The purpose of the report was to present the updated Anti tax Evasion Policy to the committee prior to the Policy being presented to Cabinet for approval in June 2023.
The Chief Officer - Finance, Performance & Change indicated that the Council is committed to establishing and maintaining effective arrangements to prevent and detect acts of bribery, corruption, and tax evasion in relation to Council services. The Council requires all Members and employees to demonstrate the highest standards of honesty and integrity, and this includes compliance with the relevant legislation.
The Council has in place Anti-Fraud and Bribery and Anti-Money Laundering policies to support effective arrangements to prevent and detect acts of bribery and corruption which are monitored and reviewed by the Governance and Audit Committee.
The government believes that relevant bodies should be criminally liable where they fail to prevent those who act for or on their behalf from criminally facilitating tax evasion. So, this tax evasion policy specifically addresses the prevention of tax evasion and provides a coherent and consistent approach for all employees and any person who perform services for or on behalf of Bridgend County Borough Council. The policy outlines the responsibilities of staff, and the commitment required at a senior level within the Council to implement the measures required to limit our exposure to this risk. It also addresses how concerns should be reported, the training and information which is going to be made available to staff in this regard and also how the policy will be reviewed.
The Cabinet approved the anti tax evasion policy in February 2021. The document presented to the committee is an updated policy. This review updates the policy and makes a number of minor changes. These include setting out that the Policy applies to Members and Officers, updating the role of the Deputy Head of Finance, which is no longer interim, making it clear that the policy is to be reviewed biennially, and minor presentational changes and formatting.
Members of the committee are asked to consider the policy as part of their role to obtain assurance over the Council’s corporate governance and risk management arrangements. The policy will be considered by Cabinet in June.
A Member queried how many people had been prosecuted in the last year for the non-payment of Council Tax. The Chief Officer - Finance, Performance & Change indicated she did not have the figure with her but could provide the Member with it outside the meeting.
Another Member discussed the challenge of identifying people ‘associated’ with the Council who perform services for or on behalf of it and whether or not any of them try to evade paying tax.
In response, the Chief Officer - Finance, Performance & Change reminded Members that the Council had very tight processes in place with regards to how people are paid. It is about staff being aware when they deal with something which is outside of our normal processes. If, for instance, somebody asked to be paid cash in hand rather than go through our normal payment processes, we have processes in place to check if that is happening, and also our staff are well trained and are able to raise any issues of concern. She went on to note that she did not think the Council have had any instances in relation to this particular issue in the last year, which would suggest that the processes are pretty tight.
Another Member suggested that it was his impression that the policy was very comprehensive. It included some particularly useful scenarios and examples. He was also encouraged that a section on outsourcing was included because of activities undertaken by organisations like the Awen Cultural Trust and Halo.
Another Member indicated that he wholeheartedly welcomed this report.
The Committee noted the updated Anti Tax Evasion Policy attached at Appendix A and recommended it be forwarded to Cabinet for approval.