To consider the contents of the Grant Thornton Value for Money report.
Gareth Mills, Grant Thornton, presented the external auditor’s 2020-21 annual report for Value for Money (VFM). Under the National Audit Office Code of Practice, external auditors were now required to consider whether the Authority had put in place proper arrangements to secure economy, efficiency and effectiveness in its use of resources. Auditors now reported in more detail on the Authority’s overall arrangements as well as key recommendations on any significant weaknesses in arrangements identified during the audit.
Grant Thornton had identified risks in respect of:-
- The Authority had maintained a steady financial position which had improved in the past 2 years.
One possible risk of significant weakness identified at planning stage (risk covered in detail in the 2020-21 Audit Findings Report)
· Overall, they were satisfied the Council had appropriate arrangements in place to ensure it managed risks to its financial sustainability
· They had not identified any risks of significant weaknesses
· They had identified one improvement recommendation in respect of the clarity of reporting the Council’s savings programme
- No significant weaknesses in arrangements identified but improvement recommendations made
· They had not identified any significant weaknesses in respect of the Council’s governance arrangements
· Overall they were satisfied the Council had appropriate arrangements in place including for budget setting and risk management
· Their work had identified 2 improvement recommendations to further enhance the Council’s governance arrangements
Improving economy, efficiency and effectiveness
- One risk of significant weakness identified with an associated key recommendation. Also 2 improvement recommendations made.
· Overall they were satisfied the Council had appropriate arrangements in place in relation to improving economy, efficiency and effectiveness except for arrangements in implementing Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEND) Reforms as set out in the Children’s and Families Act 2014
· Grant Thornton considered there was a significant weakness in these arrangements as highlighted by Ofsted and the CQC in their report in November, 2021
· As a result they had raised a Key recommendation on this
· They had also made 2 improvement recommendations for improving economy, efficiency and effectiveness
- The review had not identified any significant weaknesses in the Council’s arrangements in relation to responding to the Covid-19 pandemic
In July 2021, Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission conducted a joint Local Area Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) inspection of the local SEND system in Rotherham to assess the effectiveness of the area in implementing the Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities reforms as set out in the Children and Families Act 2014.
The inspection had highlighted some strengths in the Service, however, there were 4 areas for improvement. As a result of these findings, it was the external auditor’s view that there was a significant weakness in arrangements in relation to improving economy, efficiency and effectiveness in Rotherham in implementing Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities reforms as set out in the Children’s and Families Act 2014 and the following recommendation made:-
The Council should
· Have a clear “Written Statement of Action (WSOA)” in response to Ofsted and CQC report on joint area SEND inspection which identified significant areas of weaknesses in implementing SEND reforms as set out in the Children and Families Act 2014
· A clear action plan to implement this WSOA working with all stakeholders including parents, carers, the CCG officers, Ofsted and the CQC
· The action plan should be subject to formal monitoring and challenge by the Improving Lives Select Commission
Discussion ensued with the following issues raised/clarified:-
- The Council’s reserves position had improved since 2018-19. Benchmarking with similar sized metropolitan authorities had shown Rotherham’s reserves level to be lower than others
- Reference had been made to inflationary pressures facing local authorities
- Although the findings of the Ofsted and CQC inspection will have been captured in the respective risk registers, under the terms of the new Value for Money approach an external auditor was duty bound to reference as part of their review and raise a key recommendation. Should the actions required by Ofsted have been implemented/Ofsted visit finding the Council had responded appropriately by the time of the next Value for Money review, it would be reflected accordingly
It was noted that the recommendations regarding procurement arrangements and the latest Procurement Procedure Rules would be included within the six monthly external inspections, reviews, and audits update to enable implementation to be tracked by the Committee.
Resolved:- That the report be noted.