Agenda and minutes

Venue: Conference Room 1, Herefordshire Council Offices, Plough Lane, Hereford, HR4 0LE

Contact: Ben Baugh, Democratic Services Officer 

Link: Watch this meeting on the Herefordshire Council YouTube channel

No. Item


Apologies for absence

To receive apologies for absence.


No apologies for absence were received.


Named substitutes (if any)

To receive details of any councillor nominated to attend the meeting in place of a member of the committee.


There were no substitutes.


Declarations of interest

To receive declarations of interest in respect of items on the agenda.


No declarations of interest were made.


Minutes pdf icon PDF 703 KB

To approve and sign the minutes of the meeting held on 23 June 2023.




That the minutes of the meeting held on 23 June 2023 be confirmed as a correct record and signed by the chairman.


Questions from members of the public pdf icon PDF 203 KB

To receive any questions from members of the public.

Additional documents:


A question received from a member of the public and the response given, including a supplementary question and the response, attached as Appendix 1 to the minutes.



Questions from councillors

To receive any questions from councillors.


No questions had been received from councillors.


Internal Audit Annual Opinion 2022/23 pdf icon PDF 209 KB

The purpose of this report is to enable the committee to provide independent assurance on the adequacy of the risk management framework together with the internal control of the financial reporting and annual governance processes by considering the head of internal audit’s annual report and opinion, and the level of assurance it gives over the council’s corporate governance arrangements.

Additional documents:


The Assistant Director (AD) for South West Audit Partnership (SWAP) presented the report on Internal Audit Annual Opinion 2022/23. The purpose of the annual report was outlined; attention was drawn to Appendix A - Internal Audit Annual Opinion 2022/23.  The following key areas were highlighted:


Activity and outcomes during the year


1.          47 reviews were delivered as part of the 2022/23 rolling Internal Audit Plan.


2.          80% of internal audit reports gave a substantial or reasonable assurance opinion.


3.          6 out of 8 strategic risks had good or ‘some’ audit coverage, the opinion was there had been effective audit coverage throughout the year.


4.          There were no areas of significant corporate risk reported.


5.          Five themes were highlighted to the committee:


            I.                   Financial controls and budgetary management


It was highlighted that, although generally the Council operated effectively with commitment accounting and validating payments, there were a few isolated cases within some service teams where this was not the case and SWAP would be offering awareness training to those departments.


          II.               Grant Administration


The lack of consistent practices and knowledge of Grant Administration were highlighted. Cases were isolated to some service areas and not widespread.   SWAP would support the Council by offering training to those departments.


        III.               Oversight of regulator actions


Whilst the actions identified by key regulators were picked up and the council monitored those effectively, it was reported that some actions from smaller regulators had slipped through the net.


Internal Audit would look to promote assurance mapping across the Council. SWAP was currently engaging with the Council’s Performance Team to support the real time tracking of known actions through its audit management system.


        IV.              Counter Fraud and Risk Management


The overall opinion was that these were working effectively and outstanding actions had generally been implemented although it was highlighted that some improvement was needed around some of the long-term actions.  


         V.              Prevention and detection of fraud


The Council had demonstrated effective control and had been able to protect public funds from fraud.


Taking into account the five themes highlighted, it was the AD’s overall opinion for the year that generally the Council had sound systems of governance, risk management and internal controls however there was some scope for improvement in some areas.


In response to committee questions, it was noted:


1.          The AD said that it was difficult to put an indicator about the level of internal control but indicated that it was in line with the previous performance and similar to that of other authorities.


2.          In a query raised around external regulatory assessment, it was explained that these related to recommendations from regulators at a service level. An example was given with regard to the Registration Services report which identified a failure to address a number of recommendations made in an inspection by the General Register Office and where there had been no particular oversight or tracking from a managerial point of view and therefore no oversight as to if these recommendations had been implemented.


3.          It  ...  view the full minutes text for item 22.


Internal Audit - “Limited” Opinion Reports Q1 2023/24 pdf icon PDF 227 KB

The purpose of this report is to consider the risks and associated mitigations outlined in the internal audit reports on Registration Services and Housing Solutions - Financial Processes.

Additional documents:


The Principal Auditor, South West Audit Partnership (SWAP) introduced the report.

Attention was drawn to the ‘Registration Service: Final Report – February 2023’ document at appendix A of the report.


It was highlighted that:


1.          17 recommendations had not been followed up following the General Registration Office (GRO) report submitted to the council in February 2022.


2.          The Registration Service had been transferred to the Law and Governance directorate in July 2022 and the Head of the Practice Management was tasked with managing the service.


3.          As part of the GRO’s recommendations, an Internal Audit had been requested and undertaken with the main focus being to review the progress of the 17 recommendations. It was noted that the review also included a review on actions taken from recommendations made from an internal review carried out in October 2021.


