Tuesday, February 27, 2007

My first proper council speech

Today was my first proper speech at full council. I presented the first annual report of my Audit Committee, and seemed to get a good reception, and some exceptionally complementary remarks from members from across the political divide.
There was also some genuine laughter over the interactive bit. Good to see people from all sides actually seeing the funny side to something.
Full text below. Check against delivery as they say!

Thank you Lord Mayor.
This is speech and a report that is a first in three
ways:
To begin with, it is the first time that I have presented a report to
the City Council – so please be considerate to me.
Secondly, it is the first
time since the new reporting arrangements into City Council were introduced that
a Cabinet Member or Chair of Committee has presented their report at the annual
Budget meeting - so I will be brief as I know that I am the hors d’oeuvre before
the main course and desert of the annual budget and council plan.
Finally,
it is the first report of the Audit Committee which was only constituted in
February last year – so I hope it gives you a good taster to what we are doing
on your behalf.
There is no statutory obligation for a Local Authority to
establish an Audit Committee but they are ever more widely recognised
internationally across the public and private sectors as a core component of
effective governance. As John Gregory, the District Auditor from the Audit
Commission, has said to us, he would like to see the Audit Committee become
synonymous with “a place where matters of good corporate governance are
discussed”.
And, I believe we have made a good start getting up and running
quickly and looking at some substantial and important issues. I am particularly
grateful to the other Members on the Committee; Councillors Nigel Dawkins, Carl
Rice, Laura Ross, Shafique Shah, Margaret Waddington and Michael Wilkes for
their enthusiastic and committed support. Margaret Waddington even came across
to Peterborough with me to see the work of the Audit Committee at Peterborough
and Stamford Hospital Trust. I would also like to thank the officers for the way
we have been supported. We have worked together as a good team.
You will see
from the report that the Audit Committee has a carried out a lot of work in just
its first year. The committee has an important role to play in scrutinising the
annual accounts, and internal controls, receiving regular updates to the
Council’s Risk Register, and seeking assurances that the proverbial stable door
has been well and truly locked, bolted and nailed shut when systems have failed
and fraud committed.
With the Lord Mayors permission, I’d just like to get
the Members limbered up for voting in the later debates.
Could everyone
raise his or her right hand please.
Now keep your hand up if you are male.
Also, you can keep your hand up if you are over thirty.
Keep it up for a
bit longer if you are under forty.
And finally, keep your hand up if you are
educated to degree level.
Those still with their hands up fit the perfect
fraud profile. I like to think that I’m a poacher turned gamekeeper.
The NHS
and other quasi-public bodies such as Universities have an established record of
audit committees. In the private sector they are also well established, but when
they fail to be independent the result is almost always very public, such as the
Enron scandal.
Although, as a committee we look at more than just numbers,
within the five thousand one hundred and sixty one words of the report there are
fifteen uses of the word independent or independence.
Whilst I do not want
to over egg the independent role of the Audit Committee, it is very important
for our credibility that we are seen as being separate from both the work of the
Executive and of Scrutiny.
It is important that the Audit Committee enjoys
the trust of the Executive and Scrutiny. I hope it will be the case that the
Executive will refer to us matters which they feel they need some assurance on.
And that Scrutiny will be able to complement our work by looking in more detail
at some of the issues we have identified.
Whilst wanting to ensure
colleagues that we see it as very important to look at the fine detail and that
figures add up, we also want to be able to see “the bigger picture” and provide
assurance to the Council on the systems and procedures it has in place with
respect to internal controls.
I hope the report provides a taster of the
work we are undertaking. We have already looked at some important governance and
risk issues for the City Council and have been impressed at the manner in which
officers have responded to the issues we have raised.
In looking forward to
our second year of work we see quite a heavy workload but I would still want to
encourage any Member who has an issue of concern within the remit of the Audit
Committee to raise it with me or a Member of my Committee.

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