Agenda item

Annual Governance Statement Improvement Plan Update 2019/20

It is recommended that the Audit and Governance Committee reviews and considers the actions taken to address the governance improvement areas identified.


Stephanie Payne, Group Manager, ARA, presented the report.


The Council Annual Governance Statement 2019/20 included 5 actions to further enhance governance arrangements. This report facilitated by ARA, includes the up to date position on each action as provided by the specific lead officers and/or their nominated representatives.


The report provided assurance to the Audit and Governance Committee that the improvement actions identified as part of the annual review of the governance arrangements operating within GCC had been/were being addressed.  It was recommended that the Committee reviewed and considered the actions taken to address the governance improvement areas identified.


It was noted as an update to the AGS, the Committee had agreed that relevant action owners or their nominated representative attend the Committee Meeting to provide an update and respond to member queries on the following areas:


1.         Future Financial Sustainability

In response to future financial sustainability, the Executive Director of Corporate Resources explained that the budget report would be presented to Cabinet on the 27th January 2021.  He added that it was not possible to predict any of the difficulties the Authority was experiencing.  He felt that that GCC had been listened to by Government on a number of issues and that reserves were adequate for the current time.  The Director of Finance explained that a full detailed breakdown of the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) was available with the Cabinet Report, if members required further detail. 


The Chair of Overview Scrutiny Committee confirmed they had also looked at the budget in considerable detail. 


2.         Ofsted Inspection of Children’s Services

The Director of Partnerships & Strategy referred the Committee to page 145 of the report, which detailed the position at December 2020 and the focused visit by 5 HM Inspectors, who looked in detail at effectiveness of the virtual school and the outcomes for children in care.  He reported that the service had improved and was now more child focused. 


In response to a question, it was explained that it was important to challenge and support teams and those teams who were under performing could be pin pointed and support given to help them overcome the issues. 


3.         Gloucestershire Fire & Rescue Service (GFRS)

It was explained this area also related to the next agenda item (GFRS Progress Report) and would be taken in conjunction with that item. 


Wayne Bowcock, Chief Fire Officer (CFO), confirmed that he had received the HMI findings and he was pleased to report that the Inspection Letter was very good and GFRS had received favourable feedback in relation to their response to the Covid pandemic.  It was reported that HMI recognised that the service had maintained availability, staff availability to assist across the ambulance service, staff welfare, equipment maintenance, etc. 


It was reported that GFRS had provided over 20 staff to crew ambulances for emergency medical response during the ongoing pandemic.  The CFO was proud and pleased of the HMI report. 


He added that the original audit report had provided the service the capacity to support the improvement journey.  In addition, lessons had also been learnt from Senior Officers in Children’s Services and GFRS had benefited from that knowledge.  Members noted that GFRS were now closing some of the audit recommendations and there had been a cultural improvement within GFRS, as the applied approach was comprehensive and went beyond the audit reports. 


In response to a question, members were advised that the CFO had driven the service hard to deliver the recommendations and that GFRS staff had worked tirelessly through Covid.  The service continued to focus on improvement and he appreciated the efforts of his staff and ARA’s support for the benefit of GFRS.  The CFO hoped to close down all the 118 original recommendations by the end of this financial year, which had been a phenomenal task. 


The Cabinet Member for Public Protection, Parking and Libraries fully supported the CFO statement.  He added that the Improvement Board had kept up the pressure and middle management had gone above and beyond to overcome the difficulties, especially during the pandemic.   He felt that GFRS had very intelligent and forward thinking firefighters and he was immensely proud of what they had achieved. 


A member remarked that the cultural change within GFRS was fantastic and was very positive and he wished to thank the CFO and his team for all their efforts during the flooding and the pandemic.  This sentiment was echoed by the Committee. 


4.     Recruitment and retention

Colin Parkin, Head of Human Resources reported that staffing issues were not unique to GCC, as there was a national labour market shortage.  GCC was actively investing in longer term solutions, which included traineeships and apprenticeships, which would reap results over time.  The Committee were advised that the issues of staff recruitment won’t go away.  


In response to a question relating to staffing impact on children services in light of Covid, Officers explained that there were robust contingency plans in place, as there was a steady and substantial growth of children in care.  This situation had not come to fruition yet but Officers were closely monitoring the situation. 


Members wished to know the position of non-Covid staff sickness rates and annual leave, during the period of home working.  The Head of Human Resources explained that they were actively encouraging staff to take their annual leave, as there was a limit on the amount of leave that could be carried forward.  In terms of staff sickness the rates had fallen compared to last year. 


5.     Covid Impact on Governance

Rob Ayliffe, Monitoring Officer advised the Committee that there were four areas impacted, these were:

-       Management Leadership of Response: regular meetings were undertaken to respond to the latest situation

-       Management of Business Continuity: to identify any changes of legislation/guidance and respond quickly and appropriately

-       Impact of remote working: originally decisions made by delegated powers and procedures were followed to maintain standards of governance

-       Impact of remote working on the general workforce: the impact and rollout of equipment to staff to enable home working


The Executive Director of Corporate Resources explained that remote working after Covid would likely continue and there maybe a blended approach of working.  He added that there had been positive comments to date from staff. 


During the discussion, one member referred to page 157 of the report and the Council/Committee meetings being suspended.  It was confirmed that page 157 was relevant to the reported position at the point of the 19/20 Annual Governance Statement and had been superseded by the reported action’s ‘position as at December 2020’ update section.  


Members wished to record their thanks to Democratic Services, Registration Service and Information and Communication Technology for their outstanding support during the pandemic. 


The Committee also wondered if a ‘Lessons Learnt’ exercise would be conducted, in order to provide additional guidance going forward.  The Executive Director of Corporate Resources added that he welcomed comments and the service was actively working to upgrade systems.  He accepted that it was necessary to listen to staff to understand the issues, and to ascertain why home working was not working for some members of staff.  Members were advised that there was an agile working officer group and that lessons learnt would be looked at in the future. 




That the report be noted.  


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