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Panel scrutinises councils resources and governance

Governance issues and insufficient council resources were discussed by the Royal Borough’s managing director at a meeting last week.

Duncan Sharkey made the comments at a virtual corporate overview and scrutiny panel on Wednesday, May 27.

During the meeting councillors were given an update on actions taken on areas for improvement identified in the Annual Governance Statement (AGS) 2018/19.

The AGS explains how the council has followed its governance framework, which seeks to ensure it provides value for money and an efficient and effective service.

At the meeting, Mr Sharkey explained the council had experienced some issues with staffing resources when questioned on the issue by leader of the Liberal Democrats, Cllr Simon Werner.

Mr Sharkey said there had been reductions in back office staff ‘for a long time now within the organisation’, which had left the council with some governance issues.

He added: “Whether we have sufficient resource across the organisation in a whole range of other areas, I think we’d all accept we don’t.”

He said there will be other areas flagged up in this year’s AGS ‘on a similar theme about lack of staff capacity, lack of staff capability in some areas’.

Another item on the agenda was for the panel to note the local code of corporate governance (LCCG) which will inform the next AGS.

The council’s monitoring officer, Mary Severin said she was not sure that the Royal Borough had ‘always been totally aware in the past about what good governance looks like’.

“I think now that we have updated it, we’re going forward with a fresh start,” she added.

Cllr Werner said the council had ‘some issues with corporate governance’ over the last couple of years and asked whether following the new LCCG would ‘stop that happening’.

Mr Sharkey said: “If the question is ‘will each of those policies be executed perfectly every time by policies and partners?’, then of course not, no.”

He explained that the purpose of the LCCG, audits, and other mechanisms, is to try and ‘make sure we’re not accidently getting something wrong’.

“It won’t stop things going wrong, but what it should try to make sure is we know where to focus our energies to make sure fewer things go wrong to a lesser degree in the future,” he said.

Also at the meeting, plans were set out for the 2020 audit of the council and the Royal County of Berkshire Pension Fund, which the Royal Borough manages on behalf of the other authorities.

Cllr Werner (Lib Dem, Pinkneys Green) asked Deloitte, the professional services network carrying out the audit, if ‘there’s more risk associated with the [council’s] finances at this point than there has been in the past?’.

Jonathan Gooding, external audit partner from Deloitte, explained that the focus of the audit is ‘the risk of misstatement in the accounts’.

He said that following last year’s audit, the first Deloitte had carried out at the council, ‘actions have and are being taken’ after ‘a number of matters’ were raised with management.

He added: “We will seek evidence of that through our audit process this year, and we’ve not done that yet, but I would expect that typically having raised matters like that those things would be addressed.”

It was also stated during the meeting that a report from the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) is expected to come before the panel in July.

Last September a report from CIPFA, an accountancy body dedicated to public finance, stated that a review into the council’s finances needed to be undertaken ‘as a matter of urgency’.

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