The purpose of the report was to submit to the Committee reports from Audit Wales, including an update on the financial and performance audit work undertaken, and due to be undertaken, by Audit Wales, along with the management response to the Performance Management Review.
Audit Wales provided a number of reports for the Governance and Audit Committee to consider. These are:
The Audit Wales Work Programme and Timetable (Appendix A) –
under the Local Government and Elections (Wales) Act 2021, the Auditor General is required to produce a work programme update for each financial year for each principal council covering both his functions and those of
‘relevant regulators’ (Care Inspectorate Wales and Estyn). At the meeting
of the Governance and Audit Committee in July 2021, Audit Wales reported
that they will provide an updated version of this report to the Council on a
quarterly basis. Appendix A is an updated position as of 31st March 2023.
Annual Audit Summary 2022 (Appendix B) – this report shows the work completed since the last Annual Audit Summary, which was issued in January 2022. The audit summary forms part of the duties of the Auditor General for Wales.
Performance Management Review (Appendix C) – the report covers the
review of the Council’s performance management arrangements,
undertaken in order to establish how well they inform the Council of
progress in meeting its priorities which was issued in February 2023. The
management response to this report is attached as Appendix D.
The Audit Manager from Audit Wales briefly introduced the financial audit section of the first report noting their audit of the 2021-22 financial statements and 2021-22 grants work was now complete.
She acknowledged that they were late signing last year's accounts due to a number of national issues and that planning work was getting underway now for the 2022-23 financial audit.
In terms of the 2022-23 financial statements, she noted they were hoping to bring an outline audit plan to the next committee meeting and that there will be a more detailed plan following that upon the conclusion of the planning work. Due to a revised audit approach this year, it was necessary to go through the motions and work out what the audit risks are in detail before a fully-fledged plan is finalised.
The Performance Audit Manager at Audit Wales provided a brief overview of the performance audit aspects of the report.
In terms of Audit Wales’s assurance and risk assessment process, this is work conducted across all twenty-two Councils to look at a range of services and arrangements. This allows Audit Wales to determine whether councils have proper arrangements and are meeting their sustainable development principle, but it also helps shape future work.
The financial position at all twenty-two councils is an ongoing piece of work.
In terms of capital programme management, Audit Wales is hoping that a project brief will go out to the Council fairly shortly, setting out the scope of that work. That would be a piece of work that will be done across all twenty-two councils. It is intended that there will be a local report as well as a national output.
There will also be a thematic piece of work around the use of performance information. Again, that will be done across all twenty-two councils. It has a specific focus. Looking at the information around service, the user perspective, and outcomes. Audit Wales is currently getting that work set up.
She also reported that Audit Wales had planned to do a piece of work around the setting of wellbeing objectives. As a result of focusing on other areas of work it has been decided to defer that work until 2023-24, and officers have been made aware of that.
In terms of other pieces of work, there is a thematic review around unscheduled care. This is being done jointly with health colleagues. Again, this is being done across Wales, and although they were due to report in April, it will now be May.
There is also a piece of work about digital strategy across all twenty-two councils. The aim is to complete that work over the summer.
The rest of the report covered performance management and an overview of some of the local government studies and where we are with those, as well as the work of the other regulators.
A Member drew attention to the section of the report (in Appendix B) dealing with the Transformation Leadership Programme Board of the Cwm Taf Morgannwg region. In particular, the Member drew attention to what the action points were in respect of ensuring its planning is more integrated and longer term, strengthening aspects of its governance arrangements, and being more ambitious in using its combined core resources to have greater impact on the region.
The Chairperson suggested this was a question for the Director of Social Services and that officers could consult with the Member to explore this issue further.
The committee moved on to consider Appendix C, Performance Management Review – Bridgend County Borough Council.
The Chairperson suggested that it was for officers to respond to this report as clearly Audit Wales has done its work and an action plan has been prepared.
In future, from an officer point of view and from the committee’s perspective, it would be valuable to have an update report as to the actions that have been taken to address the recommendations. It was important for the committee to see what has happened to date, who has done what and what are the next stages, because at least then Members would have a complete picture of the plan and what is being done.
The Corporate Policy & Public Affairs Manager suggested that officers responsible for any regulatory recommendations could be invited six months after a report to update Members on progress. She further suggested this would form the basis of a recommendation to Members when the regulatory tracker was considered by the committee in July 2023.
In terms of the recommendation (R4) to make better use of performance information by prioritising more data analysis and a broader range of information to understand performance, a Member drew attention to the work of Data Cymru.
