The Committee is asked to approve the Statement of Accounts for the year ended 31st March 2019, including Gloucestershire Pension Fund Accounts 2018/19.
Paul Blacker, Section 151 Officer presented the report. The purpose of the report was to formally present the Accounts of Gloucestershire County Council and the Pension Fund to the Audit & Governance Committee for its approval. The Accounts had been produced in accordance with the CIPFA Accounting Code of Practice based on International Accounting Standards.
The Section 151 Officer acknowledged the hard work of the Finance Team and the Grant Thornton team which enabled officers to present the Accounts to the Committee within the tight statutory deadline. It was noted that during their work Grant Thornton had recommended some minor changes to the accounts and disclosure notes. Members were advised that none of the changes were material, and that the Accounts had been amended accordingly.
The overall opinion was to issue and unmodified audit opinion of the Accounts. However the Value for Money conclusion remained outstanding pending the conclusion of a review that was initially triggered by a formal objection to the 2016/17 Accounts.
It was explained that by its nature the Statement of Accounts was a very technical document and to assist members in their duties a detailed training session had been arranged prior to the formal meeting, in order to assist Members understanding and allow officers the opportunity to answer any technical questions in advance of the Committee meeting.
The Committee were asked to approve the Annual Statement of Accounts. Once approved the Chair of the Committee and the S151 Officer would sign that the Statement of Accounts gave a true and fair view of the financial position for 2018/19. In addition, the Chair and the Section 151 Officer would also sign the Letter of Representation for both Gloucestershire County Council and the Pension Fund Accounts, acknowledging that in their opinion the financial statements are presented fairly and in accordance with the CIPFA Code of Practice.
In response to a question, it was explained that some estimates were used when producing the accounts and amendments were made up to the last minute to ensure the accounts were as up to date as possible. Grant Thornton commented that assumptions were made by the Pension Actuary and confirmed that the use of estimates were common practice and the updated figures were incorporated into the accounts.
One member remarked that there was a low attendance at the members training session and that officers had to repeat many of the points for the sake of those who were not present at the training session. It was suggested in the future members should prioritise their attendance at the training session.
During the discussion one member suggested that statements in the narrative should be open and honest and referred to the statement in relation to the Energy from Waste Scheme on page 84 of the report, which stated that “save the Council £100 million over the 25 year contract compared with landfill”. The member suggested that this should be amended and felt that it was misleading. The Chair concurred and suggested that the statement should be amended to “by the end of the 25 year contract”.
The Section 151 Officer believed that the current statement was clear and it was fully supported by Ernst & Young and Grant Thornton. It was noted that this statement had also been used in all press releases to date and he wouldn’t have included the statement if he felt it had been misleading in anyway, as a professional Officer he stood by his view but accepted that it was a matter of opinion.
A vigorous debate ensued and other members remarked that the wording was clear and they were satisfied with the view of the professionals and the wording should remain. The Chair explained he was not disputing the view of Officer’s or professionals, he was merely unhappy with the statement and felt the wording was misleading. On being put to the vote to amend the statement to “by the end of the 25 year contract”, the Chair had the casting vote and the amendment was agreed.
At this point in the meeting, there was an outburst from a member of the public and the Chair adjourned the meeting.
When the meeting reconvened, the Committee formally approved the Statement of Accounts and the Chair of the Audit and Governance Committee signed the letter of representation on behalf of the Council and Gloucestershire Pension Fund.
That the wording to the narrative be amended in relation to the Energy from Waste Scheme be amended to “by the end of the 25 year contract”.
That the Committee formally approved the Annual Statement of Accounts year ending 31st March 2019.
That the Chairman of the Audit and Governance Committee and the Section 151 Officer signed the letter of representation on behalf of the Authority and Gloucestershire Pension Fund