Annual Audit and Inspection Letter - March 2007
13 pages
English

Annual Audit and Inspection Letter - March 2007

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Annual Audit and Inspection Letter March 2007 Annual Audit and Inspection Letter High Peak Borough Council The Audit Commission is an independent body responsible for ensuring that public money is spent economically, efficiently and effectively, to achieve high-quality local services for the public. Our remit covers around 11,000 bodies in England, which between them spend more than £180 billion of public money each year. Our work covers local government, health, housing, community safety and fire and rescue services. As an independent watchdog, we provide important information on the quality of public services. As a driving force for improvement in those services, we provide practical recommendations and spread best practice. As an independent auditor, we ensure that public services are good value for money and that public money is properly spent. Status of our reports This report provides an overall summary of the Audit Commission’s assessment of the Council, drawing on audit, inspection and performance assessment work and is prepared by your Relationship Manager. In this report, the Commission summarises findings and conclusions from the statutory audit, which have previously been reported to you by your appointed auditor. Appointed auditors act separately from the Commission and, in meeting their statutory responsibilities, are required to exercise their professional judgement independently of the Commission (and the ...

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Annual Audit and Inspection Letter
March 2007
 
Annual Audit and Inspection Letter
High Peak Borough Council
 
 
 
The Audit Commission is an independent body responsible for ensuring that public money is spent economically, efficiently and effectively, to achieve high-quality local services for the public. Our remit covers around 11,000 bodies in England, which between them spend more than £180 billion of public money each year. Our work covers local government, health, housing, community safety and fire and rescue services. As an independent watchdog, we provide important information on the quality of public services. As a driving force for improvement in those services, we provide practical recommendations and spread best practice. As an independent auditor, we ensure that public services are good value for money and that public money is properly spent.       Status of our reports This report provides an overall summary of the Audit Commissions assessment of the Council, drawing on audit, inspection and performance assessment work and is prepared by your Relationship Manager. In this report, the Commission summarises findings and conclusions from the statutory audit, which have previously been reported to you by your appointed auditor. Appointed auditors act separately from the Commission and, in meeting their statutory responsibilities, are required to exercise their professional judgement independently of the Commission (and the audited body). The findings and conclusions therefore remain those of the appointed auditor and should be considered within the context of the Statement of Responsibilities of Auditors and Audited Bodies issued by the Audit Commission. Reports prepared by appointed auditors are:  prepared in the context of the Statement of Responsibilities of Auditors and Audited Bodies issued by the Audit Commission; and  addressed to members or officers and prepared for the sole use of the audited body; no responsibility is taken by auditors to any member or officer in their individual capacity, or to any third party. Copies of this report If you require further copies of this report, or a copy in large print, in Braille, on tape, or in a language other than English, please call 0845 056 0566. © Audit Commission 2007 For further information on the work of the Commission please contact: Audit Commission, 1st Floor, Millbank Tower, Millbank, London SW1P 4HQ Tel: 020 7828 1212 Fax: 020 7976 6187 Textphone (minicom): 020 7630 0421 www.audit-commission.gov.uk 
Annual Audit and Inspection Letter   Contents  3  
Contents Our overall summary Action needed by the Council How is High Peak Borough Council performing? The improvement since last year - our Direction of Travel report Financial management and value for money Conclusion Availability of this letter Appendix 1  Fee information
4  4  5  5  9  12  12  13  
High Peak Borough Council
4 Annual Audit and Inspection Letter  Our overall summary
Our overall summary 1 This report provides an overall summary of the Audit Commission's assessment of the Council. It draws on the findings and conclusions from the audit of the Council and from any inspections that have been undertaken in the last year. The letter includes our review of how well the Council has progressed (our Direction of Travel report) and the auditors assessment of how well the Council has managed its finances (the Use of Resources scores). These latter components will be an important feed into any future decision regarding the potential for a rescoring the Councils Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) category. 2 The report is addressed to the Council, in particular it has been written for councillors, but is available as a public document for stakeholders, including members of the community served by the Council. 3 The main messages for the Council included in this report are as follows.  Direction of travel - the Council has continued to improve its performance as measured by key national indicators - based on these indicators its rate of improvement is above the national average. It has also made progress in its priority areas, for example in supporting people, regeneration and improving the Council. As you are aware waste collection and recycling remains an improvement priority - the Council did not achieve its target for recycling in 2005/06, and performance on recycling and amount of waste collected is well below average. In the current year a pilot waste collection scheme has improved recycling levels significantly in the pilot area according to the Council's own figures. The Council has robust plans for improving and the capacity to deliver those plans.  Use of resources - the Council has strong arrangements for securing value for money and also performs strongly in managing its performance against budgets. It has made significant improvements in its arrangements for financial reporting.  Crescent project - as we have reported in previous years, the multi-million pound Crescent development remains both an extremely important project for Buxton and the Council and a source of risk for the Council. It is now entering a crucial phase. Our continuing overriding consideration is that the Council is aware of, and takes action to minimise, all significant financial risks. We will monitor progress.
