Venue: Meeting Room 1, Abbey House, Abbey Close, Abingdon, OX14 3JE
Contact: Darius Zarazel, Democratic Services Officer 07917 088376
Apologies for absence
To record apologies for absence and the attendance of substitute members.
There were no apologies for absence.
To adopt and sign as a correct record the Joint Audit and Governance Committee minutes of the meeting held on 3 October 2023.
RESOLVED: to approve the minutes of the meeting held on 3 October 2023 as a correct record and agree that the chair sign these as such.
Declarations of interest
To receive any declarations of disclosable pecuniary interests and any conflicts of interest in respect of items on the agenda for this meeting.
There were no declarations of interest.
Urgent business and chair's announcements
To receive notification of any matters which the chair determines should be considered as urgent business and the special circumstances which have made the matters urgent, and to receive any announcements from the chair.
The chair welcomed everyone to the meeting, outlined the procedure to be followed, and advised on emergency evacuation arrangements. He also noted that there was no urgent business.
To receive any questions or statements from members of the public that have registered to speak.
There was no public participation.
To consider the report of EY, the council’s external auditor.
The committee received and noted the external auditor's audit results report 2021/22 and verbal update, presented by Maria Grindley and Richard Tebbs from the council’s external auditors, EY.
EY thanked the councils’ team for their work on the audit and highlighted that since their audit report was published in the agenda, they had continued to work on the audits and good progress had been made. Richard Tebbs outlined a number of items in the external auditor’s report which were noted as still being open, specifically that there was some work outstanding on pensions, property, plant, and equipment (PPE) and investment property, together with a query on creditors, and also on EY’s own audit completion procedures.
On pensions, EY confirmed they were substantially complete and raised some questions with the council’s actuary. Therefore, subject to final partner review, EY’s work on that area was complete. On PPE and investment property, they confirmed work in this area was complete subject to one final query. Also, the outstanding query on creditors was closed with no further issues identified.
Richard Tebbs confirmed to the committee that EY have no further findings on significant risks as they had concluded their questioning on creditors with no further findings to present. For other risks, EY had completed work on the valuation of land and buildings which involved reviewing the assumptions of the councils’ external valuers. For South Oxfordshire District Council, they identified one property that was using a higher price per pitch when compared to comparable sales in the area as well as a property that used a more pessimistic assumption that they were expecting. For the Vale of White Horse District Council, they identified a single case where the valuer used a more optimistic assumption then they expected, based on industry indices. However, Richard Tebbs confirmed to members that any optimistic or pessimistic assumptions would not lead to material difference on the items reviewed.
For those land and properties that had not been through the formal valuation process during the time of the audit, EY used indices to examine whether there had been any undervaluation of assets. As a result, South Oxfordshire had an approximately £2m difference between what the value could be and what it was listed as, and Vale of White Horse had an equivalent £3m difference. The biggest increases in both councils were noted as being due to land prices. Richard Tebbs confirmed to members that EY were discussing a resolution with council management.
Richard Tebbs then highlighted an area of best practice seen in other councils that was not done in the Vale and South Oxfordshire, about the valuation of PPE across a range of categories on a yearly basis, which would ensure more categories were able to be updated yearly on the asset register. However, he assured members that this was an area of best practice and not one that would materially impact the statements.
EY also identified areas of disclosure they believed could be enhanced and small differences in the ... view the full minutes text for item 28.
To receive and approve the statement of accounts 2021/22 for South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils.
The committee received the statement of accounts 2021/22, presented by the head of finance and assisted by the Strategic Finance Officer, Richard Spraggett. The head of finance noted that both the South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Councils’ Statement of accounts were in draft and that it would be finished after the external auditors signed off the accounts. Therefore, it was recommended that the committee delegate the approval of the accounts to the head of finance in consultation with the co-chairs.
Members inquired into the council’s debt collection rate and its position as being 84 out of 188 councils for this. In response, the head of finance emphasised that the council relaxed some debt recovery activity during the COVID pandemic but that this had now returned to pre-COVID level, and that the councils were currently in the upper quartile.
In response to a further question on COVID debt recovery and if they could expect to see debt recovery for 2022/23 being over 100 per cent, representing the catch-up from 2021/22, the head of finance confirmed that the figure could never be over 100 per cent because those percentages represented the debt for that year, not to total debt collection. However, he confirmed that it was possible to collect more debt than they expected to collect for that year.
A member inquired into the movement in the collection fund adjustment account. The head of finance responded that there was no simple answer and that the councils were governed by accounting regulations as to what was accounted for in year in the accounts, compared to actual payments.
