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Agenda and draft minutes

Venue: Committee Room 3 - Waltham Forest Town Hall. View directions

Contact: John Williams, Democratic Services Officer  020 8496 4344 | Email: john.williams@walthamforest.gov.uk

Items
No. Item

33.

APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE AND SUBSTITUTE MEMBERS

Minutes:

There were no apologies for absence - all members of the Committee were present.

 

 

34.

DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST

Members are required to declare any pecuniary or non-pecuniary interests they or their spouse/partner may have in any matter which is to be considered at this meeting. Interests are defined on the inside cover of this agenda.

Minutes:

None.

35.

MINUTES OF THE PREVIOUS MEETING pdf icon PDF 347 KB

Minutes:

The minutes of the meeting held on 26 September 2019 were approved as a correct record and signed by the Chair.

 

It was noted that the query regarding clarification the cost of the external audit, detailed in the minutes on page 14 of the agenda pack, would be picked up at the meeting in February 2020 and would be flagged in the action log.

 

36.

ACTION TRACKER pdf icon PDF 323 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to the Action Tracker.

 

Ian Buckle, Head of Electoral and Democratic Services gave an update on the progress of recruiting an Independent Member of the Committee. Mr Buckle explained that the process had unfortunately stalled due to the recent general election, but there was now a job description ready for members to review before it was advertised. There was a brief discussion of the potential interview process, which was likely to take place as an informal discussion and the Chair stated he was happy for all the Committee to be involved on that.

 

Regarding the update on the external audit of accounts 2018/19, the Committee noted a response from the Director of Financial Services which discussed the historical audit issues EY had picked up on. The Committee queried what should be done regarding feeding back to Public Sector Audit Appointments (PSSA) regarding said issues and concerns, especially surrounding costs. Gemma Young, Assistant Director – Internal Audit & Anti-Fraud Shared, suggested putting concerns in a letter to the PSSA as it was an issue of quality of standards and should be addressed.

 

With regards to a follow-up report on the Hawkswood Schools Group and the organisation of a working session on the preparation of the audit plan Ms Young explained that dates were being looked at.

 

The action relating to a working group regarding Brexit was discussed and it was decided to be looked at in closer detail as the year progressed, once a greater picture of the situation was available to ensure a more tailored risk review.

 

The Committee noted the Action Tracker.

 

 

37.

FIRE RISK ASSESSMENT REVIEW pdf icon PDF 1 MB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to a report by Sumitra Gomer, Divisional Director Housing Assets. Ms Gomer introduced the report which covered two main areas - an update on the Fire Risk Assessments (FRA) performance review, including discussion on the retrofitting of sprinklers; and addressed issues around managing access to homes to conduct FRAs and fire safety management. Ms Gomer explained that Waltham Forest Housing managed a rolling programme of periodic FRAs across all its housing stock and covered the different FRA cycles for each building classification. She added that Waltham Forest exceeded its statutory requirements and performed Enhanced FRAs in blocks over six storeys.

With regards to the sprinkler retrofit programme, Ms Gomer set out the current position, as it was not currently statutorily mandatory, but a programme had been discussed and developed and accounted for in the next financial programme.  She also described the potential issues around the retrofit and explained how the Council planned to manage those issues and what actions were in place.

Ms Gomer explained that previously data on FRAs had been held over various spreadsheets but now all the data had been collated and moved onto an electronic system, called MSI, which would give greater assurance that assessments were being carried out in accordance with the appropriate schedule. Ms Gomer also discussed the 1481 remedial actions that had been identified, all of which had target completion dates and explained most overdue actions were related to refurbishments, for example the major works project on the Wigg and Walsh towers. Only one action was overdue outside of refurbishments which was due to a difficulty in gaining access. The issue of outstanding actions in refurbishments, had been discussed with the London Fire Brigade (LFB) Borough Commander, who was a member of housing health and safety compliance group, and they were happy with the progress on the actions.

 

The Committee asked about the difference between the FRAs and whether they were all observational reviews. Ms Gomer explained that FRAs 1 and 2 were visual checks, commonly within communal areas whereas FRAs 3 and 4 were more intrusive assessments into the fabric of the buildings. The difference between a 3 and a 4 was that a 3 was an intrusive assessment within a communal area and a 4 would be in a residential part of a building.

 

The Committee had a query regarding the table of actions, on page 37 of the agenda pack, that had come out of completed FRAs and whether these included level 3 and 4 assessments. Ms Gomer responded that it didn’t as level 3 and 4’s had only started in November 2019 and were expected to be finished by the end of March 2020 when there would be an updated table.

 

There was discussion around recommendations that were coming from the Grenfell inquiry, such as the need for assessments of fire doors and their self-close mechanism to be conducted in a three-month cycle in high risk locations, and whether the Council were ready for them. Ms  ...  view the full minutes text for item 37.

