Annual Governance Statement - Progress Report
To consider the progress report on the 2019/20 Annual Governance Statement.
Emma Duncan, Deputy Director of Law and Strategy, explained that the Annual Governance Statement would be considered by the Audit and Governance Committee, with this report being a progress update on last year’s statement. A number of actions had been identified and officers had been working to make changes to the governance of the council. One of these actions was the lack of clarity of roles and responsibilities for Members, with more training being offered and a new code of conduct recently being approved. Level of work pressure was another area and the council had taken steps to increase funding capacity in key areas and a new corporate plan was being developed. The Executive Director of Resources and the finance team had developed a budget which was balanced and progress had been made on financial control. There had been a significant amount of strategy development, with the new EQIA (Equalities Impact Assessment) being incorporated as part of the decision-making process. The recording of officer decisions had improved and there was wider engagement and transparency with the public as a result. A new transformation strategy was in the process of being adopted whilst there were developments in procurement, with officers being aware of the procurement framework.
It was important that the Corporate Leadership Team were given sufficient time to review and comment on reports. For values and behaviours, a new framework had been launched in 2020 based around the new values and staff from across RBWM had taken part in Crucial Conversations workshops, which raised awareness of the new values. IT infrastructure had been updated as part of the Modern Workplace Project, with all staff receiving a new laptop and being able to extensively work remotely. The VPN rollout was nearing completion which would further improve the infrastructure. Looking at the governance of the pension fund, a new pension fund manager had recently been recruited.
Considering the next steps, Emma Duncan said that statutory officer groups had been set up by the Chief Executive during 2020. Consideration was given to any governance issues and work would be done around the Centre for Public Scrutiny and risk and resilience. Self-assessment and Member assessment would pick up further issues. There was still work to do but a significant amount of progress had been made.
Councillor L Jones asked for further information on issues around resources and capacity.
Emma Duncan said that there would been some issues which all led to good decisions across the organisation. It was the beginning of the process and it was important to get the decision right first-time round. Further resources may be required and the council needed to see where it could get best value for money.
Councillor Sharpe asked if the steps that the council were taking meant that it was currently in a good place.
Emma Duncan explained that she had only been at the council for a few months and therefore was able to have an outside view on what had been happening. She believed that there was a real desire to change and there was a realisation that officers wanted decisions to be made well. The Chief Executive and Executive Director of Resources had moved things along and they were keen to keep moving things forward too.
The Chairman asked if all local authorities had the same view on governance.
Emma Duncan said that it all relied on cultural change and there were some councils that did not try to change which led to ineffective governance. RBWM had recognised that there were improvements to be made and was implementing change across the organisation.
Councillor L Jones asked Emma Duncan if she could explain the reference in the report to a “new performance framework that will allow Members to track performance of benefit realisation”.
Emma Duncan explained that Members would submit the policy direction with outcomes that there was a desire to achieve. For example, an outcome could be to achieve a certain amount of affordable housing, and how that target would be delivered and by who. The framework would allow the trajectory to be shown, if the trajectory was not being met then there was an opportunity for this to be challenged.
Councillor Bond commented on the independent reviews that had already taken place and other reviews that would be started shortly, which had been mentioned in the action plan. Councillor Bond asked for clarification on what these reviews were.
Emma Duncan clarified that it was a piece of operational work that would involve things like internal audit reviews. It was important that there was assurance and that officers knew what was going on, so that governance framework changes could be implemented. The Executive Director of Resources clarified that this included the review of Property Company governance that was currently being undertaken.
RESOLVED UNANIMOUSLY: That the Audit and Governance Committee noted the actions already taken and those planned.
At the conclusion of the item, Emma Duncan and Councillor Rayner left the meeting.