In December 2019 Deloitte published its Report to the RBWM Corporate Overview & Scrutiny Panel on the audit for the year ended 31 March 2019.
It is an audit of the Royal Borough’s financial reporting and discharge of governance duties, encompassing the preliminary CIPFA Report. The report has for some unknown reason been held under wraps for six months but makes some very damning observations on RBWM’s management of its resources and The Berkshire Pension Fund.
I have highlighted some extracts from page 15 below but there are many examples to choose from.
Significant Value For Money Risks
Key points arising from our work on significant risks
There is a significant risk in respect of weaknesses in financial governance identified by a CIPFA investigation into the approval of the Clewer and Dedworth capital scheme. This report concluded that there was a £48k ultra vires spend. Whilst this is not material, there is a significant risk that weaknesses exist in the governance arrangements and that these gaps increased the risk of this occurrence.
Regarding financial governance, we identified (and the AGS describes) inadequate resourcing of key governance functions and the development of an organisational culture where responsible individuals did not feel empowered or encouraged to speak out when issues arose. Weaknesses have been identified in the robustness of the annual review of the effectiveness of the governance framework including the system of internal control. The AGS notes evidence of spend occurring that had not been through the required approval process and was therefore “ultra vires” – outside the scope of the Authority’s powers; and that there is evidence of a lack of appropriate challenge from officers.
The CIPFA report goes on to describe weaknesses in key financial governance arrangements including critical documents such as budgets, capital plans and the Medium Term Financial Plan. There is a risk that weaknesses exist in these key arrangements that underpin financial governance.
Our investigations have shown there is evidence of weaknesses in critical financial governance reports such as budgets and budget monitoring, the Capital Programme, the Medium Term Financial Plan and Treasury Management policies indicating these documents did not comply with requirements and were inadequate.
The big question for me is should those responsible for these ‘weaknesses’ be held to account for their actions? Many people I have spoken to feel they should.
As the law stands, it’s only at the ballot box that any retribution can be made and Councillors get off scot free for allowing their egos to fuel their visions, whatever the real cost to the residents and the wider RBWM.
Unless this is changed at a national level the only way currently to ensure that there are checks & balances in place is to have sufficient representatives on the Council who are able & willing to challenge. Most likely this can be achieved by residents voting for Independent candidates where they can and for those new Councillors to share options with their residents allowing them to drive the decision making process, strive for transparency, deal with reality and not simply be subjugated to Party Politics and ‘keeping up appearances’.
Don’t expect individual Councillors to have any discretionary spend for a while as the pot is empty as flagged in Deloitte’s report and the CIPFA findings. This is what happens when Councillors are given election budgets by ruling parties that are too dominant.
Obviously, as residents ultimately we all choose who we want to represent us and get what we ask for… currently, after too many years of Tory rule and living off a shoestring of pretend savings, the cupboard is bare.
Thankfully at the last election many residents of RBWM chose to have more opposition to those who ruled the roost with an iron fist… good decision and we hope you make even better decisions in 2023 😉