38.

THE REGULATION OF INVESTIGATORY POWERS ACT 2000 (RIPA) AND REVISED RIPA POLICY pdf icon PDF 136 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to a report by Mark Hynes, Director of Governance and Law, which explained that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (RIPA) regulated how public bodies could carry out covert surveillance and summarised the revised LBWF RIPA Policy and Procedure Manual. Mr Hynes gave a brief overview of the annual update on RIPA and explained that the act existed to protect both the Council and the public in its investigations. He stated that Waltham Forest hadn’t used RIPA since March 2017, but that even so local authorities were obliged to have a code of practice to cover factors such as human rights and privacy and be able to provide evidence of training. RIPA provided protection to local authorities if properly organised as it meant evidence obtained in that manner would be admissible in court and so the authority would be protected from civil cases against it. Mr Hynes also explained that RIPA approval was only required if the criminal offence being investigated would lead to a sentence of more than 6 months or were related to the underage sale of alcohol and tobacco, which may have required authorisation of covert human intelligence sources (CHIS) as any CHIS needed to be authorised by court, regardless of potential sentence. Mr Hynes added that any non-RIPA covert surveillance still underwent an authorisation process, but this would be within the Council by an Authorising Officer rather than through the courts.

 

The Committee queried what the revisions to the policy and procedures were, or whether it was simply a restatement of a standing policy. Mr Hynes accepted that it may have been clearer to have included tracked changes in the document and said he could circulate a copy that detailed said changes. He explained that the revised policy was a detailed read through with slight changes and additions, such as the use of social media within surveillance for example, as the setting up of false accounts to track someone’s activities online would need proper authorisation under RIPA.

 

The Committee asked whether the minimal use was down to a lack of awareness of powers and asked if there were requests for use that had been denied. Gemma Young, Assistant Director – Internal Audit & Anti-Fraud Shared Service, explained that use of RIPA had dropped when the use of magistrates and the threshold of sentence was introduced. Ms Young added that loss of control of housing benefit had also meant a reduction in use as that was often where RIPA had been previously used as a tool to help identify fraud. Ms Young also explained that there had been no requests since March 2017, but that this was primarily down to lengthy discussions happening between before a request was put in and other solutions being agreed upon.


The Committee noted that there was no specific reference to equalities in the document and queried if that was something that should be taken to account within the policy. It was answered that while equalities had not been  ...  view the full minutes text for item 38.

39.

TREASURY MANAGEMENT ANNUAL INVESTMENT STRATEGY pdf icon PDF 162 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to a report of the Pensions and Treasury Manager and Senior Accountant. Vince Yeboah introduced the report and explained that the only significant new point to note was the recommendation to delegate certain issues to the director of finance and governance. The report covered expenditure and the Council’s borrowing and investment strategy plans for the coming financial year.

The Committee wanted to know the extent to which Brexit had been factored into treasury management. Mr Yeboah explained that it was factored as a sensitivity and that prospects for interest rates had been looked at for both if there was a deal or no deal Brexit.

 

The Committee asked, regarding the change that government had made to the headline public works loans rate, how exposed to risk the Council were. Mr Yeboah answered that it had increased the rate for new borrowing and that if looking to borrow, local authorities would have to pay a premium.

 

The Chair stated that arrangements were being made for the Committee to receive training on the scrutiny of treasury management as it was a complex matter.

 

 

Decision:

 

The Committee noted the report and recommended Council to:

 

  • Agree the Treasury Management Strategy Statement and Annual Investment Strategy Report 2020-21.
  • Agree the MRP strategy for 2020-21.
  • Agree the Prudential Indicators as set out in the Treasury Management Strategy, which demonstrate that the Council’s capital investment plans are affordable prudent and sustainable
  • Agree the approval that Strategic Director Finance and Governance may approve the pre-payment of employer Local Government pension scheme contributions for a period of up to three years.
  • Delegate to the Strategic Director of Finance and Governance any revision to the strategy to bring in line to the budget report 2020-21.

 

 

40.

ANTI-FRAUD UPDATE pdf icon PDF 959 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to a report by Gemma Young, Assistant Director – Internal Audit & Anti-Fraud Shared Service, who gave a brief overview and summarised key points on the work of the Corporate Anti-Fraud Team (CAFT), who worked on a range of high-risk areas. Ms Young explained that the CAFT were conducting investigations into 352 cases covering a variety of category types including: Social Housing fraud, Right to Buy fraud, Corporate fraud and Council Tax Reduction Benefits fraud and talked on three key areas of work; reactive, proactive and redress. Ms Young covered some details on key achievements, such as the fact that the Council had recovered or were in the process of recovering 43 properties from those committing social housing fraud, and discussed cases where the Council were able to recover money lost through fraudulent activity. Ms Young also discussed fraud training that had been undertaken and described how a programme of document scanning and verification training had been conducted with several Council teams.

