Wrexham Council’s Audit Committee has had a poor response to it’s annual survey, something that has now become traditional, with lots of Councillors not being bothered to take part.
Part of the Audit Committee’s role is to review and scrutinise the council’s financial affairs, and make reports and recommendations on them. They also look at the level and quality of governance, risks, fraud and control across the Council and gives detail of the work carried out.
That work includes checking out documents, finance statements and external/internal audit reports and generally operating as part of the checks and governance process to keep an eye on things on behalf of the people of Wrexham.
The annual survey provides evidence to the Council’s External Auditors that the Audit Committee is effective and it also identifies areas for improvement, it is also a feedback loop for the committee itself.
As well as Councillors not on the committee not being bothered, the report before Councillors tomorrow notes: “It is of concern that not all of the Audit Committee’s members completed the survey. Two respondents did not complete all of the survey.”
The numbers taking part are up from 2015 with just 17 respondents, and last year that jumped to 21, and this year’s 34 is a new high.
A break down on respondents is below, with it noted that people had ‘several emailed reminders to complete this survey’:
The summary of responses details the questions asked, and also includes some sentences submitted as feedback.
Although most of the responses tended towards the positive ‘strongly agree’ and ‘agree’ sections of feedback, 11 respondents indicated they did not known if committee members had a good understanding of ‘Council’s priorities and statutory obligations and how their role as an Audit Committee member supports them’.
Another area that could be seen as a concern was the number either disagreeing or not knowing if all Councillors were aware of the Audit Committee being different from a regular Scrutiny Committee. Public awareness was another area where those who did respond felt there was possibly an issue.
Some sentences are quoted in the report from those who ‘strongly disagree’ and ‘disagreed’ with statements in the survey.
On a question over if the Audit Committee is seen as essential part of the Council’s governance framework, comments included: “It might do if it were effective, but it is not” and “The Annual Report goes to Council each year so there is awareness but how much that allows Members to understand the AC’s importance is unknown. The low number of responses to the survey suggests that there is no evidence that it is understood.”
One respondent notes the The Audit Committee’s Terms of Reference are perhaps outdated, saying: “The terms of reference do not reflect emerging threats to business i.e. Cyber enabled crime and online exploitations.”
A question over the effectiveness and assurance of the work of the Committee while ‘Holding Lead Members / Officers to account where the Audit Committee has concerns over the effectiveness of governance arrangements’ got a panning from one comment, “No evidence that the Audit Committee holds the Executive to account, in fact most Audit Committee members are part of the ruling administration”, and in terms of Officers the is the comment “The Committee does not always hold officers adequately to account – they do not always ask the right questions and sometimes accept explanations too easily”.
One of the more consistently scathing was the question on if Councillors and Officers understood the Audit Committee has different roles and responsibilities to those of Scrutiny Committees, with eight responses explaining why they felt that was not known, “I do not think even Audit Committee members understand the demarcation if I am being perfectly candid.”
Another area with strong disagreement was over the external knowledge of the workings of the Audit Committee, with comments including: “I don’t think the general public know the purpose of this committee” with another pondering why: “I do not believe that it is of any interest to them”.
One comment in the improvements section may mean 2018 is the last Wrexham.com article over the poor responses, with a suggestion to “Name the councillors who do not respond to the survey” likely to ensure the majority of Councillors take part next time around if adopted as part of the process.