Positive internal audits welcomed by members
Members of the Audit and Scrutiny Committee – which took place today, 28 September – were presented with a report outlining the work undertaken by Highland Council’s Internal Audit section since the Committee’s previous meeting in February 2022.
Of the eight audit reports considered during the public meeting, three were given audit opinions of substantial assurance.
Substantial Assurance highlights that while there is a generally a sound system, there are minor areas of weakness which put some of the system objectives at risk, and/or there is evidence that the level of non-compliance with some of the controls may put some of the system objectives at risk.
The three audits which were given audit opinions of substantial assurance were:
Review of Ward Fund Schemes (Communities & Place Directorate)
The Ward Fund Schemes examined comprised of Placed-Based Investment, Covid-19/ Community resilience, and discretionary grants.
The objective of this review was to ensure that the process for the award of Ward Fund schemes was effective in terms of:
• Identification and agreement of local scheme priorities;
• Receipt, assessment and approval of applications; and
• Payment, evidence of spend and reporting of schemes.
All 15 (5 COVID and 10 Place-Based Investments) grants were shown to have met the requirements of the spend priorities agreed at the appropriate Area Committee.
The report found that the Council has broadly effective processes for the determination and administration of Ward Funds.
Review of Covid Business Grants (Infrastructure, Environment & Economy Directorate)
The review considered the Council's administration of the Scottish Government's Covid-19 national grants schemes between October 2020 and October 2021 (inclusive).
It involved the testing of a sample of grants from the following schemes: Strategic Framework Business Fund (including Restart), Small Accommodation, Discretionary, Taxi Driver, Contingency and Business Hardship.
This is the second audit review that has considered the effectiveness of the Council's Covid-19 grant process. The audit objectives were to assess the processes:
- for businesses to apply;
- to identify eligible applicants; and
- to promptly pay eligible applicants the correct grant.
To the end of March 2022, the Council processed a total of 40,442 Covid-19 grant transactions, totalling approximately £200m to 17,321 businesses.
The Council’s Approach to Recovery
The audit review examined the Council’s approach to Covid-19 recovery. The objectives were to ensure that: (i) the planned outcomes were already or were on course to be achieved and recovery actions have been promptly implemented; and (ii) the Programme Management Office (PMO) approach provides an efficient and effective basis for the delivery of the Council’s Transformation Programme.
It assessed the organisation’s approach to recovery and delivery of actions across a multiple difference phases in the priority areas of: lockdown agility, recovery of the Highland economy, financial recovery strategy and community empowerment.
The report recognised that this is the first time the Council has had to manage the wholesale recovery of its business operations and found that the Recovery Action Plan had achieved its objective on focussing upon recovery until such actions became business as usual activities.
Councillor Trish Robertson, Chair of the Audit and Scrutiny Committee, said: “The committee has been presented with an Internal Audit report which is showing some positive outcomes for the reviews undertaken over the last several months.”
Councillor Robertson continued: “Of particular note is the review of Covid Business Grants, which received an Internal Audit opinion of substantial assurance.”
“My colleagues and I commend the fast-paced and diligent work of officers and teams throughout the organisation who, in the very early stages of the pandemic, took steps to establish new systems and business processes. Moving at pace during this time was critical in getting much-needed funding out to local Highland businesses and to ensure their survival and recovery from the impact of the pandemic.”