Internal Audit Progress Report
(Report of the Audit Manager – Angela Struthers)
Members considered the Internal Audit Progress Report April 2018 to August 2018 and Mr Thomas presented the Audit Manager’s Report on behalf of Mrs Struthers. The Audit Manager’s opinion statement is at Appendix 1.
The report on Audit work carried out during April 2018 to August 2018 was summarised as the Internal Audit progress to the end of August 2018 shows that Internal Audit had started/completed 29% of the planned audits for 2018/19 which has evolved due to an Audit Apprentice being taken on in January 2018 and then left in June 2018 creating a vacancy. This vacancy gap is currently being provided by contracted staff to achieve the audit plan and a new post of Trainee Internal Audit Assistant is due to start in December.
Nine audits had been finalised during the period April 2018 to August 2018 with a total of 30 recommendations made with 27 of them being accepted by management. The table at Appendix 2 detailed the reviews finalised and their assurance levels and the limited assurances for TIC/Tourism and Section 106/CIL agreements were clarified by the Head of Service and Managers:-
Mr Craig Jordan, Head of Economic Growth introduced Ms Lisa Clemson, Tourism Manager to the Committee. Ms Clemson said she had joined Lichfield District Council 12 months ago and had welcomed this audit with it being conducted so soon after her starting the role as it highlighted the key areas that were in need of addressing at the tourist information office. The staffing levels and lack of leadership within the office had been the first area of concern. Ms Clemson said she had restructured the team at the tourist information office, which included moving one of the tourism team to be based at the tourist information office on a full-time basis to oversee the day to day operation. These changes have eradicated the need to use as many casual staff, provided more consistency and a more harmonious working environment. The salary costs are now in line with budget. All the tourism information office staff are now on the TMS system and Ms Clemson has also looked at the banking process taking advice from the finance team. New procedures have been put in place including dual signing when dealing with cash to the bank for a more secure operation. A new operations manual is currently being written by the tourist information team which will be finalised once the move to St Mary’s has taken place and the team have settled in. As the tourism information office is currently in the library the office is closed on a Sunday – this was questioned by members as Sundays are usually very busy for Cities like Lichfield. Ms Clemson said the Visit Lichfield website contained lots of information for visitors and is kept up to date.
The tours were discussed and members were interested in how much the tours actually cost us and questioned the income generated. Ms Clemson advised that she had completed a cost analysis on all of the tours that had gone out over the last 18 months, from this analysis, new procedures have been put into place and prices have increased. Ms Clemson said currently they don't have enough guides to meet the demand for tours. An Open Day is being held on 20 November to recruit new guides, she welcomed anyone to come along and she had put together a training programme to train the new guides.
The Chairman thanked Ms Clemson for her attendance and the clear explanations and members were happy to hear of her vision for the tourism office. The Chairman invited Ms Clemson to return to the meeting in 6 months to update and this was agreed. In the meantime he agreed to write to the Chairmen of both Economic Growth, Environment & Development (O&S) Committee and Leisure, Parks & Waste Management (O&S) Committee as it was felt to be a very important area for the Lichfield District which could be much better. It was queried whether we had sought contributions from other authorities for financial support for tourism (i.e. Lichfield City Council/Lichfield Discover are we connected to them)?
It was agreed that this was not the scope for an Audit & Member Standards Committee but there was scope for another committee to scrutinise the performance of the Tourist Information Centre. Mr Jordan confirmed that this was on the wider economic growth agenda and that the correct committee would be the Economic Growth, Environment & Development (O&S) Committee rather than the Leisure, Parks & Waste Management (O&S) Committee. Mr Turner agreed and said this could be something the O&S Co-ordinating Group look at. Discussions then followed about there being a definite cross over as tourism fits both committee’s work programmes and the Chairman agreed to write to both O&S Chairmen.
Mr Craig Jordan, Head of Economic Growth introduced Mr Ashley Baldwin, Spatial Policy and Delivery Manager to the Committee and Mr Baldwin explained that Lichfield District Council had adopted CIL in 2016. This adoption created an additional burden for the team. Mr Baldwin said the audit had highlighted a problem with the integration of the two systems used for s106 and CIL. Mr Baldwin explained that the s106 system was paper based and traditional. The CIL system utilised is a system called Exacom which is a software based system. The system is automated and will assist in meeting assurance levels. It had therefore been necessary to bring s106 historical information on to this new software system. This process enables the establishment of automated monitoring triggers could be set up.
In addition, since the audit, resources had been assessed. Following this the team were successful in securing an officer to solely look at the integration and large strategic sites predominantly. This means that the systems in planning, local plan, CIL, s106 can now work together whereas this was not previously happening. The process of implementing this post is ongoing but significant progress has been made.
Mr Baldwin explained that an item was going to December’s Council meeting to remove the charging on domestic extensions which had been a big burden for Lichfield District Council and would free up officer time for bigger developments. This will also free up officer time to more effectively deal with the other areas of work relating to the CIL/s106.
The procedure for the formal process for spending and distributing CIL and s106 monies had also shown up in the audit and Mr Baldwin said a process was now in place. However, the first round of CIL bidding required to working group to consider its approach to ensure bidding applications are of a suitable standard.
The Chairman thanked Mr Baldwin for his explanations and members felt the issues were actually national problems which have occurred since CIL was set up. It was asked if anything had been done through the Local Government Association or the National Framework or if we were lobbying with others about the problems. Mr Baldwin said we do as an authority submit comments on any change. In addition officers sit on a National Forum convened by the Planning Officers’ Society who lobby government on behalf of its members. There is also a local forum which includes the Black Country Authorities/Cannock and Birmingham City who discuss national issues regularly. Mr Baldwin said the two areas picked up by the audit are inherently complex and there is enormous scope for user error and he assured the Committee that he had taken the steps to streamline the systems now, specifically the team who are implementing the bolt-on to Exacom to bring on the s106 agreements.
The Chairman thanked Mr Baldwin again and said he would like to look at it again in 6 months as the systems are money earners for the Lichfield District Council.
RESOLVED:- The Committee noted the Performance Report and issues