[To note the Annual Audit Letter from the Council’s External Auditors]
Nicola Coombe, Grant Thornton presented the Annual Audit Letter for City of Wolverhampton Council. It was a mandatory document which the External Auditor was required to bring to the Audit and Risk Committee’s attention. The document had been agreed with the Council’s Director of Finance in October 2016 and was a summary of the audit work undertaken by the External Auditor and previously reported to the Committee. Grant Thornton also reported that since the report had been agreed with the Director of Finance things had moved on in a number of areas. The work to certify the Council’s housing benefit subsidy claim on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions had now been completed along with work related to certification grants. The report from the External Auditor would be presented to the Committee early in the New Year on certification of grants in their Annual Certification Letter. The Committee’s attention was also drawn to an error on page 14 of the Audit Letter where the word ‘underspend’ should be substituted for the word ‘overspend’ in the last sentence of the second paragraph of the findings and conclusions section. She undertook to forward an updated Annual Audit Letter with the correction. She also advised that it was no longer a requirement of their audit work to undertake work relating to highways network assets. It was however proposed to front load a lot of the work during 2016/17 to ease the burden before the requirement comes on stream in 2017.
Cllr Phil Bateman commented that he was pleased with where the Audit Letter showed that the Council was. Toget such a clean opinion from the External Auditor reflected well on the Council and was something it should be proud of and should publicise. On the key finding within the Management Letter concerning ‘Schools effectiveness and attainment’, Cllr Phil Bateman expressed his concern at the progress being made in this area and indicated that he was not persuaded that the Council was ‘out of the woods’ in terms of improvement in school attainment. He reported that he had seen a piece of work in relation to the whole of the West Midlands region and he was uneasy about the attainment of Wolverhampton’s schools, both academies and maintained schools. In response Peter Farrow, Head of Audit advised that school improvement had been identified as a risk and was included in the Council’s risk register as Amber as it was felt the risk was being well managed. He suggested, and the Committee agreed that the Director for Education be asked to attend the next meeting to give an update on progress in this key risk area.
Cllr Jasbir Jaspal asked whether the work on income generation was complete. The Director of Finance reported that the Council’s Strategic Executive Board would be receiving an update on the piece of work from Grant Thornton at its meeting on 13 December 2016. Depending on their findings, the outcomes would be fed into the Council’s budget report for February 2017.
Responding to a question from the Chair regarding the method for the valuation of property, plant and equipment, the Director of Finance confirmed that in line with the recommendation from Grant Thornton, the 2016/17 valuation would include site visits as part of the valuation process.
The Chair also referred to the risk area ‘Group accounts’, within the Audit Management Letter, particularly the reference to housing services income and expenditure being overstated by £98 million. Grant Thornton advised that this related to an error in the spreadsheets and it had no net impact on the Council’s finances.
2. That the Director for Education be asked to attend the next meeting to give an update on progress in this key risk area ‘Schools effectiveness and attainment’.