A joint report of the Director of Legal and Governance Services and Director of Finance (Section 151 Officer) was presented, setting out the governance issues identified in the Best Value Inspection of Liverpool City Council (LCC) report and assessed whether there were any lessons to be learnt for corporate governance within Middlesbrough Council. The report also provided an update on actions previously agreed for Middlesbrough Council following consideration of the Best Value inspection of Northamptonshire County Council and the public interest report issued by the external auditor of London Borough of Croydon Council.
The following areas were highlighted in the report:
• Officer structures, roles and responsibilities.
• Regeneration and planning.
• Elected members – roles and responsibilities understanding.
• Corporate governance compliance.
• Legal corporate governance.
• Use of Local Authority Trading Companies.
• Inspection Team recommendations.
• Consequences of the inspection.
• Improvement actions.
LCC had the same democratic governance model as Middlesbrough Council. It was therefore not surprising that the inspector’s recommendations relating to governance and structure were relevant to Middlesbrough Council. The self-assessment identified a range of planned actions that focussed on member and officer relationships and awareness and understanding of roles and responsibilities. Those recommendations aligned with a recent internal audit report on Member decision-making, which was currently at the draft report stage. There was a risk that if roles and responsibilities were not fully understood and adhered to by both Members and officers, Middlesbrough Council could experience the same issues as LCC.
The actions previously agreed for Middlesbrough Council following consideration of the public interest report issued by the external auditor of London Borough of Croydon Council had been completed as follows:
• The Reserves Risk Assessment was shared with Scrutiny as part of the consultation for the 2020/21 budget setting process.
• Training on treasury management had been planned into the work programme of Corporate Affairs and Audit Committee for 2021/2022.
The first session took place on the 24th June 2021 focusing on Treasury Management Principles with a second to follow on the Prudential Code.
• Council approved a revised Investment Strategy and a Capital
Strategy including Treasury Management Policy, Borrowing Strategy, Minimum Revenue Provision Policy and Prudential Indicators on 16 February 2021. These had all been considered in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
All actions following a self-assessment against a Best Value inspection report on Northamptonshire County Council had also been completed; with the exception of the overarching partnership governance action. Plans for this changed with the political administration, however a partnership governance policy was now in place which would ensure partnerships were developed and managed in alignment with the Council’s strategic priorities.
Work was progressing to expand demand forecasting products in Children’s safeguarding to incorporate financial forecasting. Further work was planned in relation to lessons learnt from complaints during 2021 to strengthen practice in this area.
A Member remarked that prior to the meeting they had submitted a significant number of queries. The Director of Finance responded in general terms advising the Committee that while the Council had reduced resilience, staff were doing their best and that Senior Management was could not be classed as a more inexperienced.
A discussion took place regarding decision transparency and how Executive decisions were made and recorded. The Monitoring Officer advised she was confident that decisions were adequately recorded as well as their reasons. It was commented that all Members should be aware of their responsibilities during the decision making process.
AGREED as follows that the Committee:
1. noted the contents of the report and the planned actions to ensure lessons are learnt from events at Liverpool City Council (LCC).
2. noted an update on previously agreed actions to ensure lessons were learnt from the issues experienced by London Borough of Croydon Council (LBCC) and Northamptonshire County Council (NCC).