The Director of Finance informed the Committee that the Corporate Risk Register was currently being updated and the revised report was due to be considered at the next meeting.
The Chair asked for an update on the latest position relating to staffing within the finance team. It was noted that a number of interim individuals with the necessary skill set had been appointed and work was on going to develop a permanent structure which would address the needs of the Council moving forward. In response to when the audits for outstanding accounts would be completed it was explained that although progress had been made, there remained significant work to be carried out. It was anticipated that matters outstanding on accounts relating to previous years would be concluded by March 2022.
A Member asked for further details regarding the three year waiting list for assessments in Speech and Language Therapy (SALT) Services. The Assistant Director, Education and Inclusion, outlined that the current investment in SALT services was inadequate – with a ‘one size fits all’ approach and that there had been an increasing demand in the number of SALT needs identified. A review process had begun in looking at the most effective manner in which this service could be provided, with a view to establish a market of independent SALT providers with competitive pricing models for schools to make their own arrangements where appropriate. Furthermore, investment in preventative tools to assist with early identification and response in schools would thereby delay and reduce the need for specialist intervention. It was noted that the changes were likely to be implemented by mid October 2021.
A progress update on the recruitment of a permanent GDPR Officer was requested, noting that the authority was at risk from fines and damage to reputation. The Executive Director of Transformation explained that the role was currently being covered on an interim basis and the difficulties in recruiting on a permanent basis were outlined.
Councillor Strutton, speaking under Rule 30 asked for details relating to the latest position regarding lenders and loans given by them to the authority, following the issuing of the Section 114 Notice. It was noted that one local authority had requested for monies owed to be repaid whilst others were satisfied to continue lending. The Director of Finance stated that further details could be provided to a future meeting.
Information regarding the number of staff in the treasury team was requested and it was agreed that this would be reported to the next Committee meeting.
Resolved – That details of the report be noted.
The SBC Section 151 Officer summarised the report which provided Members with the opportunity to comments on the Corporate Risk Register.
It was noted that the register had been considered by the Risk & Audit Board which had been reinvigorated and Members should expect to see changes and improvements to the register in future reports.
Following a question from a Member the SBC Director advised that there were no risks in compiling the risk register however all risks had financial implications. The Committee could identify risks of particular concern and interest and request the relevant senior officer to attend and discuss such risks in more detail at future meetings.
The following points were noted from Members questions and the discussion that followed:
· There were no direct risks or financial implications set out in the covering report but clearly there were significant risks and financial impacts of the issues in the risk register itself which were subject to regular review.
· The Committee again expressed its concern that there were some gaps in risk owners and officers responsible for actions. The Section 151 Officer recognised this and provided assurance that steps were being taken to improve the quality and rigour of the register. Members emphasised the importance of ensuring the report was accurate and up to date to provide assurance that management was regularly reviewing and taking the necessary actions to mitigate against the major risks in the register.
· A Member expressed concern about the waiting list to access Speech and Language Therapy (SALT) services. The Committee requested further information on the actions the Council was taking to address the risk and improve the service, particularly the 3 year waiting list.
· Several questions were asked about the financial sustainability risk given the repeated assurances given to the Committee historically. The Section 151 Officer summarised the wide ranging and detailed work that had been taking place in the past two months to manage these risks and referred to the section 114 notice, Chief Executives response and supplementary information provided to Council on 22nd July 2021 which set out the position in more detail. The programme of work would deal with all of the financial management issues raised and there would be regular reports to Council and to the Committee.
· The financial risks arising from the liabilities owed to the Council by Slough Children’s Services Trust were raised. Officers updated on the position regarding historic debts and how the strengthened arrangements for financial and performance monitoring with the newly established Slough Children’s First company.
· The viability of the Council’s subsidiary companies was raised. The Section 151 Officer set out the detailed work underway to identify all of the issues relating to these companies and stated that issues would be regularly reported through to full Council. All assets and reporting from the companies would be explored and examined.
At the conclusion of the discussion the Chair stated that it was crucial that the Committee received a more accurate and higher quality report in the future. The issues with the historic risk reporting process were recognised and would be addressed in future reports.
Resolved – That the risk management update be noted.