2007-2008 - Annual Audit and Inspection Letter - Lichfield DC v1.1
17 Pages
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2007-2008 - Annual Audit and Inspection Letter - Lichfield DC v1.1

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17 Pages
English

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Annual Audit and Inspection Letter Lichfield District Council Audit 2007/08 March 2009 Contents Key messages 3 Purpose, responsibilities and scope 5 How is Lichfield District Council performing? 6 The audit of the accounts and value for money 12 Looking ahead 15 Closing remarks 16 Status of our reports The Statement of Responsibilities of Auditors and Audited Bodies issued by the Audit Commission explains the respective responsibilities of auditors and of the audited body. Reports prepared by appointed auditors are addressed to non-executive directors/members or officers. They are prepared for the sole use of the audited body. Auditors accept no responsibility to: • any director/member or officer in their individual capacity; or • any third party. Key messages Key messages Performance 1 The Council has made good progress in improving the delivery of services, supported by a robust, integrated performance management process. Sixty-five per cent of performance indicators (PIs) have improved over the last year, whilst costs are significantly lower than the majority of similar councils. However, the Council has fewer top performing PIs than most other Councils. Whilst there have been sustained improvements in some priority areas, certain PIs have deteriorated in others (for example housing, where average length of stay in hostel accommodation has increased). Over the last year, a refocusing of the housing options team has led to a ...

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Annual Audit and Inspection Letter
Lichfield District Council
Audit 2007/08
March 2009
Contents   Key messages Purpose, responsibilities and scope How is Lichfield District Council performing? The audit of the accounts and value for money Looking ahead Closing remarks  
Status of our reports The Statement of Responsibilities of Auditors and Audited Bodies issued by the Audit Commission explains the respective responsibilities of auditors and of the audited body. Reports prepared by appointed auditors are addressed to non-executive directors/members or officers. They are prepared for the sole use of the audited body. Auditors accept no responsibility to:  any director/member or officer in their individual capacity; or any third party.   
 
