Agenda item

Report of the Audit Committee for the Period September 2020 to August 2021 - Report of Chair of the Audit Committee


The Council noted a report of the Chair of the Audit Committee which informed the Council of the work of the Audit Committee during the period September 2020 to August 2021 and how the Committee continued to provide good governance across the Council (for copy see file of Minutes).


Councillor A Watson, Chair of the Audit Committee provided an update on the work of the Committee during the period outlined in the report.


The report covered the work of the Audit Committee during the period September 2020 to August 2021, a period which largely pre-dated Councillor Watson’s involvement and Councillor Watson recognised and thanked Councillor Eddie Bell and members of the Audit Committee, both past and present, for their contributions to the work of the Committee.


Through careful consideration and challenge of a wide range of officer reports presented, the Audit Committee had fulfilled its role in gaining assurances as to the adequacy and effectiveness of the Council’s governance arrangements, including the effectiveness of the risk management framework and associated control environment. 


In relation to Financial Reporting of the Council’s Statement of Accounts, the Audit Committee had ensured that any issues arising from the process of compiling, auditing and certifying the Council accounts were dealt with properly.


It was to the credit of all those involved that the Council continued to maintain high standards in this regard and continued to receive unqualified opinions on its accounts and on its Value for Money arrangements.


This had been achieved during extremely challenging circumstances, with the coronavirus pandemic necessitating the holding of a number of our meetings remotely, though there was a return to in person meetings from June 2021.


The report set out details of the various meetings that had been held over the last twelve months and the issues that had been considered.


There were three key areas of the Committee’s work during the period that Councillor Watson drew attention to.


The first area related to the work of Internal Audit.  The Audit Committee continued to promote and champion the work of Internal Audit across the organisation.  As such, the Committee agreed the Internal Audit Strategy, Charter and the annual internal audit plan proposed by the Interim Chief Internal Auditor and Corporate Fraud Manager.


Updates were provided to the committee on a quarterly basis.  Councillor Watson was satisfied that the Committee provided the appropriate challenge to this process, with a number of officers attending the Committee to provide explanations and answer questions across the year.



Secondly, the External Audit of the Council’s Statement of Accounts.  In June the Committee received a report from the Corporate Director of Resources which presented the draft un-audited Statement of Accounts for the year ended 31 March 2021.  The draft accounts were certified and provided to external audit within the statutory deadline.


Following the conclusion of the external audit, the accounts were approved by Audit Committee at its September meeting, a substantial achievement particularly when considering that many other authorities were not able to meet the statutory reporting deadlines this year.  Durham was one of only 5 County Councils in the Country to achieve sign off by 30 September this year.


Finally, Councillor Watson drew attention to the continuing good work of the Council’s Corporate Fraud Team


The Protecting the Public Purse reports the Committee had considered demonstrated, across the Council, the counter fraud activity that was being completed in order to acknowledge, prevent and pursue fraud under the Council’s Counter Fraud & Corruption Strategy.  Fraud had been acknowledged as a strategic risk that prevention was better than cure.


To give some context, the Corporate Fraud Team in 2020/21 completed 691 investigations over a wide range of areas including into Covid-19 grant frauds, Blue Badge abuse, Council Tax claims, bogus insurance claims and Housing Tenancy to name a few.  The team focussed their efforts with the emerging Covid-19 fraud and scams but not just investigating concerns but also to protect the Council and the Community, utilising its Fraud Communication Strategy and Awareness Campaign.


The Council had an excellent local and national profile for their work in this area.  They have developed strong partnerships with other public sector organisations which continued to enhance the reputation that the Council had.


In summary, whilst the report was largely for information, Councillor Watson considered the effectiveness of the Audit Committee to be excellent.


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