Action needed by the Council Continue to give the Crescent development priority as a regular reporting item   to Members.
High Peak Borough Council
Annual Audit and Inspection Letter   How is High Peak Borough Council performing?  5  
How is High Peak Borough Council performing? 4 High Peak Borough Council was assessed as excellent in the Comprehensive Performance Assessment carried out in 2004. These assessments have been completed in all district councils and we are now starting to update these assessments, through an updated corporate assessment, in councils where there is evidence of change. The following chart is the latest position across all district councils. Figure 1 Overall performance of district councils in CPA  Overall performance of district councils in CPA 86 86
29
100 80 60 40 209 0 poor weak Source: Audit Commission
fair
28
good excellent
The improvement since last year - our Direction of Travel report 5 The Council's services are improving when measured against a basket of indicators selected by the Audit Commission. 66 per cent of the Councils performance indicators are improving, which is well above the district council average of 58 per cent, and also a higher proportion than in 2004/05. Of these indicators 34 per cent are within the best 25 per cent of performers which is above the district council average. 6 The Council is making progress against its priorities which it identifies in its Corporate Plan 2006-2011 as: Supporting People; Creating Jobs and Prosperity; Protecting the Environment and Improving the Council. The Council has also recently won, jointly with another District Council, the LGC Council of the Year Award.
High Peak Borough Council
6 Annual Audit and Inspection Letter  How is High Peak Borough Council performing?
7 The Council has taken action to support vulnerable people. Performance on benefits processing and benefits accuracy is at the level of the best performers. It has also increased take up of benefits by jointly working with the Pensions services, so that around 30 extra people have claimed benefits they were entitled to. The Council has successfully bid for Extra Care accommodation for frail older people and secured 70 additional units of affordable housing through planning agreements. High Peak Community Housing (HPCH) has ensured that over 80 per cent of homes now meet the decent homes standard and is introducing choice based lettings, and monitoring the impact. However, the Council and HPCH acknowledge that performance on some indicators, such as the percentage change in the number of households in temporary accommodation, is below that of most councils. 8 The Council is progressing its regeneration projects. It has invested in the regeneration of Glossop. The town centre and park have been improved with £1.3 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £250,000 from the Derby and Derbyshire Economic Partnership. The Buxton campus of the University of Derby has now run for a full year. The Council has established a manufacturing task force to attract high quality employment into the district. Eighty five new businesses have been created so far this year. The thermal spa project, for which the Council has gained £32 million in funding, and Goyt Bridge improvement project are under way. 9 The Council has mixed performance in relation to key environment indicators. Performance on keeping the streets clean is in line with the best performers. The Council has expanded the environmental enforcement role across the whole of the borough and improved street cleansing through a hit squad approach. Planning performance has improved and performance on major applications is around average (but above the Government's target) with minor applications and others at the level of the best performers. The Council achieved a green flag for the Pavilion Gardens in Buxton. It has introduced plastics recycling at eight bring recycling sites and is launching a pilot twin bin scheme in Glossopdale. However, the Council did not achieve its target for recycling in 2005/06, and performance on recycling is still well below average. The amount of household waste collected is also amongst the worst performing councils. In 2006/07 the Council has piloted a new waste collection service in one area of the Borough - this has increased recycling in the pilot area significantly based on the Council's own figures. The Council made a commitment to roll the new service out across the Borough in 2007/08.
