Cllr Crabtree (Chair)
Cllr John Salter deputising for Cllr Ron Abbey
Cllr Irene Williams
Cllr Jeff Green
Mark Delap (Committee Clerk)
Deputy Director of Finance
Chief Internal Auditor
Bill Norman (Legal Adviser/Head of Law, HR and Asset Management Department)
Mike Thomas (District Auditor)
The Chair asked for declarations of interest. There weren’t any declared, so the Committee considered the minutes of the meeting held on the 29th November 2011. The Chief Internal Auditor said they had been asked in the minutes to circulate a copy of the Internal Audit Manual.
Cllr Darren Dodd referred to amendments to the minutes. The Chair said if he was OK with the explanation Cllr Dodd had received from Mark Delap? He asked if it was OK if he signed the minutes?
The Chair moved onto item 3 Annual Governance Report 2010/2011 Action Plan Update.
The Deputy Director of Finance referred the Committee to the Action Plan and recommendations.
The Chair asked for comments.
There were no comments, so the Chair moved onto item 4 Statement of Accounts 2011/2012 Review of Arrangements.
Tom Sault introduced item 4. He referred to the Statement of Accounts and Action Plan and updated the Committee on areas of further progress. He said he was happy to take any questions?
Cllr Green was keen that there was not a repeat of last year and following criticism by external audit didn’t want the situation to happen again. He asked Tom to clarify and comment on the proposal for closing the Statement of Accounts.
Cllr Jim Crabtree asked if Cllr Ron Abbey had a question.
Cllr Simon Mountney said it was unfair to ask [Colin Hughes]. He said the question should be put to the Director of Law, Human Resources and Asset Management [Bill Norman] at the earliest opportunity.
Cllr Ron Abbey said the wanted his question minuted. He referred to item 4 section 4.3 (b)(i) and the audit undertaken of the Department of Adult Social Services Day to Day Procurement System. He said that the issues raised in the audit had not been addressed by the Department of Adult Social Services, but following the reorganisation responsibility now rested with the Department of Law, Human Resources and Asset Management. He wanted to know the timescale and when the committee would see it, even as an interim announcement between meetings sent to the Chair, Deputy Chair, spokespersons and the rest of the committee.
Colin Hughes said that he was sure they would their best to comply, but he was not familiar with it.
Cllr Ron Abbey said the Department for Adult Social Services actions had not been actioned and responsibility had been given to the Department of Law, Human Resources and Asset Management to resolve it following the reorganisation. He wanted timescales as to when it would be delivered and reported on in the interim period between meetings. It was important that recommendations were made into actions as speedily as possible rather than not actioned. Cllr Abbey said this issue went back months and months and months. He wanted them to be a bit more prompt and he said the critical report showed we’re “not good at dealing with anything as an organisation”.
Cllr Jim Crabtree said they would find someone.
Cllr Abbey said he had other questions on actions and timescales.
Cllr Simon Mountney said he was happy to talk, but the decision over not having a legal adviser because he had a meeting tomorrow he thought “a disgrace”. He repeated that he thought it was a disgrace.
Cllr Jim Crabtree said it was his decision, that Sarjit had asked and that had been his response.
Cllr Simon Mountney said he was delighted that Colin was here, but that Colin didn’t know about the items on the agenda. He wasn’t going to ask Colin to go away but he felt it was a waste of their time.
Cllr James Keeley said he was happy to move forward.
Cllr Ron Abbey said he wasn’t being disrespectful, but that [Cllr Crabtree] should have asked the committee who would’ve said no. He felt that the Department for Adult Social Service had kicked it into the long grass with no answer. He said was important for good governance and for advising Cabinet. He was mindful that there would be the holidays soon. They would soon be dealing with the Budget, after that would be the local elections, then things would be delayed to the Mayor Making. He was sorry to labour the point, but it was symptomatic of the way things were happening.
Cllr Jim Crabtree said would be appropriate for Bill Norman to write to members of the committee.
Cllr Ron Abbey suggested this was done by “pony express” not “snail mail”.
