Agendas, reports and minutes

Audit and Scrutiny Committee

Date: Thursday, 20 November 2014

Minutes: Read the Minutes

Minutes of Meeting of the Audit and Scrutiny Committee held in the Council Chamber, Council Headquarters, Glenurquhart Road, Inverness on Thursday, 20 November 2014 at 10.30am.

Present:

Mrs M Davidson, Mr B Fernie, Dr D Alston, Mr R Balfour, Mr D Bremner, Mrs H Carmichael, Mr B Clark, Dr I Cockburn, Ms L MacDonald ,Mr D Mackay, Mr G MacKenzie, Mr A MacKinnon, Ms A MacLean, Mr A Rhind, Mr G Rimell, Mr J Rosie, Mr J Stone, Mr N MacDonald (Substitute)

Non-Members also present:                         

Mr A Baxter, Mr R Saxon

Officials in Attendance:

Ms M Morris, Depute Chief Executive/Director of Corporate Development
Mr D Yule, Director of Finance
Mr N Rose, Head of Audit and Risk Management
Miss D Sutherland, Audit and Risk Manager
Mr B Porter, Head of Resources, Care and Learning
Ms E Barrie, Human Resources Manager
Ms T Page, Customer Services Manager
Mr F MacDonald, Property Manager
Mr S Duncan, Property Risk Management Officer
Ms K Lackie, Business Manager
Miss J MacLennan, Democratic Services Manager
Miss J Green, Administrative Assistant  

Also in attendance:

Ms M Bruce, Senior Audit Manager, Audit Scotland

An asterisk in the margin denotes a recommendation to the Council. 
All decisions with no marking in the margin are delegated to Committee.

Mrs M Davidson in the Chair

1. Apologies for Absence
Leisgeulan
 

Apologies for absence were intimated on behalf of Mr A Christie, Mr A Henderson, Mr K Gowans, Mr D Hendry and Mr B Murphy.

2. Declarations of Interest
Foillseachaidhean Com-pàirt

There were no declarations of interest.

3. Internal Audit Reviews and Progress Report
Ath-bhreithneachaidhean In-sgrùdaidh agus Aithisg Adhartais
 

There had been circulated Report No. AS/25/14 dated 7 November 2014 by the Head of Audit and Risk Management which summarised the final reports issued since the date of the last meeting, together with details of work in progress and other information relevant to the operation of the Internal Audit Section.

In regard to the operation of the Internal Audit Section, and during the period covered by the report, the Section had been involved in a variety of work which included Irregularity/Fraud Investigations, Work for other Organisations, Boards and Committees and Advice, Assurance and Other Work.  

In relation to the Scrutiny Working Group, it was confirmed that the next topic for consideration was to be focused on the Council’s performance in managing sickness absence and the first meeting of the Group was to follow the main meeting of the Committee. Consideration would be given at that time to scoping the objectives of the review and identifying the expected outcomes and the resources required in terms of Members and Officers, including audit staff. In addition, it was expected that future meeting dates, dates to review findings and reporting dates would be agreed.       

Information was also provided on staffing resources, vacancies, training and progress against the Audit Plan.  

In regard to the Audit Plan, it was confirmed that a debtor balance of £1.372m which had arisen from the erroneous inclusion of income lost on void properties within the Housing Information System had been identified by Audit Scotland and as a consequence debtors had been overstated by this amount. In view of this, the Director of Finance had requested that Internal Audit investigate the matter and bring a report to a future meeting of the Committee. This review had therefore been added to the Internal Audit Plan for the current financial year.  

It was also confirmed that at this stage it was envisaged that the Audit Plan would be largely delivered. Some work, particularly with regard to the key financial systems, would inevitably be in progress at the year-end as there was a need to undertake testing on a full year’s transactions in order to ensure that this work complied with Audit Scotland’s requirements.                     

