The Head of People, Policy and Transformation advised the Committee that this was a relatively new Report, in May 2021, the Governance and Audit Committee updated its Terms of Reference to align with the Local Government & Elections (Wales) Act 2021. In its Terms of Reference, one of the Audit Committee’s function was to:
Receive and consider inspection reports from external regulators and inspectors and to make recommendations and where necessary monitor implementation and compliance with agreed action plans.
The Council had three external regulators: Audit Wales, Care Inspectorate Wales and Estyn; each responsible for providing assurance that the Council was fulfilling its statutory duties and providing value to the public. This report covered the regulatory activity undertaken in last six months (October to March) of 2021/22 financial year. Where recommendations were raised for local authorities to consider, an overview of the Council’s action(s) was included in the report.
Similar to the last report, actions on these were covered elsewhere; for example, the Education Service would consider their actions as part of their service planning.
There were three local reports from Audit Wales, these were audit of accounts, Cremation Committee and the improving reporting audit. There was one national review on many authorities in Wales including Newport, as well as a small number of reviews ongoing. The National reviews were building resilience, self-reliance in citizens, poverty review, these around springing forward regarding a Covid themed review. There were also local reviews into the Newport Intelligence Hub, which was almost completed and workforce planning, once they were completed would be reported back to the Committee.
Further actions were highlighted within the report to the committee, including focused reports on St Julian’s School, Lliswerry School and the Bridge Achievement Centre.
Comments from the Committee:
The Chair mentioned that this was similar to the point made earlier where a lot of detail was evident in other service plans, however it was not easy to navigate where to look for the information. Whilst the position statements were all good in narrative form, they said little in reality as to what was happening. The Chair referred to the first item in regard to the Care Inspectorate Wales report and early healthcare, the report identified 17 actions. The narrative was there in regard to the position statement as part of the corporate plan and service development plan, but what was actually being done about these actions, who was monitoring them and was there a valid waiting progress around that recommendation. It was not a criticism however the issue in relation to the schools where they were taken out of special measures or Estyn monitoring, how did the Committee know they were going to improve, rather than make the same mistakes again, therefore was the Council continuing to monitor progress to ensure that action was being taken. Dr Barry, Co-opted Member agreed with the Chair’s comments and picked up the same point on care and support of disabled children. The Head of People, Policy and Transformation advised that this was a new report to the Committee, with no previous similar collation of the reports. They were reported within their own governance remit, whether that would be Cabinet/Cabinet Member or committee meeting that was appropriate and that these issues were monitored by service management and Cabinet Member portfolios, depending on the level of recommendation. These issues were therefore picked up elsewhere, monitored within services plans and picked up through scrutiny at the end of year and sometimes mid-year point. It was difficult to provide a meaningful composite report that spoke to the Committee without it being up to 100 pages long. Some of the issues were national and did not wholly relate to Newport City Council and of the 17 recommendations, only four were relevant to Newport. It was easier to see that the Education issues were targeted as us, St Julian’s was an example and speaking from experience as a Chair of School Governors when it went into special measures, there were rigorous checks on inspection activities on all levels, with partners of EAS and the Cabinet Member. With regard therefore to this report, it was a case of getting it right and providing a sense of what happened. We could add where those decisions were monitored to cross reference the services, however, we also had a Scrutiny Committee to directly scrutinise those pieces of work.
Dr Barry, Co-opted Member added that the Committee was seeking reassurance that something was happening, which only needed to be added as a couple of lines to clarify if recommendations were being taken forward. The Head of People, Policy and Transformation took the comments on board and added that some of the actions were long term again, St Julian’s was in special measures for three years. These issues therefore could not be fixed in a quarter. They could often refer to changes of policy and strategy, which needed to be considered in the new corporate plan and other recommendations were direct and could be actioned quickly. There was something about the timing of this and there was another report coming to the Committee soon and the actions could be long term. The Committee was right to ask these questions, unfortunately most answers were not immediate.
The Chair understood and mentioned that this was a learning lesson for the new Committee, with new members. It was however, the assurance that the Committee needed, where recommendations were being made by national regulators such as Estyn was that they were being taken seriously and that there was evidence to back this up from the Council. A breakdown therefore of the relevant 17 actions could be captured in the report, without calling in the Director of Social Services, for example to discuss how the 17 actions were being addressed. A discussion outside this forum on how to get more meat on the bone as it were rather than having a lot of narrative that meant very little.
Councillor Jordan referred to the Estyn report and that there would be a breakdown of the measures and who they were being addressed, which was informative. With regard to the Bridge Achievement Centre there was a lot of work to be done and it had come out of special measures after four years.
The Governance and Audit Committee considered and noted the contents of this report of the regulatory activity completed in 2021/22 and the assurances that where recommendations were raised, the Council was taking necessary action.