4.          Limited assurance was issued following the findings of that audit. The priorities within the appendix were highlighted.


The Head of the Practice Management (HOPM) provided the committee with an update on the actions taken. A written summary was included at Appendix D.  The following points were highlighted:


·            There was still work to be done but there was more assurance that the processes and staff training were in place to ensure that the department was able to carry out the work the GRO expected the council to do.


·            It was noted the GRO had attended the service twice since January 2022 and they were much happier with the progress made and would be revisiting in 2 weeks’ time.


In response to committee questions it was noted:


1.          The morale of staff was described as ‘up and down’ but, with the recruitment of further staff and with the development and support provided over the last six months, it was thought that it was generally improving. The changes being made were seen to be helping staff in their day job and in turn provided the public with a better service. The addition of the online appointment booking system in December 2023 would vastly improve the management of the high volumes of calls and emails received from the public.


2.          Shropshire Council had undertaken the quarterly checks for the backlog of 2 years up to March 2023. Herefordshire Council were just completing the quarterly check for the end of June 2023. It was highlighted that these checks did take up a large amount of time especially with new staff. However the checks had to be kept up and, with the additional staff recruited, the service would have more capacity in conducting these. The council would have conducted 4 quarterly checks by July 2024.


3.          It was considered that the removal of the cash payments element had significantly reduced risk but systems to monitor income still needed to be put in place; to allow, for example, the tracing of individual payments to specific certificates so these could be seen in budget reports. It was thought this would be addressed in the next couple of months. The  ...  view the full minutes text for item 23.


Update on Internal Audit Recommendations pdf icon PDF 152 KB

To review the progress of audit recommendations implementation.

Additional documents:


The Performance Team Lead (PTL) provided the committee with an update on the progress made in the council’s response to audit recommendations made by SWAP in their audit reports issued before April 2023. It was highlighted that:


·            The Housing Solutions report was not included within this report as this was reported during April 2023.


·            The updates on the recommendation could be found at Appendix A to the report.


·            Of the 30 recommendations that were previously reported to the committee as overdue: 15 recommendations had since been completed; 1 deferred; and 14 remained outstanding.


·            Of the recommendations due for completion between October 2022 and March 2023, it was highlighted that 19 of the 36 remain outstanding.


·            Of the future recommendations, 75% of these were on track to be completed; it was noted that from previous forecasts it was expected that these would be completed when the report was brought back to committee in six months’ time. It was highlighted to the committee that when next reported the “future recommendations” would appear as those “due in the period” and the quantity would be increased as it would include audits published between now and the end of September.


·            It was highlighted that focus needed to be on ensuring that those historical recommendations were acted on or at least changes had taken place within the service that mean that the recommendations are no longer relevant. To ensure that completion rates did improve in the future, recommendations were to be included in the new service business plans and it was expected this would result in higher completion rates which would be reported back to the committee.


In response to committee questions it was noted:


1.          The committee were informed of the current process of tracking and the progression of recommendations made from audit reports. It was highlighted there had been some circumstances where reports had not been circulated to the wider audience and therefore the PTL has undergone discussions with SWAP to obtain access to their real time tracking audit management system which should ensure recommendations were recorded and responded to in a timely manner. It would also assist SWAP with having access to the council’s progress updates which would aid them in future follow-up reports. It was stressed that the council would still monitor and report internally.


2.          The Assistant Director, South West Audit Partnership gave the committee members an overview of the audit management system which they would be providing the Council as part of the ongoing partnership.


3.          The Section 151 Officer explained that the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic had been the main cause for so many of the recommendations having slipped.



That; the status of current audit recommendations be noted.


There was a short adjournment.


Corporate Risk Register pdf icon PDF 449 KB

To consider the status of the council’s corporate risk register in order to monitor the effectiveness of risk management within the performance management framework.

Additional documents:


The Director of Strategy and Performance (DOSP) introduced the report and highlighted the following:


·            The Corporate Risk Register incorporates the key risks across the whole organisation.


·            There were currently 16 corporate risks and 73 directorate risks.


·            The committee were informed that the directorate risk registers were reviewed on a monthly basis with the relevant service and corporate directors which then reported into the corporate risk register should any risks need escalating; risks scored 16-25 would be escalated.


·            With regard to development work on the approach to strategic risk, it was highlighted that more work needed to be undertaken on the risk register surrounding the aggregation of risks, understanding of accountability and action planning. It was reported that the corporate leadership team would challenge and have more ownership of the risks in the corporate register.


·            The senior management team would undertake training, to be provided by the council’s insurance company, within the next couple of months. 


·            The corporate risk register and the directorate risk registers were appended to the report.