The final reports were presented as follows:-    

(i) Care and Learning Service - Children’s Units
(Limited Assurance)

The objectives of the review had been to ensure that goods and services were purchased from approved contract suppliers in accordance with approved ordering procedures, creditor invoices were properly authorised, processed promptly and accurately, allowances to young people were properly administered in accordance with the associated guidance and accurate records maintained, inventory records were maintained accurately and timeously in accordance with Financial Regulations and associated guidance, imprests were administered in accordance with Financial Regulations and associated guidance and the Unit’s budget was adequately controlled and monitored and the budgetary position regularly reported to all relevant parties. 

It was confirmed that, in terms of the main findings, overall it had been apparent from the audit that there was a need to ensure compliance with the administrative and financial system and in particular the requirements of the Council’s Financial Regulations, associated Guidance Notes and Residential Child Care Procedures. This had to be enforced by the Service and all staff reminded of the Financial Regulations e-learning training which was available.

In all, ten recommendations had been made – eight which had been classified as medium priority and two as low priority – all of which were due to be implemented by 31 January 2015.

During discussion, it was agreed that there was a need for a ‘balance’ to be found for all concerned in terms of establishing the most appropriate way of complying with the necessary guidance as highlighted in the report.   

(ii) Care and Learning - School Off-Site Excursions
(Limited Assurance)
 

The objectives of the review had been to ensure that the policies and guidance in relation to off-site excursions was adhered to and there were appropriate arrangements in place for the safe use of minibuses and the recharging of costs to voluntary organisations.

It was confirmed that, in terms of the main findings, the audit had found that staff were aware of off-site excursion policies and the need to record details of excursions in the Evolve system. However, there were a number of areas where the guidance had not been complied with, including the failure to record all information required on Evolve, review and approval of excursions, risk assessments and evaluation of visits. In addition, the Council policy on minibus use and associated guidance was out of date and incomplete and with school minibuses in regular use there was a need to ensure that this was up to date, fit for purpose and distributed to schools to ensure that policy and legislative requirements were being adhered to. In this regard, the Care and Learning Service had agreed to implement a review of the Council’s minibus policy and associated guidance to address this point.    

In all, five recommendations had been made – one which had been classified as high priority, two as medium priority and one as low priority – all of which were due to be implemented by 31 March 2015.

During discussion, the Chair suggested that it would be helpful if a Service response could be submitted to the Education, Children and Adult Services Committee in January or February to provide reassurance that the recommendations of the report were being addressed in terms of their importance for all concerned.

(iii) Care and Learning - Commissioning of Children’s Services
(Substantial Assurance)
 

The objectives of the review had been to ensure that an appropriate commissioning plan was in place for Children’s Services, to establish what progress had been made against the principles set out in Audit Scotland’s March 2012 publication “Commissioning Social Care” and to ensure that an appropriate plan was in place which set out the improvement priorities and the process for identifying how these would be achieved, together with appropriate arrangements for the monitoring and reporting of progress against the plan.     

It was confirmed that, in terms of the main findings, and at the start of the audit, the key documents, ‘For Highland’s Children 4’ and the improvement group plans, had not progressed as quickly as expected. However, subsequent to the audit, a large amount of progress had been achieved in finalising these documents and they had been presented to the Committee in August and the Highland Strategic Commissioning Group for approval. The requirement remained to ensure that there were adequate systems in place in order to monitor and report on progress being achieved against the outcomes in ‘For Highland’s Children 4’.    

In all, three recommendations had been made – one of which had been classified as high priority and two as medium priority – all of which were due to be implemented by 31 August 2015.

(iv) Corporate Development: Human Resource Information Security
(Reasonable Assurance)
  

The objectives of the review had been to ensure that, prior to employment, screening checks were carried out in proportion to business requirements and responsibilities for information security had been identified in the terms and conditions of employment contracts to ensure that employees understood responsibilities before they started. Also, during employment, that employees were made aware of their information security responsibilities through education and training, monitoring by management and understanding of the disciplinary process which might be applied if an information security breach occurred. Finally, at changes to or at the end of employment, that information security responsibilities and duties of employees that remained valid were defined, communicated and enforced.         

