The Chief Executive and Leader of Dorset County Council have been invited to attend the meeting to address issues raised with regard to Dorset County Council in the Programme Governance Reports produced by South West Audit Partnership (SWAP). The Shadow Overview and Scrutiny Committee wish to seek assurance that action is in place by the county council to address the comments made by SWAP. A representative of SWAP will also be attending the meeting.
The SWAP report and follow up report are attached for information.
Following a request by the committee at the last meeting, the Chief Executive and Leader of Dorset County Council had been invited to the meeting to address issues raised with regard to Dorset County Council in the Programme Governance Reports produced by South West Audit Partnership (SWAP). A representative of SWAP, Dave Hill, had also been invited to the meeting to provide an overview of the relevant issues.
Mr Hill provided an overview of the issues raised and noted that the flagged red status had been in respect of one item, with the overall direction of travel being seen as positive. It was noted that the review had been based on stakeholder consultation. It was accepted that there were gaps in the consultation held with Dorset County Council and that this was to be reviewed and a further evidence based piece of work was to be undertaken. It was also noted that SWAP would be producing monthly reports in future.
The Leader of Dorset County Council, Councillor Rebecca Knox, welcomed the committee’s monthly review of the SWAP report and noted that the county council was also considering additional independent review and would welcome further input and recommendations.
The Chief Executive of Dorset County Council, Debbie Ward, thanked the committee for the invitation to the meeting. She did not believe that the actions of the county council were in any way inhibiting the progress of local government reorganisation. The county council’s budget would form a huge part of the new organisation and the county council was responsible for the safe transfer of budget, services and staff to the two new organisations in Dorset. A lot of work was currently underway and it was the responsibility of the Chief Executive to maintain good quality management information across the organisations. Information would be shared where it was appropriate. Meetings had been held with SWAP and the Shaping Dorset Council Programme Director and it was felt that good progress was being made. It was also noted that there was always appropriate officer cover in the absence of the Chief Executive and it would be made sure that this was well known.
Members considered the issues arising and during discussion the following points were raised:
· In response to a question, Dave Hill noted that the statement made by SWAP had been based on the stakeholder consultation exercise and had been based on the conclusion made at that point in time. It was felt that since then, the situation had moved on. The further evidence based piece of work to be undertaken would assist with this
· R Bryan declared an interest as a Dorset County Council representative on the SWAP Board
· A point was made that Dorset County Council were undertaking the Shaping Dorset Council programme work in addition to ongoing service provision and that it should be noted that the county council were very open with their information
· A point was raised that it was disappointing that it had not been made clear in the report that the comments had not been evidence based as this had led to some concern that was not warranted. Appropriate caveats should have been included in the report
· Debbie Ward assured the committee that the county council continued to work with the Shaping Dorset Council Team but also had the responsibility to ensure the maintenance of essential management information to be transferred to the two new organisations. She reiterated the point that she did not believe that the actions of the county council were in any way inhibiting the progress of local government reorganisation
· Councillor Rebecca Knox noted that in addition to the programme work, the county council had to continue to manage its services and move to a place where the two programmes could begin to come together. She confirmed that the county council continued to seek independent verification of its work within the programme
· Dave Hill accepted that moving forward, SWAP needed to ensure clarity in reports in terms of what information was based on. However he noted that it was important that in this case, the confidence in the information provided by stakeholders was not overlooked
· In response to a question it was noted that the stakeholders involved in the review were key individual stakeholders in the delivery of the Shaping Dorset Council programme. These stakeholders were to be reviewed as it had been felt that there had been a disproportionate amount from the county council
· Information from town and parish councils had not been gathered at this stage
· Councillor Rebecca Knox noted that the direction of travel was positive and welcomed continued audit and guidance for the future
· In conclusion, Dave Hill noted that he would take the positive aspects of the discussion from the meeting and the challenge from members. Members would continue to receive reports on a monthly basis
The Chairman thanked the invited attendees for their contribution to the discussion.