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Key messages
Key messages Performance 1 The Council has made good progress in improving the delivery of services, supported by a robust, integrated performance management process. Sixty-five per cent of performance indicators (PIs) have improved over the last year, whilst costs are significantly lower than the majority of similar councils. However, the Council has fewer top performing PIs than most other Councils. Whilst there have been sustained improvements in some priority areas, certain PIs have deteriorated in others (for example housing, where average length of stay in hostel accommodation has increased). Over the last year, a refocusing of the housing options team has led to a significant reduction in the number of homelessness applications received. The Council places a strong emphasis on recycling, and performance has improved consistently over the last three years, establishing the Council as one of the top performing authorities for this service. The cost of services overall remains below average. Waste collection costs, whilst reducing, are above average. The Council is developing a good track record of partnership working, and is achieving many of its service improvements through partnership arrangements. We commend the Council's achievement at sustaining improvements, given the additional burden of co-ordinating a response to the major flooding incident during the summer of 2007. Economic downturn 2 The Council has reviewed the likely effect of this and assessed a cost to the Authority of £3.4 million over the next three years. This is due to estimated lost revenue from car parks, leisure service usage, planning applications and other services the Council charges for. The Council has recognised this as a financial risk area and has implemented a monitoring process within affected directorates to assess the on-going impact of reductions in revenue, and is developing contingency plans to achieve cost efficiency savings. There is a communications process to share these concerns with staff. Use of Resources 3 The Council has maintained its overall good performance in the Use of Resources assessment. The overall level 3 score equates to good performance and the score for financial reporting has increased to level 4, indicating excellent performance. Good Value for Money is demonstrated by a range of performance indicators and the Council is one of the top twenty performing authorities for recycling and composting. The Council has also improved its performance management information systems, and is working to improve services where performance is below average, such as enabling access to affordable housing. This letter highlights those areas where arrangements for managing resources could be further improved. Accounts and value for money conclusion 4 In September 2008 an unqualified opinion was issued on the Council’s 2007/08 accounting statements and auditors found no issues in the course of the audit that
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Key messages
were considered to be material. The audit process identified a small number of audit adjustments as a result of further information becoming available after the accounts.
Action needed by the Council 5 Further focus efforts to improve the availability of affordable housing. 6 The new approach to Use of Resources under Comprehensive Area Assessment embraces wider resource issues, such as people and workforce planning and the use of natural resources. The approach also focuses more on value for money achievements and outcomes rather than on processes. The Council will need to ensure that existing performance management arrangements are able to provide a mechanism for reviewing effectiveness in achieving desired outcomes and the creation of, and monitoring against, appropriate performance indicators. Demonstrate the ability to respond to economic circumstances by reviewing current priorities and delivery as necessary.
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Purpose, responsibilities and scope
Purpose, responsibilities and scope 8 This report provides an overall summary of the Audit Commission's assessment of the Council. It draws on the most recent Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA), the findings and conclusions from the audit of the Council for 2007/08 and from any inspections undertaken since the last Annual Audit and Inspection Letter. 9 We have addressed this letter to members as it is the responsibility of the Council to ensure that proper arrangements are in place for the conduct of its business and that it safeguards and properly accounts for public money. We have made recommendations to assist the Council in meeting its responsibilities. 10 This letter also communicates the significant issues to key external stakeholders, including members of the public. We will publish this letter on the Audit Commission website at www.audit-commission.gov.uk. (In addition the Council is planning to publish it on its website). 11 Your appointed auditors until 31st March 2008 were KPMG LLP, and your appointed auditors from 1st April 2008 the Audit Commission. Your appointed auditor is responsible for planning and carrying out an audit that meets the requirements of the Audit Commission’s Code of Audit Practice (the Code). Under the Code, the auditor reviews and reports on:  the Council’s accounts;  whether the Council has made proper arrangements for securing economy, efficiency and effectiveness in its use of resources (value for money conclusion); and  whether the Council's best value performance plan has been prepared and published in line with legislation and statutory guidance. 12 This letter includes the latest assessment on the Council’s performance under the CPA framework, including our Direction of Travel report, and the results of any inspections carried out by the Audit Commission under section 10 of the Local Government Act 1999. It summarises the key issues arising from the CPA and any such inspections. Inspection reports are issued in accordance with the Audit Commission’s duty under section 13 of the 1999 Act. 13 We have listed the reports issued to the Council relating to 2007/08 audit and inspection work at the end of this letter.
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How is Lichfield District Council performing?
How is Lichfield District Council performing? 14 Lichfield District Council was assessed as Good in the Comprehensive Performance Assessment carried out in 2004. These assessments have been completed in all district councils and we are now updating these assessments, through an updated corporate assessment, in councils where there is evidence of change. The following chart is the latest position across all district councils. Figure 1 Overall performance of district councils in CPA  
 Source: Audit Commission (percentage figures may not add up to 100 per cent due to rounding)
  