It was confirmed that, in terms of the main findings, good practice areas had been found within all three objectives in the review. An observational visit to one of the  Human Resources Business Support Hubs had confirmed good progress in the management of human resource administration processes and the four Hubs based in Wick, Fort William, Dingwall and Inverness used ICT enabled processes to provide a single consistent service across the Council. In this regard, Business Support Human Resources Officers were to be offered more training for the planned changes in 2015 of the national recruitment portal software.        

In all, three recommendations had been made – one which had been classified as high priority and two which had been classified as medium priority – all of which were due to be implemented by 28 February 2015.

(v) Development & Infrastructure – Axis 4 European Fisheries Funding
(Reasonable Assurance)
 

The objectives of the review had been to ensure that the obligations of the Service Level Agreement had been adhered to by Council Officers, the projects funded by the Highland EFF Axis 4 Programme complied with the requirements of the Service Level Agreement and the agreed actions arising from the previous audit report had been satisfactorily implemented by management.

It was confirmed that, in terms of the main findings, overall the Programme was assessing projects correctly. However, there were a number of relatively minor issues which had been found which suggested that the process could be improved. An issue during the year with the procurement of a member of staff in a project had led to the project funding being withdrawn and the project subsequently funded by the Council but this had not been identified when previously processing claims. This, along with the findings of the report, suggested that staff should reminded of the Service Level Agreement requirements and further administrative, managerial and quality checks should be put in place.     

In all, seven recommendations had been made – five of which had been classified as medium priority and two as low priority – all of which were due to be implemented by 19 December 2014.

(vi) Development & Infrastructure - LEADER Programme 2013/14
(Substantial Assurance)

The objectives of the review had been to ensure that the obligations of the Service Level Agreement had been adhered to, Highland Leader project files were complete and contained the necessary detail required by the Scottish Government confirmation certificate and the agreed actions arising from the previous audit report had been satisfactorily implemented by management.    

It was confirmed that, in terms of the main findings, and whilst minor gaps in the review process had been found, substantial assurance could be given as the process had arisen from project file completeness concerns raised by Internal Audit, the Scottish Government and Audit Scotland. As requested by the Leader team, advice from lessons learned during this Programme would be provided separately by Internal Audit which could be taken forward into the next Leader Programme.  

In all, two recommendations had been made – one of which had been classified as medium priority and one as low priority – all of which were due to be implemented by 31 March 2015.

During discussion, the thanks of the Committee were conveyed to the Officers who had been involved with the LEADER Programme in terms of the Substantial Assurance which had been provided within the report.   

(vii) Development & Infrastructure - Uniform System
(Reasonable Assurance
)

The objectives of the review had been to ensure that physical and logical access controls complied with expected best practice, application controls in terms of data input, interface processing, output reports, audit trail, backup, restore and business continuity were satisfactory and licence and support arrangements were in accordance with best practice. 

It was confirmed that, in terms of the main findings, it had been found that the Uniform system was a good system to manage both planning and building standards and on the whole operated well. However, a significant improvement was required with regard to the reconciliation of fees paid by BACS or bank transfer – the details of which had been highlighted in the report. 

In all, five recommendations had been made – one of which had been classified as high priority and four as medium priority – all of which were due to be implemented by the end of May 2015.

(viii) Development & Infrastructure – Review of Employability Service
(Substantial Assurance)
 

The objectives of the review had been to ensure that there were appropriate controls in place for the approval, payment and monitoring of grant schemes administered by the Employability Service. In particular, that applications were approved by the appropriate Officers and in accordance with the objectives of the relevant scheme, payments to external organisations in respect of Deprived Area Funds, Graduate Placements and Create & Employ Grant Payments complied with the prescribed funding conditions and where applicable were supported by reports detailing performance against targets outlined in the organisation’s funding application and sufficient records were maintained to detail which scheme funded each client/organisation and to enable verification that payments were made from the correct scheme.    

It was confirmed that, in terms of the main findings, in general there were robust processes in place for the grant funding schemes reviewed. However, there were areas where procedures could be improved in both administration and approval of applications.   

In all, five recommendations had been made – two of which had been classified as medium priority and three as low priority – all of which were due to be implemented by 30 April 2015. 

