The guide to scrutiny of risk and commercialisation, published by the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny, will be received by the Committee.
Reporting Person – Kevin Foster
The Committee had previously been presented with a report covering two items of guidance; the Overview and Scrutiny Guidance released by the then Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, subsequently renamed the Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC); and The Good Scrutiny Guide by the Centre for Public Scrutiny. The Guide to Scrutiny of Risk and Commercialisation had been brought to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee to contextualise the previous guidance for when the Council’s Commercial Strategy was scrutinised.
Kevin Foster, Strategic Director – Corporate Resources, reminded the Committee that elements of risk and commercialisation scrutiny had already been undertaken. For instance, when the Financial Review was received, results of which had been integrated into the Medium-Term Financial Strategy. Changes to the Performance and Financial Monitoring Information were also a reflection of this scrutiny. The Committee was to receive an update under Item 9.
The Committee discussed the relevance of the Guidance in light of the most recent guidance on Local Government borrowing and investments for commercial return. Kevin commented that Councils still needed to pursue other sources of income to supplement Council Tax and Business Rates. Local Government was coming under greater scrutiny for its levels of risk and exposure and Councils needed to see how implementation of powers within the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill developed.
Members shared concerns about the Council’s performance on managing risk. It was envisaged that going forward there would be a Corporate Strategic Risk Register which would be subject to scrutiny by Councillors. To complement this, training for Councillors on how to scrutinise risk management had been arranged for 12th October 2022.
It was explained that the newly filled role of Strategic Director of Corporate Resources was expected to oversee and combine the commercialisation work undertaken by Joanne McIntosh, Director of Legal and Democratic Services, with the financial affairs work of Leigh Clarke, the Finance Director, and the work of Adam Walther, Head of Transformation and Digital.
Kevin was asked to explain how Woking Borough Council approached commercialisation both as a business owner and as a lender. For guidance, the Council employed the use of a Shareholder Advisory Service. Additionally, the Company Governance Structure had recently changed; senior Officers of the Council were employed to boards of companies where Woking Borough Council had an interest. The Officers would be required to balance the priorities of the company with the needs of the Council. As a lender, responsibility lay with the statutory officers performing due diligence. It was a necessity that any decision made aligned with a priority of the Council.
Members asked Kevin to define Cultural Transformation, as referenced in the report. Although not something that could be reported on in the short-term, this had begun with the appointment of the new CEO and appointments of strategic directors. It was necessary to remove single points of failure and ensure officers were empowered to make decisions. The Woking for All strategy that was under development was expected reflect the cultural transformation.
Carter Jonas had been employed to review assets and stakeholders for the Strategic Asset Management Plan.
That (i) the guidance drawn up by the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) and the Centre for Governance and Scrutiny (CfGS) on the scrutiny of risk and commercialisation be noted;
(ii) the Council’s integrated service and financial planning approach which has the Medium-Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) as its strategy for commercial, investment and financial resilience be noted;
(iii) the role of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee in providing scrutiny on the Council’s approach to risk and commercialisation through the MTFS and specifically the Comprehensive Statement be noted; and
(iv) the agreed update to the management actions in response to the Comprehensive Statement as a report on progress from the earlier scrutiny review of the Council’s investment and commercial approach and strategies be received and noted.