On the Vale reserves, members noted that there was a decrease in 2021/22 and enquired as to why that was and if it reflected the budgetary position. Responding to this, the head of finance noted that the reserves did decrease but that this was in line with the budget.
Also, on the language used in report and how there were members listed who were no longer at the council, the head of finance clarified that this was due to the account being a snapshot of time in 2021/22. An example of members’ declarations was given as they had not received declaration by the period so the wording was correct for the period, although it was acknowledged that phrases such as ‘at time of publication’ could be confusing to readers.
Overall, members were satisfied with the response to their questions and with the approach to finalising the accounts as proposed by the head of finance. Therefore, they agreed to authorise the approval of the statement of accounts 2021/22 to the head of finance, in consultation with the co-chairs, if there was no material change in the document as a result of future work.
South Oxfordshire District Council RESOLVED: to authorise the head of finance, in consultation with the co-chairs, to approve the South Oxfordshire District Council statement of accounts 2021/22, subject to there being no material changes in the statements being confirmed to ... view the full minutes text for item 29.
To receive and approve the South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse District Council’s Annual Governance Statements 2021/22, which form part of the statement of accounts.
The committee received the annual governance statements 2021/22, presented by the democratic services officer. The annual governance statements explained how the councils complied with their code of governance and were noted as forming part of the statement of accounts.
The democratic services officer highlighted that the reports were written a year ago and that the next statements were currently being prepared. In addition, future statements would use a more reader-friendly template and be prepared and presented by the councils’ internal audit and risk team.
Members discussed the documents’ reference to membership of organisations that the council was no longer a part of, but the head of finance confirmed that the council was a part of the organisations at the point of 2021/22 and so they needed to be included.
On point 17 in the table of the report, about the approval of the budget, members noted that financial monitoring should be included as it would be helpful for the committee for future statements.
Overall, members were satisfied with the annual governance statement 2021/22 and agreed that it should be approved.
South Oxfordshire District Council RESOLVED: to approve the South Oxfordshire District Council annual governance statement 2021/22.
Vale of White Horse District Council RESOLVED: to approve the Vale of White Horse District Council annual governance statement 2021/22.
Letters of representation to the external auditor
To receive and agree that the committee’s co-chairs from South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse may sign their respective letters of representation to the external auditor.
Draft letters of representation can be found in appendix B to item 6 on the agenda, the External auditor’s audit results report.
The committee received the draft letters of representation to the external auditor, presented by the head of finance. He informed the committee that it was the final part of the statement of accounts approval process and that the councils needed to write to EY after signing the accounts to make final comments and representations. The letters would state that the council was satisfied they provided everything they need to the external auditor.
He also noted that the letters were draft at the point of dispatch of the agenda but that any changes that may be made might not have any impact on the letters, even if changes were adopted.
Overall, the committee was satisfied with authorising the signing of the letters, subject to their being no material changes to the ones presented and that this being confirmed to the committee by EY and the council.
Finally, the committee expressed its thanks to the councils’ external auditors from EY, Maria Grindley and Richard Tebbs, and the councils’ finance staff, the head of finance and Richard Spraggett, for their work on the statement of accounts 2021/22.
South Oxfordshire District Council RESOLVED: to authorise the head of finance, in consultation with the co-chairs, to approve the signing of the finalised letters of representation to the external auditor, subject to no material changes in the letters being confirmed to committee by EY and the council.
Vale of White Horse District Council RESOLVED: to authorise the head of finance, in consultation with the co-chairs, to approve the signing of the finalised letters of representation to the external auditor, subject to no material changes in the letters being confirmed to committee by EY and the council.
To note the committee’s work programme.
The committee received the Joint Audit and Governance work programme and the democratic services officer informed members about the items that were scheduled to come to the next committee meeting, on 30 January 2024, and for the other meetings in the remainder of the municipal year 2023/24.
The committee discussed potential items for inclusion in the work programme and members noted a recommendation in a training session for the committee to discuss their terms of reference. In response, the head of finance agreed to ask the head of legal and democratic about when would be the best opportunity for this item to come to committee.
Also, on the recommendation for the production of an annual report from the committee to the respective councils, the head of finance agreed that this would be beneficial and proposed that the item would come to the July Joint Audit and Governance Committee meeting.
Finally, members asked about the meeting schedule for the committee and if there were enough meetings to cover the business to be transacted. Due to the size of the work programme, they agreed that officers should plan ahead based of the expected workload to see when an additional meeting would be appropriate, and that this discussion could be part of the committee discussion about their terms of reference.
RESOLVED: to note the committee’s work programme.