(ix) Finance: Oracle Financials
(Substantial Assurance)

The objectives of the review had been to ensure that logical access controls in terms of policy and passwords complied with expected best practice, application controls in terms of the update of standing data were satisfactory and procedures for updating standing data and processing interfaces were satisfactory and contained the expected data.

It was confirmed that, in terms of the main findings, the controls checked had been mainly satisfactory and operating procedures were of a good standard. Two improvements had been identified which were to be applied to the new Integra System and should assist with a successful implementation.  

In all, two recommendations had been made – both of which had been classified as medium priority and were due to be implemented by the start of April 2015.  

(x) Finance: Matters Arising from the Statement of Internal Control 2013/14
(Substantial Assurance)
 

The work was undertaken annually in order to inform the Head of Audit & Risk Management’s Statement of Internal Control which was reported to the Committee in June and this report provided the detailed findings arising from that work.  

It was confirmed that, in terms of main findings, the systems were reliable although there were areas which could be improved.

In all, three recommendations had been made – one of which had been classified as medium priority and two as low priority – all of which were due to be implemented by 31 December 2014.

The Committee otherwise NOTED the current work of the Internal Audit Section and AGREED the addition of an audit of the HRA debtors’ position as detailed. 

4. Nairn Common Good Fund Parkdean Caravan Park Lease     
Aonta-màil Pàirc Charabhanaichean Parkdean bho Mhaoin Math Coitcheann Inbhir Narann
  

There had been circulated Report No. AS/26/14 dated 11 November 2014 by the Head of Audit and Risk Management which referred to a management report which had been requested by the Chief Executive concerning the Parkdean Caravan Park lease. 

During a summary of the report, reference was made to an investigation which had been undertaken by the Head of Audit and Risk Management to establish how the Council had failed to apply successive rent increases since 1992. It had been concluded that there had been a number of failings with regard to proper record keeping and administration over the period concerned and in this regard a copy of the management report had been attached as Appendix 1.

Subsequently, and in view of the issues raised, the Chief Executive had requested that the Head of People and Performance and the Head of Corporate Governance should consider whether any disciplinary action or other action was appropriate. 

During discussion, Members raised the following issues:-  

  • there was concern that the recommendations from two previous audit reports had not been implemented and it was stressed that such a situation should not be repeated in future;
  • consideration should be given by the Director of Finance as to whether it was necessary for the management report to now also be submitted to the Nairn & Badenoch & Strathspey Area Committee;
  • thanks should be conveyed to the Officers who had undertaken the audit and made the report publically available thereafter which highlighted openness and transparency within the Council;
  • there was currently an issue concerning ownership of a bust of Sir John Gordon and there was a need for the Council to provide unequivocal ownership proof and evidence in this respect or transfer this asset to Invergordon Common Good. In this regard, the Director of Finance confirmed his understanding that such ownership proof was in place and this would be followed up as soon as possible;
  • this had been a very serious situation and it was vital that lessons were learned in terms of future procedures and processes; and
  • it was important that Internal Audit should again consider this activity as part of future work plans in order that a report could be provided to Members to assist in providing assurance that this situation would not be repeated in future.

Thereafter, the Committee NOTED the findings of the management report concerning the Parkdean Caravan Park lease as detailed.

5. Inspection of Equipment in Schools – Internal Audit Summary Update
Sgrùdadh Acfhainn ann an Sgoiltean – Aithisg Ùrachaidh In-sgrùdaidh
 

There had been circulated Report No. AS/27/14 dated 11 November 2014 by the Director of Development and Infrastructure which provided Members with a summary of progress in relation to the Audit Report presented to the Audit and Scrutiny Committee on 24 September 2014 and an update on progress against the agreed action plan. 

In this regard, the report outlined the steps taken to support the continuous safety and compliance of school equipment, the main objectives and findings of the original audit report and an update of the agreed management actions as contained within Appendices 1 and 2 to the report.

