The Committee considered a report on the Council's Annual Governance Statement for 2020-21, as required by the Accounts and Audit (England) Regulations 2015. The Statement was underpinned by the Annual Opinion Report (April 2020 to March 2021) prepared by KPMG, who were the Council’s internal audit managers, which was considered by the Committee at its meeting held on 25 March 2021.
The Statement set out the Council's governance framework and procedures that had operated at the Council during the year, a review of their effectiveness, significant governance issues that had occurred and a statement of assurance.
The Annual Governance Statement, which would be included in the Council’s statement of accounts for 2020-21, acknowledged the significant challenges (both financial and organisational) placed on the Council due to the Covid 19 pandemic, which came at a time when the Council was undergoing a major organisational transformation (Future Guildford), and the need to return to the good governance practices and processes that the Council normally prided itself upon. The significant governance issues identified during the year, were reported in Appendix 1 section 6.
Where areas for further improvement had been identified, the necessary action would be taken to implement changes that would further develop our governance framework.
The Committee noted that the report had also been considered by the Executive at its meeting on 20 July 2021. The Executive had commended the Annual Governance Statement to the Committee for adoption, subject to the following comments:
(a) In Part A of the table in Section 3 of the Annual Governance Statement, the Corporate Governance & Standards Committee does not appear to have considered the Email Signature Guidance for Councillors proposed by the Corporate Governance Task Group.
(b) In Part B of the table in Section 3 of the Annual Governance Statement, add the following:
· “The Council has a petition scheme to enable anyone who lives, works, or studies in the borough to create paper petitions, or use the e-petition facility, to ask the Council to take action in respect of any matter on which we have functions, powers, or duties.”
(c) The Corporate Governance and Standards Committee to receive a mid-year update report on significant governance issues that arose in the financial year relating to the AGS.
· The Leader of the Council commented on the mitigating circumstances around the areas in respect of which performance had not been to the standards the Council expected. Notwithstanding the considerable challenges caused by the pandemic, the Council still maintained and delivered essential services to residents. The Leader indicated that the Council would address the significant issues highlighted and was confident that the new performance management framework would assist in bringing performance back to acceptable levels.
· In relation to the comment in (a) above from the Executive, the Committee noted that it would be necessary to refer the Email Signature Guidance for Councillors back to the Corporate Governance Task Group before the matter was submitted formally to the Committee for consideration.
· The Committee was happy to accept the comment in (b) above from the Executive.
· In relation to the comment in (c) above from the Executive, the Committee did not feel that a further interim report was necessary given that the Committee already had a reporting mechanism in place by way of regular reports back from KPMG in respect of significant governance and audit related matters.
· It was suggested that reference be made in Part A of the table in Section 3 of the Annual Governance Statement (Behaving with integrity, demonstrating strong commitment to ethical values, and respecting the rule of law)of the Council’s encouragement of parish councils to adopt codes of conduct for councillors similar to that of the Council’s own Code of Conduct.
· In response to a comment as to whether the Council might consider including client satisfaction returns into the Annual Governance Statement, it was pointed out that perceptions of stakeholders and client satisfaction, whilst important in themselves, were not part of the consideration of the effectiveness of the Council’s governance framework and did not therefore fall within the scope of the Annual Governance Statement. It was noted that the dashboard of Key Performance Indicators recently introduced as part of the new Performance Management Framework, together with the new Customer Relationship Management system, would provide the appropriate means by which customer satisfaction, or dissatisfaction, could be monitored.
Having considered the report and the Annual Governance Statement set out in the Appendix thereto, the Committee
RESOLVED: That, subject to the inclusion of the reference to the petition scheme in Part B of the table in Section 3 as indicated above, the Council's Annual Governance Statement for 2020-21, as set out in Appendix 1 to the report submitted to the Committee, be adopted and published alongside the adopted statement of accounts for 2020-21.
To comply with the Accounts and Audit Regulations 2015, the Council must prepare, approve, and publish an Annual Governance Statement.