Plan had been included for consideration by the Audit Committee and that progress against the identified actions would be reported back to the Committee at its meeting on 3 March 2022.


The Committee questioned how the AGS would be used to support some of the new ways of working which had resulted from the pandemic. Councillor Williams noted that the pandemic had successfully tested the Governance Framework and helped to inform future business continuity planning to ensure the Council’s continued resilience.


In response to the Committee’s observation that the Council’s wholly owned companies did not feature significantly within the AGS, Mr Towers identified that the Council’s companies had been referenced within the strand on partnership working and advised that the AGS was a review specifically of the Council’s internal procedures. As such, the governance arrangements around the Council’s role as Shareholder had been included within the relevant section of the AGS and looked to provide an overview of the controls in place. Mr Towers highlighted that a consistent approach had been taken across the companies and as such an overarching framework supported them all without the need to individually reference each company separately. He did however advise that next year’s AGS covering the 2021/2022 period would demonstrate more of a focus on the wholly owned companies which would be informed by a scheduled audit of the Council’s company governance, to be undertaken by the Mersey Internal Audit Agency. Mr Towers also referenced recent national guidance which had been issued by Local Partnerships and which was currently under review in conjunction with the Council’s companies to inform their governance frameworks.


The Committee sought assurance that Council officers were supportive of the AGS, with Mr Towers confirming that the Good Governance Group was made up of a number of key officers from across the Council and that their input had been incorporated into the AGS. In addition, the action plan had been agreed and supported by the Corporate Leadership Team.


In relation to the action plan, the Committee noted that it contained a large number of actions with the target dates being non-specific and a question was asked as to whether specific dates would have been preferable. Mr Towers reported that exact dates had originally been included in previous years’ versions but that the action plan had been tailored following feedback to provide relevant updates to the Audit Committee in line with the Committee’s scheduled meeting dates throughout the year.


Due to the potential impact on partners of the Council’s new ways of working, the Committee questioned whether an impact assessment on its partners was planned. Mr Neil Jack, Chief Executive reported that despite the introduction of hybrid working across many areas of the Council, several services had continued to work in their usual work places and to undertake in person meetings where restrictions had allowed, specifically in relation to Adult Social Care, where full service provision had continued throughout the pandemic.


Mr Towers highlighted that evidence which demonstrated compliance with the Governance Framework had been included within the AGS and that this would continue to be reviewed going forward for inclusion in next year’s Statement.


Resolved: To approve the Annual Governance Statement for 2020/2021.

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