Mid Devon Council passes annual audit with improved ratings

An annual stress test of how Mid Devon operates has produced a positive result.

The internal audit looks at how the council functions, assesses how it is doing in providing services to residents and whether its procedures are robust.

The council has received a 'reasonable assurance' rating, the second highest.

Devon Assurance Partnership (DAP), previously known as Devon Audit Partnership, tested 24 areas or functions of the council, and gave three its highest rating, 18 its second highest, and just three the 'limited assurance' rating, the level just above its worst 'no assurance' rating.

This is an improvement on last year when five areas were rated as 'limited assurance'.

The three areas DAP was only partially confident in for the 2023/24 financial year related to information governance, the Exe Valley leisure centre, and its building control partnership with North Devon.

On information governance, DAP's Tony Rose said the recent departure of the data protection officer and team capacity issues contributed to its view, adding that of the 15 original observations it had made the year before, it considered only four to be complete.

Mr Rose's report also said that recent departures of key personnel from Exe Valley had impacted on key legal requirements, such as annual testing of fire evacuation procedures, review or risk assessments and maintenance of accident logs.

"Condition surveys are also not being undertaken, which will likely result in higher maintenance costs and impact on asset availability," the report said.

"Many of the weaknesses identified can be resolved quickly and improve our overall assurance rating."

In terms of the North Devon partnership, which sees the two authorities offer building control services, DAP was concerned about the lack of building control officers, but Mr Rose acknowledged that "appropriate action is now being taken to deal with this".

The three areas DAP was most pleased with were housing benefits, waste and recycling, and street care.

It praised the council's "well organised and effective street sweeping and bin emptying service", and encouragingly, the council's cyber security function was increased by one grade to 'reasonable assurance' due to the "sufficient work undertaken".

"That said, the limited capacity of the ICT team results in risk related to effective support to business areas, and it also constrains their ability to support reviews such as our audits.," the report said.

Similarly, DAP said it had not been able to audit the planning enforcement team because of the number of vacancies in it.

In terms of actions that Mid Devon's management needs to take to improve, Mr Rose said the outcome was "very good" given that only one out of 69 tasks were high priority and overdue.

Thirty tasks were deemed medium priority and were not overdue, compared to 20 that were running behind schedule, while eight were low priority and within the deadline while 10 low-priority tasks had gone over deadline.

DAP concluded that the council's overall internal control framework "is considered to have operated effectively during the year.

"Where we have highlighted weaknesses in compliance to key controls, none are considered to have had a material impact on operations.

"That said, the number of vacancies in the finance team are a concern as the team underpins financial monitoring and control."