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How is Lichfield District Council performing?
The improvement since last year - our Direction of Travel report 15 The Council has made good progress in improving the delivery of services. There is a strategic priority dedicated to service improvement across all service areas, and this is supported by a robust, integrated performance management process. Sixty-five per cent of performance indicators (PIs) have improved over the last year, whilst costs are significantly lower than the majority of similar councils. However, the Council has fewer top performing PIs than most other Councils. Whilst there have been sustained improvements in some priority areas, certain PIs have deteriorated in others (for example housing where average length of stay in hostel accommodation has increased). However, a refocusing of the housing options team has led to a significant change in the number of homelessness applications received (down by 39 per cent between 2007/08 and 2008/09) and this has also led to a 45 per cent reduction in the numbers of households found to be statutorily homeless. The Council places a strong emphasis on recycling, and performance has improved consistently over the last three years, establishing the Council as one of the top performing authorities for this service. The cost of services overall remains below average. Whilst waste collection costs remain higher than the average for district councils, these have been reduced, performance is improving and public satisfaction levels are above average. The Council is developing a good track record of partnership working, and is achieving many of its service improvements through partnership arrangements. What evidence is there of the Council improving outcomes? 16 The Council is improving outcomes across the range of its strategic priority areas. Recycling and composting rates have continued to improve over the last three years and the Council is one of the top twenty performing authorities nationally at 50 per cent. Recycling has been extended to businesses also, and 137 businesses are now involved in recycling. Sustained improvement has also been achieved in the processing of planning applications, although the percentage of allowed planning appeals remains in the lowest performance range. In Finance Revenues and Benefits, sustained improvement has been achieved over the last three years in the processing of benefit claims, although there are still some issues to be resolved in the quality of processing, where performance has fallen over the last year. The Council has struggled with meeting its target for affordable housing in 2008/09 and, although 52 affordable homes have been delivered in the current year towards the strategic target, the milestone of 70 is unlikely to be achieved owing to the impact of the financial downturn on the housing market. The Council has acknowledged this difficulty and consequently revised the milestone target downwards during the year.
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How is Lichfield District Council performing?
17 The Council is making a significant contribution to wider community outcomes. There is a culture of joint initiatives wherever these are appropriate, with evidence of strong partnership working across a wide range of the Council’s activities and functions. The Council has delivered significant improvements in most areas of activity relating to the county wide community safety initiative, and achieved a reduction of 15 per cent in crime levels against the disaggregated local area agreement target to March 2008. A particular example is the North Lichfield Initiative, where the Council is working closely with police partners to improve community safety. Facilities associated with this initiative include drop-in sessions at the ‘Jigsaw Community Shop’, regular visits by a mobile police unit and regular input from Victim Support and the Staffordshire Youth Service. Other examples include health education initiatives (health in the home and workplace), improving air quality, improving child health and welfare and improving road safety. Other initiatives have focused on developing strong and cohesive communities, examples including short courses for mental health groups in partnership with South Staffordshire College, a 'sloppy slippers' campaign to help prevent falls by older people and localised community awareness events. Further initiatives have been delivered jointly with the fire and rescue service in prevention of arson and accidental fires. The lack of clearly defined local targets for a range of disaggregated local area agreement targets, means that it is not possible to assess the full contribution the council is making towards wider community outcomes. 18 The Council works well in partnership with other agencies. There is a good track record of achieving investment through partnership working and this has benefited a range of business and leisure developments, including the Garrick Theatre, Fradley Business Park, and the extension of play facilities in four localities. Joint working through the Local Strategic Partnership has attracted some £140k of additional funding for various community initiatives. The Partnership Plan 2008-2011 was approved by the Executive in September 2008, and sets out the community safety priorities for the district. Strong partnership working will help to ensure that the Council’s contribution to wider community outcomes is maximised. 19 There has been good progress in improving both access and the quality of services for vulnerable people. The Disability Partnership Panel (DPP) now scrutinises all relevant development plans to ensure they are appropriate for disabled people, and all of the Council’s buildings are now DDA compliant. A service level agreement was implemented in October 2008 with Spirita Home Improvement Agency, to undertake home improvements to help people live independently. The North Lichfield ‘Back Into  Work’ project demonstrates innovative partnership working that seeks to address pressures on people due to the economic downturn. Also, the ‘Warmer Homes, Greener Lichfield’ programme, to help more people benefit from affordable warmth schemes, has enabled 200 vulnerable households to be assisted with insulation improvement. Revised procedures to help homeless families were introduced in May 2008, with further work to update the homelessness strategy also completed during 2008. The Council's target of preventing at least 30 households from becoming homeless for at least 6 months was exceeded by 1, with 8 successful referrals to the Sanctuary scheme to enable households experiencing domestic violence to remain in their current accommodation. The Council is at local government equality standard level 2, which is the position for 54 per cent of all councils.
 
