The Engagement Lead, Grant Thornton presented the Grant Thornton Progress and Sector Report and in doing so highlighted the following to Members:
· Sign off of the accounts had been delayed due to the challenges faced by carrying out the audit remotely. Covid-19 had inevitably had an impact on the on the time taken to carry out the audit and it was estimated that an extra 25% more time had been needed to gather and process information. It was clarified that during previous audits the team from Grant Thornton where be able to sit next to the members of the Finance team to discuss findings and ensure robust reporting. It was confirmed to Members that the completion of the work was a priority, and were advised that the Chief Executive had provided additional resource to the Finance team to ensure that the remainder of the audit could be carried out efficiently and robustly. It was unclear what the impact of the delayed audit would have on fees charged for the audit but that any additional fees would be reported to Members in the Annual Audit Letter.
· The deadline for the Council’s Annual Housing Benefit Subsidy claim certificate had been delayed by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to 31st January 2021. The findings would be presented to the Committee once the work had been completed.
The Chairman asked the Chief Executive and Head of Finance and Customer Services if they would like to provide a further update on the Grant Thornton Progress and Sector Report and it was reiterated to Members that it had been a very challenging time for officers and the completion of the audit and sign off of the final accounts remained their top priority. It was confirmed that a lot of progress had been made in the last few weeks and that momentum was being maintained. Members agreed that these were unprecedented times and that strengthening the team seemed like a reasonable and satisfactory response.
Members questioned whether other councils had not met the deadline to provide their final accounts. The Engagement Lead for Grant Thornton provided assurance that their had been many examples where there had been delayed and that Bromsgrove District Council was certainly not on its own.
Councillor P. McDonald, who was in attendance as an observer, was invited by the Chairman to join the discussion. After detailed debate regarding the proportion of work that had been required to process accounts for Redditch Borough Council’s, and whether this had impacted on the completion of the accounts for Bromsgrove District Council. He also expressed that he hoped that there would be no reputational damage for the Council due to the delay in providing the final accounts.
Some Members were concerned that the processing of Redditch’s accounts had been more resource intensive. The Chief Executive explained that there was little that could be done to quantify whether this was the case as it was clear that there were other elements in play that had caused the delays in the preparation of the final accounts. He explained that what was clear was that resources had been dedicated where necessary and that the delays experienced by Bromsgrove District Council were a national issue.
The Chairman questioned whether there was any suggestion at this point in the audit Grant Thornton would be providing a qualified opinion and it was confirmed that, at this stage, there was no indication that a qualified opinion would be offered.
At this point in the meeting there was a short presentation by the Head of Finance and Customer Services and a member of the external contractor team regarding the implementation of the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. They provided some clarification the challenges that had been faced and the timelines for the project.
It was hoped that the system would be live by the end of January 2021, but it was key that the adequate testing was carried out in order to ensure the roll out of ERP was successful. Members agreed that this was the correct approach to implementation of the system to ensure it was fit for purpose and enabled officers to work in a more efficient way going forward.
the Grant Thornton Progress and Sector Report be noted.