 

The Committee asked for some clarification on the information regarding Right to Buy (RTB) fraud and the number of investigations that were open. Ms Young clarified that all 144 investigations detailed in the table at 4.9.2 in the report were currently open. The Committee asked if it could receive figures on how many RTB cases also involve other types of criminality.

 

The Committee asked how the Council was able to gather information on people committing fraud and whether it needed a court agreement. Ms Young answered that the Council was able to access certain information and had use of a financial investigator, who was able to examine bank accounts for example, but that a case had to be made for such measures, similar to the way RIPA was authorised.

 

The Committee asked whether Proceeds of Crime came back to the Council. Ms Young answered that the Council get 37.5 % of confiscation; some goes to police and the courts, but if it was compensation then the Council receive it all and it goes into the POCA reserve to be used on anti-fraud related initiatives.

 

Decision:

 

The Committee noted the report.

 

41.

INTERNAL AUDIT UPDATE JAN 2020 pdf icon PDF 579 KB

Minutes:

The Committee welcomed Vanessa Bateman, Senior Audit Manager Mazars LLP, who gave an overview of the final internal audit report on risk management.

Ms Bateman explained that the report looked at five cores areas:

  • Risk Management Framework
  • Awareness and Training
  • Strategic Level Risks
  • Risk Tolerance
  • Embedded Approach / Compliance with Policy

Ms Bateman explained that there had been previous work on the Councils risk management conducted in 2016/17 so there was already an understanding of the risk environment which enabled a greater look at the qualitative side on this report. She added that in 2016/17 there had been three recommendations that had since been implemented by Waltham Forest, as had two advisory recommendations.

 

Ms Bateman described the process of the review, which included speaking to key stakeholders and risk champions. She stated that Waltham Forest had a mature and embedded approach, noted the improvement of risk registers, the positive work of a mature risk management group and stated that the overall assurance level was substantial. Ms Bateman explained that four advisory actions relating to risk came out of the report around such issues as ‘due dates’ and the development of an assurance mapping approach. She added that Waltham Forest were in a good position so could explore a higher level of risk maturity that it wanted to get to and be consistent with it across the framework.

 

The Chair congratulated the risk management service on the report and stated that it was useful to get an external view of the Councils performance. He added that it was

great to have areas that could be further refined and suggested that the risk review panel look at the findings and consider what role the Committee could play within helping refine those issues.

 

Gemma Young gave an update on the 2019-20 Internal Audit Plan and explained that the final report was 21% complete, which was on track for the time of year. Ms Young then highlighted table 3, on page 195 of the agenda pack, which outlined the changes to the 2019-20 plan and gave a brief overview of the status of some audit activities, including the removal of some schools from the plan, and the actions on the Hawkswood School Group recommendations.

 

The Committee had queries around the audit of, and the limited assurance regarding procurement, which they felt was concerning when looked at in consideration with the anti-fraud update, which saw procurement as a fraud risk. The Committee asked how long was given to demonstrate to the audit investigation that the Council was complying with procurement procedure. Ms Young answered that teams would have three months to comply but that they had also provided a sample of recent procurements, so should be able to show documentation. Ms Young added that issues were likely to be due to be problems with document management rather than fraud.

 

The Committee queried when the outstanding priority 1s would be completed. Ms Young answered that the plan was to complete a follow-up of all outstanding priority  ...  view the full minutes text for item 41.

42.

RISK MANAGEMENT UPDATE pdf icon PDF 130 KB

Additional documents:

Minutes:

Consideration was given to a report by Andrea Nitschke, Insurance & Risk Manager, which provided an update in relation to risk management and presented the strategic risk register for review by the Committee.

 

Ms Nitschke updated the Committee on the risks which, according to the agreed Councils risk scoring mechanism, had a high residual risk score namely that Asylum Spend had increased, and the financial dispute with a previous repairs and maintenance contractor was leading to substantial claims. There was discussion around the steps being taken to mitigate both these risks and the Committee asked to see a timeline and further information regarding the financial dispute at the next review panel.

 

Ms Nitschke stated that, regarding Brexit, there was a specific working group in place which the risk service continued to liaise with to ensure all services and levels were made aware of how it could affect them and to ensure all known risks were included within operational risk registers. The Committee suggested that this was another topic that could be looked at in more detail at the next review panel.

 

Ms Nitschke noted that the Committee would be holding their next risk review panel in February 2020 and would be focusing on Housing risks.

 

Decision:

 

The Committee noted the report.