Cllr Abbey said he had to be as blunt as this as time after time, actions had not been actioned. He had suspicions it was deliberate. He said the corporate governance recommendations had not been actioned, damage done and that they should have people sitting at this committee as it was a very important meeting in going forward. Cllr Abbey said they can’t do corporate governance without the relevant officers present and it was symptomatic of the problems.
Cllr Jim Crabtree said he apologised on Surjit’s behalf, Surjit had a meeting tomorrow and work to do and had asked Cllr Crabtree if he was needed.
Cllr Ron Abbey said they had more important and pressing matters and nothing was more important than good…
Cllr Jim Crabtree said Colin Hughes was in the building.
Cllr Ron Abbey said senior people were not here and they were “paying lip service” to “addressing issues”.
Cllr James Keeley said he agreed. It was a “statutory committee” and it was outrageous they had no legal adviser.
Cllr Jim Crabtree said he could adjourn the committee until one was found.
Cllr Alan Brighouse said he shared the concerns.
Cllr Jim Crabtree said Surjit had asked if he was really needed as tomorrow he had a tribunal.
Cllr Ron Abbey said he appreciated officers could be unable to attend, but a replacement officer should be a matter of course. He appreciated David Taylor-Smith was here on behalf of the Department of Finance, but there was no-one from the Department of Law, Human Resources and Asset Management.
Cllr Simon Mountney also asked about the processes in place.
David Taylor-Smith said it was a decision of the administration, they were provided with the information which was then discussed. The Budget would be set by the statutory deadline.
Cllr Simon Mountney asked about actions taken by officers.
David Taylor-Smith said that there were a number of processes. There was the Budget Simulator which was running to the 30th November. The administration was making deliberations.
Cllr Simon Mountney said the decisions were based on a game?
David Taylor-Smith said there were assumptions and the report was a projection. It had been quickly revised over the 1% in 2013. There were also implications for Housing Benefit. He asked if Cllr Simon Mountney wanted him to share such matters with the Chair and spokespersons? He said the Budget Projections was a regular report to Cabinet and the latest projections would be in the next report. There had been announcements today but the next meeting would be mid January.
Cllr Ron Abbey asked if there was signficant movement then it should be shared with the Chair, Deputy Chair and spokespersons, as the longer it was delayed the less time they had.
Cllr Alan Brighouse asked if there were enough resources to fulfill the requirements of the Budget process?
David Taylor-Smith said it was kept under regular review.
Cllr Jim Crabtree asked what officers were doing to stay within projected budget spends?
David Taylor-Smith said that was up to individual Chief Officers. The budget allocations went to Cabinet along with assurances. He was happy to take specific instances to Chief Officers.
Cllr Jim Crabtree and the committee agreed the report and moved to item 4 (Internal Audit Update).
Cllr Jim Crabtree (Chair)
Cllr Darren Dodd (Vice-Chair)
Cllr Irene Williams
Cllr Ron Abbey
Cllr Simon Mountney (Spokesperson)
Cllr James Keeley
Cllr Sue Taylor (deputy for Cllr Jeff Green)
Cllr Alan Brighouse (Spokesperson)
Surjit Tour (Legal adviser)
Mark Delap (Committee Clerk)
Mike Thomas (District Auditor)
Liz Temple-Murray (Audit Commission)
Surjit Tour after talking with the Chair Cllr Jim Crabtree left the room. Mike Thomas said that agenda item 9 (Audit Commission) HESPE Follow Up Report would not be dealt with tonight.
Cllr Jim Crabtree said he would like to make a start and welcomed people to the meeting. He asked for any declarations of interest. None was declared. The minutes of the meeting held on the 28th September 2011 were agreed.
David Taylor-Smith introduced the Budget Projections 2012-2015 report. He said it was a regular report to Cabinet and referred to page nineteen, which dealt with the shortfall in each of the next three financial years. There were processes to address the issues rather than debate over how the shortfall would be found. He asked for any questions.
Cllr Jim Crabtree invited Cllr Darren Dodd to speak.