 
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How is Lichfield District Council performing?
20 Value for Money (VFM) is improving as well as the quality of services. Whilst 65 per cent of performance indicators have improved over the last year, overall costs per head of population remain below average. The Council has a robust approach to VFM improvement, through its Improvement and Efficiency Strategy. This is aimed at reducing the Council's net expenditure over the period 2008-2012. The strategy supports the Council's strategic objectives through the performance management framework, and covers the two-year period from 2008-2010. It is intended to review the strategy in 2010 for the second two-year period. The strategy was formally adopted by the executive team on 30th June 2008, and demonstrates a robust approach to achieving efficiencies in cost, whilst maintaining the quality and volume of services to the public. Ensuring that efficiencies to improve VFM are integrated with performance management processes is key to managing resources effectively. How much progress is being made to implement improvement plans to sustain future improvement? 21 The Council has a robust and integrated framework for improvement. The performance management system has recently been reviewed and implemented across all Council functions and departments. This provides a clear line of accountability for specific performance areas and is reported to the executive team formally on a quarterly basis. There is also informal reporting to portfolio holders on a monthly basis where any key targets have been refreshed. The performance management process ensures that all performance is linked clearly to strategic objectives, and that the Council is able to monitor progress on a regular basis and take action where necessary to ensure performance is kept on track. 22 Good progress is being made towards achieving key objectives. The performance management process identifies progress towards improvement in services through quarterly reports to the executive team. These are provided with ‘traffic light’ coding to indicate the status of each action and identify where progress is below target. Examples of good progress towards key objectives include recycling/composting, land management, housing benefit claims and planning services. For example, the Council has achieved an overall recycling level of 50 per cent, whilst the costs of waste collection have been reduced by £3 per household. The Council is required to meet a savings target of 3 per cent per annum. This equates to £466k for 2008/09 and the Council is on track to achieve this. 23 The Council is not able to measure all of its wider achievements. The Council has a broad based approach to performance improvement, but not all strategic objectives have clearly identifiable measures by which outputs and outcomes can be assessed. Some plans, for example those derived from the local area agreement, do not yet have measurable indicators for reviewing progress. Whilst the revised performance management process ensures that there are clear performance expectations across all services and functions, these are not clearly articulated at a strategic level. Clear and explicit performance expectations will help the Council to demonstrate publicly what progress is being made towards strategic objectives on a regular basis.
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How is Lichfield District Council performing?
24 The Council has the capacity to deliver its plans. The workforce development plan 2009-2012 addresses capacity to deliver service plans. The plan assesses the future needs within the context of the strategic plan and is linked to the Council's programme for service improvement and development. This is based on a sound analysis of the current labour force and both the external and internal factors affecting it. A particular focus is placed on the recruitment of younger staff, through the development of professional apprenticeship and trainee schemes, and ensuring that training and development programmes achieve maximum benefit. 25 The impact of the economic downturn, however, is of greater concern. The Council has reviewed the likely effect of this and assessed a cost of £3.4 million over the next three years. This is due to estimated lost revenue from car parks, leisure service usage, planning applications and other services the Council charges for. The Council has recognised this as a financial risk area and has implemented a monitoring process within affected departments to assess the on-going impact of reductions in revenue. There is a communications process to share these concerns with staff. Whilst the economic downturn will no doubt put the Council’s financial resources under considerable pressure, the Council has made a fair assessment of the likely impact of this over the next three years and is developing contingency plans to achieve cost efficiency savings to offset the effects of reduced revenue.
Service inspections Delivering Safer, Stronger and Greener Communities (SSGC) 26 In 2008 the Audit Commission carried out an inspection across all the Staffordshire councils, looking at how well the councils and their partners are working together to deliver shared objectives for safer, stronger and greener communities (SSGC). The inspection focused on progress against the SSGC targets in the 2007/08 Local Area Agreement (LAA) for Staffordshire. The inspection report was published in December 2008. 27 Overall, the inspection found that partners made good progress in delivering their 2007/08 SSGC targets, and that the prospects for future improvement are promising. Crime levels across the county reduced by 21 per cent and partners are working well to consult with local people about the issues that concern them most. 28 Specifically for Lichfield, the inspection found that the Council and partners have successfully delivered improvement in most areas of activity that relate to the LAA SSGC agenda, and are delivering improvements consistent with or better than peers. As noted in the direction of travel narrative, overall crime has reduced by 15 per cent over the three years to March 2008. The report highlighted that the Council has a well developed and mature approach to partnership working. In particular, that the tactical Joint Operations Group has the sustained support of a wide range of partners who collectively provide a broad range of skills, knowledge and information. However, a lack of locally based performance data has frequently prevented any evaluation against the countywide target of the LAA. This means that partners at district/borough level lack the performance management information they need to ensure that they contribute appropriately to meeting LAA targets.
 
 
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How is Lichfield District Council performing?
29 The report also identified that, at both district/borough and countywide levels, the community safety partnership needs to improve the way in which it challenges and evaluates value for money. Capacity was adequate and performance management has been strengthened.    
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