High Peak Borough Council
Annual Audit and Inspection Letter   How is High Peak Borough Council performing?  7  
10 The Council has contributed to a range of wider community outcomes. Buxton won the East Midlands in Bloom Large Town category in 2006, and the Council now has a service level agreement with the Police to provide out of hours security at Pavilion Gardens in Buxton. Consultation results show that the public now feel more secure. The Council has also improved the parks through working with friends of groups and working with Groundwork to deliver £430,000 worth of improvements and a rangers scheme. The Council has worked with the Police successfully on implementing acceptable behaviour contracts and reducing re-offending. It has provided successful diversionary activity for young people in the parks at Buxton and Glossop. The Council is also working with the East Midlands Development Agency to ensure a role for Buxton Pavilion in the future. The Council has established Going Local groups aligned to area forums, which have compiled action plans to deliver local improvements and funding for a range of community facilities. 11 The Council is taking forward action on access to services for all citizens, including hard to reach groups. It has further developed the call centre which now opens from 8am to 8pm. It consulted with customers before developing its customer care arrangements and has recently carried out a mystery shopping exercise with good results. The Council has worked with the University of Derby to find out more about needs of young people, formed the High Peak Youth Partnership and developed a young persons website. It also consults with older people and access groups. It has reached Level 2 of the Equality Standard and is carrying out impact assessments to ensure that its services reach all parts of the community. 12 The Council has strong arrangements for securing value for money - its systems to monitor and manage value for money are in line with the best performers. The Council has consistently attracted external funding to benefit the local community and is developing its procurement work. 13 The Council has robust plans for improving. Key plans are aligned with each other. They include milestones, are resourced and widely communicated. Critical improvement plans have been developed to improve indicators where performance falls below the average, for example for average length of stay in bed and breakfast, performance against planning appeals and also waste recycling. The Council also has improvement plans related to its specific aims called priorities for action 2006  2011 which include developing consultation with young people, delivering the Fit for the Future programme to modernise corporate services and rationalise property holdings and increasing the number of services being offered through the Councils customer services team. The Council is also aiming to achieve a Chartermark for Customer Care.
High Peak Borough Council
14
15
8 Annual Audit and Inspection Letter  How is High Peak Borough Council performing?
In most cases the Council is achieving key objectives and milestones related to its improvement plans. Key plans and business plan targets are monitored every month by the management team. They are also monitored by the Councils Corporate Performance Board which meets fortnightly and which includes both councillors and managers. There is also a half yearly position statement. At the end of September 2006 the Council was on target or ahead of meeting most of its milestones, for example, on decent homes; bringing empty private sector homes back into use; completing a car parking review; Gershon savings, and improving public toilets. However, for various reasons it is behind schedule with Glossop Vision and Goyt Bridge. The Council has the capacity to deliver its plans. It bases its plans on its priorities and on improving below average performance, which focuses its effort. It has a number of different approaches to extending its capacity. It buys in project management expertise, for example for the Glossop regeneration work. It also extends its capacity through working in partnership, for example through its joint Local Strategic Partnership work with Derbyshire Dales District Council. The Council has also used technological improvements to boost capacity, for example in its customer service arrangements and its benefits service, and plans to continue to do this through the Fit for the Future programme.
