14 June 2011

Auditors - is anyone listening to them ?

The audit committee met 5 times in the Council year ended 31 March 2011.

The Councillors currently on the audit committee are :-

Chairman - Monroe Palmer OBE, BA, FCA
Vice-chairman - Brian Schama

Alex Brodkin
Geof Cooke
Tom Davey
Sury Khatri
Graham Old
Jack Cohen

Susette Palmer
Alan Schneiderman
Mark Shooter
Agnes Slocombe
Andreas Tambourides

These meetings come with huge amounts of information to be digested and Mr Mustard has looked at the amount of time being spent on this business in the committee meetings, and his findings are as follows :-

Date Pages Minutes Secs. per page
21/06/2010 98 147 90
21/09/2010 79 172 131
07/12/2010 249 164 40
17/02/2011 104 88 51
24/03/2011 144 110 46
16/06/2011 268 tba

so there we have it, as little as 40 seconds is spent in the meetings on each page of the agenda and report pack.

Now Mr Mustard thinks there might be the odd conscientious Councillor who reads everything sent to them and sends in a list of questions in advance so that they can be dealt with at the meeting. He doubted however that would be the case for most of the Councillors who seem content to let the Officers do as they please. So he asked the vastly more experienced Mr Reasonable if Councillors do their homework and with permission he now reprints one of Mr Reasonable's blogs.

One Barnet - The numbers don't add up!

Last night Mr Reasonable attended the Cabinet meeting to ask a question about the costs and benefits of the One Barnet programme. Having read all of the details (or should I say lack of details) it strikes me that there are some huge gaps in the thinking about One Barnet. Last night I asked if Cabinet members had checked the figures to which I got a charming but evasive response from the Leader. I then asked why none of the figures stated in various documents actually reconcile against one another. I gave the example of the E recruitment programme where the figures in three separate council documents are all different - "so which one is correct" I asked. A very neat pass to the Deputy Chief Executive who looked a little flustered and said he would look into it. Disappointing especially as the next agenda item which was considering the privatisation of a raft of council departments contained a £1.25m error (Page 33 section 6.3). We, the council tax payers of Barnet, are paying a fortune for all these highly paid council officials. We are paying a fortune for a host of assorted and highly paid consultants. Why then can we not get a single, clear and evidence based set of figures on the costs and benefits of One Barnet. 

The Councillors receive generous allowances and the Officers get stratospheric salaries or consultancy fees. Mr Mustard thinks it is high time that you all pulled your socks up, did some proper work and abandoned the whole OneBarnet idea and every other stupidly named hare-brained scheme that has been trotted out recently. All the residents want is decent services - no spin, no frills, no "no contract" situations, no trips to the Sandbanks Hotel, no flying off to USA with BT, no huge TV's etc etc . Back to basics boring commonsense Council.

Mr Mustard is just going to highlight one aspect of these reports, you can find them all on the Council website at the following location :- http://s.coop/1xxd
Select the year you want, then meeting type of "other" then "Audit Committee" to obtain your selection and then click on each date and then each item - tedious but the best that Barnet Council can do.

Each quarter the Internal Auditor reports on the completed audits they have carried out that quarter and an annual report at the end of the year. These appear to have been planned audits so the departments due for audit really ought to pull their socks up beforehand and get everything spick & span - the fact that there are then unsatisfactory outcomes is a very poor performance. School audits have been ignored as Mr Mustard concentrates on the Council itself.

These are the assurance levels that the Council measures the systems of the Council by.

There is a sound system of internal control designed to achieve the system objectives. The control processes tested are being consistently applied.
Satisfactory While there is a basically sound system of internal control, there are weaknesses, which put some of the client’s objectives at risk. There is evidence that the level of non-compliance with some of the control processes may put some of the system objectives at risk.
Limited Weaknesses in the system of internal controls are such as to put the client’s objectives at risk. The level of non-compliance puts the system objectives at risk.
No Assurance Control processes are generally weak leaving the processes/systems open to significant error or abuse. Significant non-compliance with basic control processes leaves the processes/systems open to error or abuse.

Mr Mustard prefers a more simple way of thinking of these categories:-

Substantial = Exemplary
Satisfactory = OK-ish but could do better
Limited = Exertion required
No assurance = Extremely bad.

Now here is a table of all the reports completed in the year ended 31 March 2011

Systems Audits Assurance
Housing Benefits Substantial
Performance Management – Children’s Services Satisfactory
National Indicator (NI) 179 – Value for money Satisfactory
Stroke Grant Satisfactory
Project Governance – Pothole Elimination Scheme Satisfactory
Council Tax Satisfactory
NNDR Business Rates Satisfactory
Compliance with Financial Regulations Satisfactory
Environmental Health Satisfactory
Fire Safety Satisfactory
Cashless Parking Limited
Debit/Credit cards Limited
Council Tax, NNDR and Housing Benefit replacement Limited
Independent Provider Performance – BRSI Limited
Independent Provider Performance – SEN Limited
Business Continuity (Council wide) Limited
Reviewing (learning disabilities) Limited
Safer Recruitment Limited
Special Education Needs Placements Limited
Cash book control and reconciliation Limited
Equalities Limited
Grant arrangements Limited
LG Pension Administration Limited
Budgetary Control (Children’s Service) Limited
Capital Programme/funding Limited
Freedom of Information Limited
Corporate Procurement Limited
Data Quality (Adults Social Services) Limited
Recruitment, HR, Payroll Limited
Sustainability Limited
Treasury Management Limited
Waste Prevention Limited
Income and Debt management Limited
Business Continuity/Disaster Recovery (Information Services) Limited
Member Allowances Limited
Street Lighting – PFI Limited
CRB checks Limited
LAA Grant Limited
Risk Management – Children’s Services Limited
Parking Service No
Environmental Health – compliance No

There are two other Satisfactory audits mentioned in the text of the report but they do not seem to have been listed.

So in summary there are the following audits findings :-

Status No. %
Substantial 1 2
Satisfactory 11 26
Limited 29 67
No 2 5

So that is 72% ( or 7 departments out of 10 if you prefer ) that are below an acceptable standard. 
72% of the management should be ashamed or you could just get your coats.

The previous year the below satisfactory departments were 67% which was bad enough but then with all the concentration on OneBarnet the day to day management appears to have been neglected.

So Councillors and Officers, are you listening ?

The bloggers will be listening most attentively on Thursday evening.

Yours frugally

Mr Mustard


  1. "A very neat pass to the Deputy Chief Executive, who looked a little flustered and said he would look into it."

    Do we know what Mr Reasonable was told later?

  2. When I served on the Audit Committee from 2002-2006 (under the excellent chairmanship of fmr Cllr Wayne Casey) the system was pretty clear. Any unresolved audit matters would lead to the Head of Service being called before the Committee to answer as to why this was the case. Should that not resolve the matter then the Cabinet Member was called to the Committee to answer. Strangely, things never got that far but the lack of such strong action recently seems to have let things drift.

  3. You state that 72% of audits are below an acceptable standard. Since 2002, the basic pay for the Chief Executive has increased by 76.8%. Clearly Mr Walkley is not on a performance related package.


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