To consider a report from the Service Manager for Assurance.
Members considered a report from the Corporate Director for Legal and Democratic which gave members’ the opportunity to review and challenge the Council’s risk register.
The Service Manager for Assurance explained that he had consulted with Heads of Service and Service Managers to see what they considered as the key risks. This work built on the risk appetite agreed by the Shadow Council. Each risk had an identified risk owner and a management update on the current position. There still appeared to be some gaps but officers would be following up on those.
The Vice Chairman appreciated the good work that was being done so far, but felt that the scoring system was too simplified. He felt it would be helpful to see what had happened since the last time members audited the register but recognised it was a balancing act. His view on linking risk to KPIs was that it could be quite cumbersome and it be might be better to link them to the corporate objectives. The Service Manager advised that the scoring matrix had been intentionally kept simple to improve buy-in, but this would be reviewed over time. The Risk and Resilience Officer added that officers were currently working on the development of a 5 by 5 matrix. When the KPIs were agreed they would be looking to embed them to give a true reflection of risk and performance.
With reference to risk CRR003 Cllr Christopher was concerned that when a Head of Service left the Authority there was a need to ensure there was effective support for those who lead in specific council departments. He felt this was a particular risk and mentioned the difficulty of recruiting and retaining staff and suggested that should be given a greater focus rather than relying on agency staff. The Executive Director for Corporate Development commented on retaining the workforce and highlighted that staff were a key part of the organisation. Dorset Council’s ambition was to be an Employer of Choice and wanted people to stay working with the Authority. He made reference to the recent convergence work and ultimate loss of some staff and that during this current crisis a secure job in local government could be more attractive. The Senior Leadership Team had learnt that office based staff didn’t need to actually be in the office and therefore this could result in widening the search for staff and not have to relocate them. What the modern office looks like post Covid would be very interesting.
Following a question from a member about the period of time over which risks were assessed, the Service Manager for Assurance advised, it was ordinarily around a 3 year cycle but some would be longer term judgements for example Climate Change. The Chairman felt it would be helpful to add time parameters to the risks.
In respect of the new ways of working the Vice-Chairman considered if there would be an Opportunity Register along with a Risk Register as this could yield some good ideas. The Service Manager agreed this would be important and that the risk framework would pick up on opportunities once fully embedded.
With reference to the Council being an Employer of Choice, Cllr Christopher commented that he would like to see this completed within 4 years. In respect of virtual meetings he made reference that 30% of Dorset’s population didn’t engage in social media and considered whether we needed to engage better with our rural areas. He suggested perhaps having a rural services champion.
The Executive Director for Corporate Development advised members that the People Plan had been considered by the Cabinet which had set out the timescales. A staff survey had been carried out earlier in the year about how committed people felt towards the organisation. There was also a short pulse survey carried out recently to see how staff felt and the results from this would feed into the Plan. With regards to technology, the Council was pushing hard with BT for people to have faster broadband lines. The Executive Director was happy to pass the message on to the Leader about the possibility of a rural services champion.
It was felt that a reference to value for money should be included within the risk register and the Service Manager for Assurance undertook to focus discussions with the risk owners on value for money. It was suggested that the money saved from less meetings and less travel during this pandemic should be offered as a positive point. The Executive Director for Corporate Development assured members that officers did strive for value for money through different processes but accepted that this had not been conveyed enough through the documents presented today.
Cllr Gray commented that in the future he would welcome a discussion on the processes and procedures that hindered the Council in obtaining value for money. One member also noted that in future it would important to question the external auditors in respect of benchmarking Dorset Council against other councils in respect of value for money.
Following a comment about dependence on a very few suppliers especially in respect of social care, the Executive Director for Corporate Development advised that part of the council’s management of suppliers was understanding the resilience of the organisation and what contingency plans they had in place.
Following a suggestion from the Chairman to perhaps have service heads present to enable a more thorough discussion, the Service Manager for Assurance replied that in future if there were particular risks that members wished to focus on arrangements could be made for the risk owner to give further input. Members needed reassurance they could speak to the risk manager in order to thoroughly investigate any matter further. The Risk and Resilience Officer advised members that he would be providing regular updates for members following meetings with the accountable officers on a monthly basis, he also planned to hold specific risk surgeries and there would also be pages on Sharepoint designed to give officers and members further information.
The Corporate Director for Legal and Democratic suggested that in light of members’ comments around value for money and procedures that an item be added to the Committee’s work programme. Members felt this would be helpful and would be important to focus perhaps on a particular area initially as the Council was such a large organisation. The Executive Director for Corporate Development undertook to discuss this further with colleagues and aim to produce something that complemented work that was already ongoing.
That an item on value for money be added to the Committee’s Work Programme.