It was further highlighted that the Internal Audit report had focused on the inspection of categories, in particular Gym Equipment, Inspection of Plant and Equipment and Fixed Electrical Installations, and that a corporate approach would be required to achieve full and ongoing compliance.

During discussion, Members stressed the importance of the shared responsibilities of the Development and Infrastructure and Care and Learning Services and suggested that a report should be submitted to the Education, Children and Adult Services Committee to provide reassurance that the recommendations were being followed up. 

Thereafter, Members NOTED the findings of the updated Audit Report which had been presented on 24 September 2014 and the progress being made by both the Care and Learning Service and Development and Infrastructure Service against the agreed audit action plan. 

6. Quality Assurance and Improvement Programme         
Prògram Deimhinneachd Inbhe agus Leasachaidh

There had been circulated Report No. AS/28/14 dated 5 November 2014 by the Head of Audit and Risk Management which referred to the completion of a Quality Assurance and Improvement Programme for the Internal Audit service as required by the Public Sector Internal Audit Standards. 

In this regard, the Programme also provided for performance monitoring and reporting, including new measures which had been introduced. 

During a summary of the report, it was confirmed that the Programme had been attached as Appendix 1 to the report and had been designed to provide assurance that Internal Audit performed work in accordance with its Charter, operated in an effective and efficient manner and was adding value and continually improving the service that it provided.

In addition, the Programme provided for ongoing reviews of the performance of the Internal Audit activity, annual self-assessments against the Public Sector Internal Audit Standards and external assessments every five years.

The opportunity had also been taken to extend the remit to include a section on performance management which would capture additional indicators with a view to improving performance reporting. In this respect, the indicators had been divided into headings as follows – Financial, Quality, Business Processes and Staffing – and all would be introduced with effect from 1 April 2015.        

Thereafter, the Committee APPROVED the Quality Assurance and Improvement Programme together with the revised performance measures as detailed.  

7. Six-monthly Review of Corporate Risks and Risk Management Update      
Ath-sgrùdadh Sia-mìosail air Cunnartan Corporra agus Fios às Ùr mu Rianachd Cunnairt
        

There had been circulated Report No. AS/29/14 dated 6 November 2014 by the Head of Audit and Risk Management which provided details of the six-monthly review of the corporate risks by the Executive Leadership Team (ELT) and other risk management activities.

During a summary of the report, it was confirmed that new ‘above the line’ risks added were Sustainable Communities and Holiday Pay. In terms of ‘new actions’ which had been added, the previous actions recorded against the risk of Too Many Fixed Assets had been expanded to include the planned rationalisation of depots and stores within Community Services. Also, work was currently ongoing to identify the changes arising from the Care and Learning Service’s Sustainable School Estate Review in order that the relevant actions could also be added to the Risk Register. There was one new ‘below the line’ risk which was the SWAN Contract and specifically the recognition that if one or more of the key partners withdrew from the shared service in 2020 then the shared service costs could increase for the Council.

It was also advised that the Executive Leadership Team had agreed a change to the format of the risk ratings and this had been highlighted within the report and at Appendix 2.

The remaining planned risk management tasks for the rest of the year were Revision of the Council’s Risk Management Strategy by 31 December  and improving the robustness of the process for recording and monitoring Service Risks, including ICT and project risks, by 31 March 2015.  

The Committee NOTED the Corporate Risk Register which had been provided as Appendix 1 and the revised format of the risk profile at Appendix 2 to the report. 

8. Annual Report of the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland     
Aithisg Bhliadhnail a’ Choimiseanair airson Bhun-tomhasan Beusail ann am Beatha Phoblach

There had been circulated Report No. AS/30/14 dated 10 November 2014 by the Depute Chief Executive/Director of Corporate Development which presented a summary of the Commissioner’s Annual Report for 2013/14 for Members information.

In this regard, it was confirmed that the Annual Report could be accessed and read in full on the Public Standards Commissiner's website.

During a summary of the report, it was confirmed that during the year there had been 298 complaints made against Councillors in Scotland which was an increase from the 181 received in 2012/13, with the most common complaints relating to misconduct on individual applications, failure to register or declare an interest, breach of key principles and disrespect of Councillors/Officials/Employees. Complaints relating to planning had again been the most common, rising to 139 as compared to 73 in 2012/13.