High Peak Borough Council
Annual Audit and Inspection Letter   Financial management and value for money   9  Financial management and value for money 16 As your appointed auditor I reported separately to the Audit and Regulatory Committee (as 'those charged with the Council's governance') on 20 September 2006. My Annual Governance Report set out the significant issues arising from the 2005/06 audit. 17 I have provided:  an unqualified opinion on your accounts;  a conclusion on your vfm arrangements to say that these arrangements are adequate; and  a report on the Best Value Performance Plan confirming that the Plan has been audited. 18 The findings of the auditor are an important component of the CPA framework described above. In particular the Use of Resources score is derived from the assessments made by the auditor in the following areas.  Financial reporting (including the preparation of the accounts of the Council and the way these are presented to the public).  Financial management (including how the financial management is integrated with strategy to support council priorities).  Financial standing (including the strength of the Council's financial position).  Internal control (including how effectively the Council maintains proper stewardship and control of its finances).  Value for money (including an assessment of how well the Council balances the costs and quality of its services). 19 For the purposes of the CPA we have assessed the Councils arrangements for use of resources in these five areas as follows. Table 1 Use of resources scored judgement High Peak Borough Council is performing well against each element and overall Element Assessment Financial reporting 3 out of 4 Financial management 3 out of 4 Financial standing 3 out of 4 Internal control 3 out of 4 Value for money 3 out of 4 Overall assessment of the Audit Commission 3 out of 4 (Note: 1=inadequate performance, 2=adequate performance, 3=performing well, 4=performing strongly) High Peak Borough Council
10 Annual Audit and Inspection Letter  Financial management and value for money
20 The key issues arising from the audit, as reflected in the above judgements, are as follows. 21 The Council is now performing well in all areas covered by the use of resources assessment. A significant amount of further work was undertaken by officers in all areas this year to consolidate and, in some cases, strengthen your already robust arrangements. 22 In particular, we saw substantial improvements in your arrangements for accounts production, including the provision of good quality supporting working papers. 23 We saw evidence of notable practice in respect of the Council's establishment of a Resources Board to manage and monitor financial performance as well as your arrangements for attracting external funding to deliver Council priorities These were provided as part of the Council's evidence to support its financial management and value for money arrangements. 24 There are no particular areas requiring further development in the immediate future. However, the standards have been raised again for next year - compliance with certain key lines of enquiry will become mandatory as opposed to optional this year. The Council will need to pay attention to compliance with the 'new' key lines of enquiry for the next assessment as well as to the key lines of enquiry and notable practice examples that would lead to potential scores of 4. The Crescent and thermal spa development, Buxton 25 This complex, multi-million pound project remains both an extremely important project for Buxton and for the Council as well as a source of risk for the Council. The pressure remains strong to progress the development because of its importance for the borough both in terms of local business and in terms of the broader tourism business in the north of the County. We have continued to monitor progress closely as part of our audit of the Council. Our continuing overriding consideration is that the Council is aware of, and takes action to minimise, all significant financial risks. 26 It is currently expected that a report seeking approval to proceed with work on site is due to be considered by High Peak Borough Council shortly with site investigation work starting on site thereafter. A similar report will go in parallel to the Council's main partner, Derbyshire County Council. 27 It is understood that a number of long standing difficulties have been addressed and that agreements in principle are now being legally finalised. These significant difficulties have included resolution of matters concerning the use of mineral water in the completed development, agreements on claw-back with the Heritage Lottery Fund and East Midlands Development Agency and finalising the arrangements for the proposed operating trust. The Council has developed a risk management architecture which seeks to ensure that the developer, other parties and ultimately the insurers all bear appropriate shares of the risks at key phases of the project. For example, further meetings are taking place to complete agreements on indemnities surrounding the site investigation process.
High Peak Borough Council
Annual Audit and Inspection Letter   Financial management and value for money   11  
28 It is evident that the last year has been a difficult one for the project as these negotiations have progressed. It is encouraging to learn that solutions to these issues, despite numerous set backs over several years, have been successfully pursued and largely achieved by the Council. Notwithstanding the progress made, further significant phases of the development, with the attendant risks, have yet to be entered into - completion of the project is not anticipated before the spring of 2010. With input from our national technical team we shall continue to monitor progress in the context of our audit responsibilities and report as appropriate. Local Area Agreement 29 We have carried out a review with KPMG of the Local Area Agreement (LAA) across Derbyshire. Our findings were reported to the Safer Communities Board (SCB) in November 2006. 30 The main benefits of the LAA, so far, have been to provide greater impetus to established partnership working and to improve dialogue on cross-cutting issues. Good progress has been made in aligning partners budgets with LAA targets and the LAA has begun to move resources to address areas of underperformance. Performance management is developing as seen through the introduction of more effective monitoring arrangements within the SCB. 31 Further work is needed by the LAA to respond to a number of issues raised in the report including:  clarification on the role of District Local Strategic Partnerships in the LAA;  the establishment of partnership level risk management arrangements; and  the development of a financial management framework including minimum financial governance standards and established reporting arrangements.
High Peak Borough Council
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