To receive and consider the comments received from the Overview & Scrutiny Committee on the Service and Financial Plans for 2019/20.
Councillor T. Schofield, Executive Member for Finance, submitted a report that set out the outcome of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s consideration of the draft budget proposals for 2019/20. The report included the relevant statutory powers, the outcome of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee’s considerations, legal, financial and equalities implications, consultation undertaken and policy framework considerations.
The Executive Member for Finance thanked Councillor N.D. Harrison for his hard work in chairing the Budget Scrutiny Review Panel. He also expressed his gratitude to the Members of the Scrutiny Review Panel the Overview and Scrutiny Committee and to Officers for their contribution to the process. It was noted that the Panel had conducted a thorough review of the budget proposals, aided as in previous years by a high number of advance questions. The report and recommendations of the Panel were subsequently considered by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee in December.
It was noted that following its deliberations the Committee had put forward five recommendations (set out in paragraphs 12 to 14 of the report presented) for consideration by the Executive. Councillor Schofield confirmed each of these areas had been carefully considered and reflected on the Committee's overall positive conclusions about the provision budget proposals.
In response to the recommendation for an internal audit of "how budgets are developed and reported" the Executive Member for Finance confirmed internal auditors regularly carried out audits of the Council's Service and Financial Budget Setting Process. It was explained that they had reported most recently in January 2018 and that their findings included the following observation: "the Council can take substantial assurance that the controls upon which the organisation relies to manage the identified area are suitably designed, consistently applied and operating effectively". It was highlighted that no areas of weak controls or non-compliance with controls had been identified and accordingly no "actions for management" had been raised.
The Executive was asked to note that:
- Since the proposed budget had been reviewed by Overview and Scrutiny there had been a Provisional Settlement announcement from the Government, including additional information on the level of Business Rates the Council would retain in 2019/20.
- An update on this announcement, along with additional information concerning the Council's Capital Programme, had been provided to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee in January. It was highlighted that the contents of which had been reflected in the Budget 2019/20 and Capital Programme 2019 to 2024 report (set out at item 6 to the Executive agenda).
- The Overview and Scrutiny Committee had made no additional recommendations in response to this information.
During the discussion it was highlighted that moving forward, and throughout the year, financial scrutiny would become even more important, especially in view of the growing complexity of local government.
In conclusion, the Executive Member explained he did not believe there would be any merit in commissioning a further internal audit of how budgets were developed and reported, especially as the service and financial planning process remained the same as at the time of the last audit (outlined above). As a result, Councillor T. Schofield moved adjustments to the recommendations set out in the report presented. These were agreed and it was therefore:
(i) That the report of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on the service and financial plans for 2019/20 be noted.
(ii) That the comments outlined in paragraphs 12 and 13 of the report presented, concerning the budget proposals for 2019/20 and the reporting of budget contingency or headroom, be accepted.
(iii) The comments outlined in paragraph 14 of the report presented, concerning the proposed internal audit of budget development and reporting prior to the 2020/21 budget setting process, were not accepted.
Reason for decision: To take account of the views of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on their consideration of the service and financial plans for 2019/20.
Alternative options: Request that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee undertake additional scrutiny of all or part of the service and financial plans for 2019/20.