The majority of complaints received (200) had not been pursued further, 67 had been concluded as ‘no breach’ whilst 5 had been concluded to have breached the Code and were reported to the Commission.

In terms of complaints against Highland Councillors, it was advised that five complaints had been made but none had been upheld.     

During discussion, it was suggested that further more detailed information should be provided if possible on the time and cost of dealing with complaints about Councillors within Highland Council.

It was also felt that members of the public did not always recognise or understand the constraints placed upon Councillors, particularly in relation to planning issues, and this often led to complaints. 

Thereafter, the Committee NOTED the content of the Public Commissioner’s Annual Report as detailed. 

9. Annual Report of Scottish Public Service Ombudsman Cases received by the Council 2013/14    
Cùisean Ombudsman Sheirbheisean Poblach na h-Alba a Fhuair a’ Chomhairle – Aithisg Bhliadhnail

There had been circulated Report No. AS/31/14 dated 11 November 2014 by the Chief Executive which set out the number and types of complaint against the Council which had been referred to the Office of the Scottish Public Sector Ombudsman (SPSO) in the preceding year and the subsequent judgement in the cases where the SPSO had concluded his inquiry, as well as a comparison with the Council’s performance in 2012/13. 

During a summary of the report, it was confirmed that the SPSO had upheld a complaint about the Highland Council in regard to Building Warrants: Certificate of Completion, partially upheld two complaints concerning handling of Planning Applications and partially upheld a complaint about Complaints Handling and the details of each had been highlighted within the report.     

The Committee NOTED the details of the report as circulated.

10. External Audit Reports        
Aithisgean Sgrùdaidh bhon Taobh A-muigh

There had been circulated the following External Audit Report which had been prepared by the Council’s External Auditors (Audit Scotland) and issued since the last meeting - The Highland Council’s Annual Report on the 2013/14 Audit

During a summary of the report, the key messages were highlighted, including Financial Statements, Financial Position, Governance and Accountability, Best Value, Use of Resources and Performance and Outlook.

In this regard, specific reference was made to the revised Local Authority Accounts (Scotland) Regulations 2014 which would apply from 2014/15 onwards and would set out what was required in respect of financial management and internal control, as well as the annual accounts themselves. Changes included the requirement for the unaudited accounts to be considered by the Audit and Scrutiny Committee which could take place after submission to the Auditor and up to 31 August if necessary. The audited accounts also had to be considered and approved for signature by the Committee by 30 September with publication on the Council’s Website by 31 October and it was confirmed that discussion would be undertaken with the Director of Finance in due course in regard to any specific implications for the Council in terms of the future timetable for presentation, etc.  

During discussion, Members raised the following issues:- 

  • with specific reference to good governance, it was important to ensure that there was a robust ‘whistleblowing’ procedure in place within the Council;
  • in relation to useable reserves which were part of the Council’s strategic financial management, it was noted that the overall level had increased by £3.891m to £85.334m as at 31 March 2014;
  • in relation to the new Single Fraud Investigation Service which was to take over the responsibility for the investigation of housing benefit frauds, and specifically the risk that Councils’ arrangements for the prevention and detection of fraud could be weakened through the loss of experienced investigators to this new Service, clarification should be provided in due course as to any implications for the Council in this regard;
  • in respect of Common Good Funds, there was a need to establish ownership of the bust of Sir John Gordon as soon as possible and confirmation provided for all concerned;
  • clarification was required as to future arrangements to be put in place in relation to the Council’s two charitable trusts which were governed by trustees, specifically in terms of the reference in the report to the effect that it was unclear how trustees were able to adequately demonstrate proper stewardship of the funds as no trustee meetings had been held during the year; and
  • further research should be undertaken to ascertain that there were no other Common Good Fund heritage assets which had been overlooked.           

Thereafter, the Committee NOTED terms of the report as circulated.

