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Internal Audit Needs 'Beefing-Up'

Have you noticed the subtle, but sure manner in which virtually every possible Council function, is these days contracted out to private contractors. This has two major advantages for the highly paid staff who occupy the Castle:

1. Delays, and non-performance can be blamed on the contractor who invariably has a 'work-schedule' to whichever defect has been reported is added, and

2. There is no need for Council staff to actually get their hands dirty, even metaphorically, by getting 'too close to the action.'

Has this led to improved performance as we as rate-payers should be entitled to expect?

The answer, certainly from where I stand, appears to be no!

We can observe, and on occasion read reports of non, or sub-optimum performance at every level of Council activity.

The whole idea of 'internal audit' should be to ensure that  wide ranging performance measures, not simply financial, are established and agreed by our auditors, who paradoxically are 'external.' Note that the 'big picture' financial audit is conducted by Office of the Auditor-General, and this is the only report that we see on our annual accounts. 

The Internal/External Audit Report is carried out by KPMG, but it is virtually impossible to discover the content of their Report to the Audit Committee because it is secured behind the ’Public Excluded’ wall of silence. The most recent ‘confirmed Minutes' are published with the 7 March 2017 Agenda, together with an extremely comprehensive KPMG report on Project Management, from which the following interesting extract follows:

 “There are strong indications that adoption of the project management framework is constrained by elements of the organisational structure. An example of organisational structure inefficiency, is the Area Offices and Infrastructure. Area Offices and Infrastructure, don’t use pooled resources, they have their own."

This critical theme that follows right through the Report is the final confirmation (as if we needed it!) of the organisational (and financial) disaster that followed from the expansion of the Leach/Hammond inspired Area Office empires.  

But nothing else follows since March that is not hidden behind the wall of silence based on the following rationale (one of three!):

“To maintain the effective conduct of public affairs through the protection of such members, officers, employees, and persons from improper pressure or harassment.”

These protections have grown up over the years, and it means that virtually nothing comes forward from the Audit Committee in a publicly accessible form by which we are able to judge the performance of Council in carrying out its day to day activities, other than the internal Q1 2017/18 unauditted Report on non-financial performance. This outlines targets, and compliance internally, and could be accordingly considered 'self-serving.'

There is no indication of any audit oversight, and detailed contractor performance is absent - they are as 'protected' as Council staff. What is more, it is simpoly an Audit Commitee Reoprt, and that august group gives every appearance of an 'old-boys' club, with a 'we know best' attitude, given the level of reporting to the full Council. .

The statistics are in any case meaningless as they stand  and we are kept totally in the dark, until we burrow down through the OIA process to find out what is going on in regard to particular matters of concern. I am not complaining about access to the information when it is sought - our Council is spectacularly good by comparison with many other organisations when it comes to providing information in a timely manner.

But that is not the issue - it is what we don't know about - that which is buried behind the wall of secrecy that protects the internal/external audit process, and which is not subject to any other form of oversight, that concerns me, and I do not believe that we are well served by our Council in this regard.

Readers will well know that I do burrow down on occasion in regard to matters of which I am aware. I just wish that more people would take the trouble to draw my attention to other matters which have escaped my attention - good or bad! Better still, I would really appreciate an indication from senior management of their willingness to provide more open access to the internal/external audit process, and indeed review that process to ensure that all aspects of day-to-day management, particularly of those functions performed by outside contractors are brought within that purview. A start could well be provided by accurate statistics related to complaints, and the efficacy of the process by which they are handled - those in regard to road maintanance during the past winter would be particularly revealing.

My experience is that there is a a real need for improvement in these aspects of the Council's management. No one person, or elected representative has all knowledge, or all the answers, and simply hiding information will only increase the suspicion that things are far worse than we have been led to believe through meaningless press releases. For example, so many projects are languishing, or delayed for one reason or another that we we have every right to be suspicious of performance. My recent experience has reinforced this view.




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Reader Comments (1)

Bill, the contents of this post of yours, are disturbing to say the least. I, for one, have been hopeful that the new Mayor and Council, and the new CEO, would bring about more openness in the Council's dealings. This appears to be not the case, at least yet.
The situation you have detailed, indicates that a complete 'culture change' is needed from the last 'regime', and that it either hasn't happened yet, or is coming very slowly The Council is there to represent and do its best, for ITS COMMUNITY. We will only know if this is happening by being adequately informed, and having access to sufficient information. It seems to me that the culture of this Council (and in my experience it is not the only one to have such a culture), is to provide the minimum amount of information it can get away with. Rather, the proper culture in a democracy should be the COMPLETE OPPOSITE - to make available the maximum amount of information possible.
You have quoted one of three rationale for maintaining a wall of silence: "To maintain the effective conduct of public affairs through the protection of such members, officers , employees, and persons from improper pressure or harassment." Reasonable 'pressure' by the community to find out if, or how, the Council is serving ITS COMMUNITY in the best overall way possible, is part and parcel of a healthy local democracy working as it should be. Hiding behind over-use of the above rationale, particularly by applying the word 'improper' too liberally, is unacceptable. Likewise, considering that inquiry by the community, or providing the community with information (both good, and at times not so good!) may lead to the community wanting to know more, is a completely insufficient reason to use 'the wall of silence' provisions.
Bill, your efforts to keep the community informed of our Council's dealings are absolutely great for your readers. Please keep up your good work. But, as I have commented on your blog in the past, we suffer in our district from there being no media (print, radio, or TV) that cover Council activities, other than very occasionally. In turn, those in the community that don't know of, or don't read your blog, have no or very little idea at all, of the Council matters that you cover. I know it may be naive, wishful, thinking, but nevertheless I will put forward the following idea! I suggest that in the interests of good democracy, the Council should adopt a culture in all its dealings of being just as 'open' as possible with the public - and towards this end, VERY CLOSELY AND SERIOUSLY CHALLENGING ITSELF EVERY TIME it proposes to use any 'wall of silence' provisions.
Come on Mayor, Councillors, and CEO, in the interests of YOUR COMMUNITY, I put up this very worthwhile challenge to you!

November 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTim

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