He indicated he had been following up with the organisation, which was established to support local councils in the use of data. He indicated that Data Cymru is happy to put in extra people and resource, as well as share best practice to support activities like those suggested in Appendix D.
The Chairperson thanked the Member for contacting Data Cymru. He thought it would be especially useful if there is some resource out there that could be used. In terms of good practice, the Council could see whether or not it wishes to adopt it.
Returning to Appendix B, a Member drew attention to the ‘Time for Change’ – Poverty in Wales report, published in November 2022. The Member welcomed the report and was pleased that two aspects of work in Bridgend had been highlighted in it. He asked what Audit Wales made of the Council’s response to the report.
The Performance Audit Manager at Audit Wales suggested that Audit Wales had not done any further work on this issue since the report was issued. Since the report had only been issued in the autumn, it was necessary to give a bit of time for councils to look at it and consider their response. It was suggested that officers would be in a better position to respond in terms of specific actions.
As part of Audit Wales’ follow up, what they do is go back to councils to ask them how they have considered their reports. Audit Wales wrote to governance and audit committee Chairpersons about 18 months or so ago to emphasise the need for active consideration of reports. In time, Audit Wales will seek to check that there has been some kind of consideration and response. This would be done by looking through the regulatory trackers that councils produce. Audit Wales might also come back to ask a council what actions and progress have been made against the recommendations.
The Corporate Policy & Public Affairs Manager also responded by pointing out that these matters would not be picked up in our regulatory tracker because that picks up specific recommendations to the Council. However, the corporate plan has a specific aim around tackling poverty and supporting people in need, which will have commitments and PIs against it for the next five years.
The Member came back to suggest that he disagreed with almost everything that was written in the paragraph summarising the report in Appendix B, and especially the section that claimed, “due to the complexity and nature of the issues, the total level of spend is unknown, and no council knows the full extent of its spending on alleviating and tackling poverty”. The Member drew attention to all the grants and discretionary spending from multiple sources that supported people in the county and was clear these could be used to start the process of utilising data to understand what is being done to address poverty locally and across Wales.
The Chairperson responded that it was for other committees, including the scrutiny committees, to address these matters. The committee’s role was to look at the assurance mechanisms that are in place in regard to delivering on these issues. He noted that he was sure officers would pick this up with their other colleagues in regard to those points.
The Chief Officer - Finance, Performance & Change responded by stating that the Member was correct in claiming that they could pull together a list of those grants which tackle the poverty agenda although the support provided is not all grant-funded. She noted that she had some sympathy with the comment about how complex it is and tracking it through. But given this is an area of concern, the committee might wish to refer it on for consideration by other committees.
Referring to the Audit Wales report on Joint Working between Emergency Services (January 2022), a Member indicated that he was one of two representatives from the Council to the South Wales Fire Authority. Joint working was top of the agenda and there was a huge amount of work going on in terms of IT and the back office. To illustrate the value of joint working, he also highlighted a successful example involving the ambulance and fire services in Maesteg, who share a premises.
The Member also drew attention to the Direct Payments report (April 2022) which explored the alternative to local authority-arranged care or support. He commented that the system is such a shift in ensuring that we manage, and we support vulnerable people in our county. He added that he understands that the system does come at a considerable cost in terms of resources and in terms of staff and that we are very much in a transitional process. He asked if there was any indication of the amount of extra resource that is going into this process in Wales.
The Chief Officer - Finance, Performance & Change responded by indicating she would be happy to discuss this further with the Member offline.
Referring back to comments about data security earlier in the meeting, a Member wanted to highlight other work looking at best practice in other councils about data quality and data management. He thought the council was in the middle of the pack as far as these matters were concerned amongst the twenty-two councils. In terms of best practice, some councils have established specialist data teams who then own the topic of data governance, data quality across the whole authority, not just in a specific area. He suggested the council should explore setting up a dedicated data team. He thought there was a positive business case because they find problems within the data which then reflect lost revenue or spend which is unnecessary spend.
The Chairperson suggested that the Chief Officer - Finance, Performance & Change could consider taking this to the management team for further consideration. The Chief Officer - Finance, Performance & Change suggested that the Member had picked up on a key issue, but she wanted to reassure Members that it was already on the radar of the Council. Discussions about all the data the Council holds and about how it could be pulled together so that we can first of all check it, analyse it, see what it is telling us, and act on it. There are discussions going on now about how we manage data across the authority, and where it is best sited, and what is the best way of doing it.