11. Scrutiny Review – Using Cost Information to Improve Performance: Are You Getting It Right? and Managing Performance: Are You Getting It Right?
Ath-sgrùdadh – A’ Cleachdadh Fiosrachadh Cosgais gus Coileanadh a Leasachadh: a bheil thu ga fhaighinn ceart?
          

There had been circulated Report No. AS/32/14 dated 7 November 2014 by the Head of Audit and Risk Management which provided details of the findings from the Scrutiny Working Group’s review of two Audit Scotland National Reports: “Using Cost Information to Improve Performance: Are You Getting It Right?” and “Managing Performance: Are You Getting It Right?”

There had also been circulated Minutes of the meetings of the Scrutiny Working Group held on 9 November 2012, 17 January, 27 February, 8 March and 9 April 2013 – which were APPROVED.  

During a summary of the report, it was confirmed that the main areas identified for improvement had been in terms of insufficient cost information provided for Members at present, the requirement for more training, the scope to undertake more benchmarking of Services and the reporting to Members of the results of self-evaluation processes. 

It had also been concluded that, whilst a great deal of performance information was produced within the Council, the quantity and quality of this varied between Services. Also, there was less cost information provided. In this regard, Audit Scotland had emphasised the need for the provision of good quality performance and cost information for Members in order to enable them to make properly informed policy decisions which was of particular importance at present during consideration of budget savings to be achieved.  

An Action Plan had been prepared to address the findings and the main action had related to a review to be undertaken by the Executive Leadership Team of performance management systems within the Council which was due to be completed by 31 March 2015.        

During discussion, Members raised the following issues:-  

  • the conclusions arising from the review were very helpful and thanks were conveyed to the Officers concerned;
  • there was a need for improving the standard template report which was provided to Area Committees in relation to Associated School Groups, particularly in terms of more detail being provided on academic performance and information leading to a better understanding of local schools, and it was helpful that this had been highlighted within the findings;
  • the Minutes of the Scrutiny Working Group meetings should be submitted to the main Committee for information as and when held in future and not held back until the end of the process as had been the case in the past; and
  • there was a need to reflect on the further training needs of Members in future.           

Thereafter, the Committee NOTED the Scrutiny Working Group’s report on “Using Cost Information to Improve Performance: Are You Getting It Right?” and “Managing Performance: Are You Getting It Right?” together with the actions to be taken.

12. Corporate Complaint Process Report 

There had been circulated Report No. AS/33/14 dated 11 November 2014 by the Head of Digital Transformation which provided an update on the Council’s Corporate Complaints Process for the period 1 April 2014 to 30 September 2014. 

In this regard, comparative data on the Council’s annual performance had been included, along with high level analysis of complaint handling and how the Council was using this to better inform understanding of complaints and improve performance.  

During discussion, Members raised the following issues:-

  • benchmarking with other Councils would be extremely useful in terms of comparison on performance;
    for Stage 1 complaints, it appeared from the report that only one Service had reached Service Level Agreement standard and this was disappointing;
  • in regard to Stage 2 complaints, there were still significant Services where nearly a third of complaints had not been dealt with within the Service Level Agreement timescale;
  • whilst recognising that the situation was improving, it appeared that there was still a fundamental problem with the complaints process and more clarification was required in this regard;
  • clear statistical information had been provided within the report in terms of the complaints which had been handled and it was up to Members to make use of this information;
  • in terms of the graphs in relation to performance, there was a need for a longer timescale to be used in order to provide more meaningful information and trends;
  • the majority of complaints appeared to focus on Community Services and it would be helpful to receive a response from the Service on action taken as a result and lessons learned for the future; and
  • there was a need for information on Planning complaints within future reports and how they were dealt with (whilst recognising that a different process was used for these complaints).      

Thereafter, the Committee NOTED:-

i.   the six month performance results and the improving direction of travel indicated for Stage 2 complaints;
ii.   the actions underway to support the improvement of the Complaint Handling Process as demonstrated in the Action Plan; and
iii.  the Council commitment to use the Public Sector Improvement Framework (PSIF) as a tool to improve and drive performance.

The meeting ended at 12.25pm.