In response to committee questions, it was noted:


1.          The DOSP confirmed that service directors had overall responsibility of their individual directorate registers to ensure that risks were de-escalated, removed and added when applicable, risk scores were regularly reviewed and scores, controls and future mitigating activity were updated where necessary.


2.          All service areas would identify their own individual risks and those key risks to the council that needed oversight would be captured within the relevant risk register. It was highlighted that reporting could be made clearer with demonstrating where it is a strategic risk, a service risk or a financial risk and what the mitigation actions    were and the impact those had on the council.


3.          There was a need to consider whether Council’s decision on Friday 28 July 2023 to renew Herefordshire Council’s commitment to taking action to tackle the climate and ecological emergency was addressed appropriately in the risk registers, along with any further work necessary to identify other risks related to this.  


4.          Following a question surrounding cross-departmental risks, it was confirmed that these would be included in the strategic risk register.


5.          In response to a question about the management of risk in circumstances where a risk owner position was vacant, the DOSP confirmed that the directorate leadership team would have oversight and ultimately the service directors had overall responsibility for their directorate register to ensure that those risks had oversight, mitigation in place, and were monitored in an effective way.


6.          The DOSP offered to circulate the Risk Management Plan to members of the committee.


7.          The cabinet member finance and corporate services offered his support in reviewing the risk register.


8.          The Section 151 Officer confirmed there was still work to be done around the risk register and acknowledged concerns raised around Cyber Attacks (CS.09) being de-escalated from the corporate risk register.


9.          The Section 151 Officer confirmed in response to a query around Wetlands (EE.13) that the £1m of the LEP grant money  ...  view the full minutes text for item 25.


Annual report on code of conduct pdf icon PDF 261 KB

To enable the committee to be assured that high standards of conduct continue to be promoted and maintained.  To provide an overview of how the arrangements for dealing with complaints are working together with views from the latest standards panel sampling review.


The Director of Governance and Law / Monitoring Officer introduced the report. The principal points were raised:


·            A correction was identified to paragraph 8 of the ‘Key considerations’ section, it was highlighted that independent persons had offered support to councillors who had received complaints against them during the year 2022/23. It was noted that going forward the Independent Persons would be contacted before bringing a report to the committee to ensure that accurate reporting was made; it was important for councillors to be assured that this support was available to them.


·            It was highlighted there had been disruption with the timeliness of reporting to the committee. This was due to the number of complaints being received but largely due to turnover of new staff and the disruption this created with the handing over of processes. Further strengthening was being implemented within the team with the recruitment of a permanent Governance Lawyer and the Deputy Monitoring Officer would be leading on and assisting with investigations.


·            It was confirmed that Cornwall Council were no longer assisting with investigations of complaints which was felt to have created confusion and had led to delays.


·            A dedicated Code of Conduct inbox had been created, meaning that delays should not be incurred in complaints due to being double or triple handled.


·            The standards panel had identified improvements and made recommendations; some of which have been implemented during the review year. Mainly on operational matters around improving and giving full reasons for decisions and sign posting complainants to where else they could go if it did not fall under the members code of conduct.


In response to committee questions, it was noted:


1.          It is a duty of the Monitoring Officer under legislation, rather than the role of Herefordshire Council, to investigate a complaint about a parish councillor, if it meets the criteria. Law dictates that the views of an independent person (IP) were sought. If a parish councillor was found to be in breach of the code, it would be directed back to the parish council to deal with independently.


2.          There was no specific time limit in which to deal with code of conduct complaints but ideally they would be dealt with as efficiently as possible for the complainant and the relevant councillor; times would vary depending on the complexity of the complaint, the number of witnesses involved and the timeliness of replies.  It was noted that reporting on the average elapsed time of cases and percentages of councillors where they had complied with sanctions would be included in future reports to the committee. An action was recorded to provide specific details on the 12 cases still open from 2020/21, as recorded in the table at paragraph 19 of the report.


3.          Each case was dealt with on a particular set of facts and the council must remain neutral and not be seen to be assisting a complainant if their complaint did not fall under the members’ code of conduct, but there could be circumstances  ...  view the full minutes text for item 26.


Work programme pdf icon PDF 203 KB

To consider the work programme for the committee.

Additional documents:


The work programme for the committee was considered. The following adjustments were noted:


·            The paper requested on Ash Dieback, particularly in relation to the role of Balfour Beatty Living Places in handling potential risks, had not yet been circulated to members and the Chair requested that this be escalated to officers, with a report be brought to the committee in September 2023.


·            The report on independent committee members would be allocated to the September 2023 meeting, subject to officers being in a position to meet the required deadlines for publication.


·            The ‘Approach to Strategic Risk Management Update’ report would be moved to the November 2023 meeting. 




That, subject to the identified adjustments, the updated work programme be agreed.



Date of next meeting


Wednesday, 27 September 2023 at 3pm.