The Chairperson asked for clarification about which committee would look at these matters as plans in this area come together. The Chief Officer - Finance, Performance & Change suggested it would be a matter for the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
The Corporate Policy & Public Affairs Manager provided an overview of the Council’s response to the Performance Management Review (Appendix C).
She acknowledged that there are issues to tackle but added that there were some mitigating factors to bear in mind.
Firstly, the review was carried out late summer when the performance team was down to one person. Secondly, there were no surprises in the report. It echoed exactly what had been picked up in the Council’s own self-assessment. And then thirdly, following the team's move to the Corporate Policy & Public Affairs Manager’s team in November, a performance management improvement plan has been developed, which has been considered by CMB and CCMB. The top priorities have been outlined as capacity of performance management, both in the corporate performance team and working on performance across the Council, and the performance Management Framework.
It also includes issues that Audit Wales raised like PIs that do not cover the breadth of our wellbeing objectives, PIs that are focused on commitments rather than what we are actually trying to achieve and the lack of focus on outcome data. It covers data quality and accuracy, including developing Pi definition documents and evidence and better benchmarking data, as well as improving our performance culture, and more clearly defining roles and responsibilities. Finally, it covers the performance management system, which is an old system that is not being used to its full potential.
There are some quick wins and things that are already underway.
In terms of building capacity in the team, the officer on secondment has been replaced and four graduates have been appointed. CPA reporting has changed, so summary recommendations are reported as well as the detailed performance information and we have added a meeting back into the calendar for Quarter 3.
Internal Audit were asked to conduct a PI audit, which reported back in draft form this week. This provided reasonable assurance in a number of areas including accuracy and sensible reporting.
The regulatory tracker was created so that all the Council’s audit inspection and regulation feedback is in one place and overseen by Governance and Audit Committee.
Additional information is collected quarterly as part of the usual quarterly performance measurement to improve our self-assessment process for the year ahead.
In addition, a different approach to corporate planning and the establishment of a corporate plan delivery plan is being developed, which includes pre-decision scrutiny and lots of involvement and engagement with Members and other stakeholders.
As well as that, it is intended that the still vacant post in the team will be filled, and a permanent home for the performance team will be found.
The team will also develop a new updated performance framework for the Council and provide updated guidance on roles, responsibilities, and reporting dates and requirements. The team also want to raise awareness of the corporate plan and the corporate plan delivery plan through induction, eLearning, and staff briefings.
There are also actions for business support and performance teams in directorates, which in the short term will be about time scales and accuracy of data and commentary, responses to challenge and also supporting the development of the new indicators for the corporate plan delivery plan.
In the longer term, the improvements needed are more significant and more strategic, so there is more of a focus on things like culture and as such will need to be led from the top by CMB. Those are things like developing a stronger challenge culture, improving Member scrutiny of performance, and considering a replacement of the performance management IT system.
A Member noted this was an important topic because the performance of the Council cannot be measured unless we have the core data, and this is the Chief Executive’s responsibility. He went on to say this was a massive programme of work, extremely challenging, extremely broad and about the culture of the Council, which comes from the Chief Executive. As such, the Member requested that those who set and review the Chief Executive’s objectives include a specific one around PIs for this programme of work.
In response the Chairperson suggested that, although it was not a matter directly for this committee, they could certainly request that the Cabinet consider this matter and whether it could be included in any future appraisal of the Chief Executive.
Another Member noted the very concerning information in the report by Audit Wales, especially how the Council got into a situation where there was only one Member of staff in the Team. He thought part of the role of the Committee was to make sure that was not replicated, and that it was imperative that departments are properly staffed. He made it clear he fully supported the actions and recommendations put forward by the Corporate Policy & Public Affairs Manager.
The Chairperson noted that the Chairperson of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee had raised this issue with the Chief Executive and that the Corporate Policy & Public Affairs Manager was the responsible officer. He hoped committee Members had received assurance that this is being addressed and another report will be presented in due course on the progress being made.
He added that this work, alongside the suggestions made by another Member, on the value of data and performance, could allow Bridgend Council to demonstrate good practice be seen as an exemplar once we come to the end of this work.
The Committee noted the Audit Wales Governance and Audit Committee Reports at Appendices A, B and C, and the management response to the Performance Management Review at Appendix D.
The committee recommended that officers provide updates as appropriate to committees on how BCBC is tackling the poverty agenda and responding to the Audit Wales report, ‘Time for Change’ – Poverty in Wales (November 2022).