Cllr Darren Dodd asked him to “tell us more about the processes in place”?
David Taylor-Smith said the Director of Finance reported to the Cabinet meetings. He said the Cabinet and the Executive behind the scenes had regular debates over planning and how the [Labour] administration responded to the reports was up to them.
Tom Sault introduced the Statement of Accounts covering report and Appendix. He said the Merseyside Pension Fund was part of the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral’s accounts and this was a recommendation from the Pension Committee. There was the report to the District Auditor, Annual Governance Statement and letter of representation as well as the Action Plan. It had been signed off and there had been a briefing in July.
Unfortunately it had been published on the 4th July instead of the 30th June, which was behind the deadline. These would be formally published by the 30th September. They would get the auditor’s report in the next couple of days. There was an adjustment to one outstanding item, which was likely to happen by the end of the day. It was to do with a complex issue affecting £6 million of capital grants. This had no effect on the bottom line. There was an adjustment to two accounts, one being the technical services department with regards to how assets are treated under the International Financial Reporting Standards. This had no effect on the bottom line, but lessons had been learnt.
Cllr Crabtree asked Mike Thomas to respond.
Mike Thomas said the key messages had been issued in a supplement to page 36 and went on to talk about value for money, internal control weaknesses and key matters. He said it had been a challenging year in the public sector. He was still of the view that it was an unqualified opinion. He thought project management could be better and they needed to manage the process better.
Cllr Jim Crabtree (Chair) said “Good evening” to start the meeting. He asked for any declarations of interest. No declarations of interest were declared. The minutes of the meeting held on the 30th June 2011 were received.
An officer introduced the Merseyside Pension Fund accounts and Appendix. He said they had been audited and the recommendation was to agree the accounts (and amendments) as well as the letter of representation. The accounts had been to Pension Committee on the 19th September, but this was a briefer version. He referred to the appendix and the changes made by the Audit Commission as well as changes due to International Financial Reporting Standards. The audit opinion was unqualified. There had been lessons learnt about reconciliation and investment accounting.
Cllr Crabtree said he would take agenda items 3, 4, 5 and 6 together as they were related.
Mike Thomas, introduced the Annual Governance Report into the Merseyside Pension Fund. He also referred to the Pension Committee meeting. He said it was an unqualified opinion, but there were outstanding matters which were detailed in the supplementary pages. It was an unqualified opinion but there were two material errors in presentation and classification.
He referred to page 12 and said there were no issues about independence. The recommendations in the report were subject to discussion about the amendments which were as a supplementary paper. All work was complete. The report sets out in detail changes which would need to be done by next year, and he alluded to the main one. He thanked the Merseyside Pension Fund team and pointed out the deadline was Friday.
I welcome the Ilchester Park play area in Bidston as mentioned in this Wirral Council press release.
However 200 yards away from Ilchester Park (as the crow flies) and just a few minutes walk away is a play area next to the Gautby Road Community Centre. The land the play area is on is owned by Wirral Council. Most of the time it is kept padlocked.
Cllr McLachlan stated in the Wirral Council press release: “Local children deserve the best play equipment near their homes and these sites are spread across the borough so that everyone can access them.” Cllr McLachlan (along with Cllr Harry Smith and Cllr Jim Crabtree) are all on the Gautby Road Play & Community Centre Joint Management Committee which manages the community centre and adjacent play area.
I agree with Cllr McLachlan and am pleased that local children can now access the play area in Ilchester Park (I’ve seen children already playing here when I’ve been walking to Birkenhead North train station to get a train). However many children live nearer to the play area which is part of (and next to) the Gautby Road Community Centre. Unlike the Ilchester Park play area it is surrounded by railings.
I have heard many reasons why the Gautby Road play area can’t be used from Wirral Council officers. These range from children could slip in the rain, to children need supervising, to concerns about vandalism. All seem to be a reason to keep it locked up and stop children playing there. The problem has been ongoing for some time and has been brought to my attention by a number of residents.
However it would be great if it could be open at least some of the time and the public made aware of when these times are.