SECRET reports released this week have revealed concerns about social care, information security, health and safety and budget savings at City of York Council.
The Press has obtained 26 internal reports previously not made public, and council bosses have pledged to end similar secrecy in the future.
The papers, obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) laws, cover topics from routine school audits to reviews of services for vulnerable older people, health and safety, and information security, and even the sale of scrap metal from Hazel Court recycling centre.
Now council officials have confirmed that in future, reports like this will be published, with redactions, when they are presented to a council committee.
Of the 26 reports by council auditors Veritau, the majority are neutral or positive with three – two related to social care and one about carbon emission reduction – showing “limited assurance” from the auditors.
The council’s director of governance Andrew Docherty said: “Recommendations from the reports are being addressed by the relevant teams to make the improvements identified and we’re pleased in the first instance that the majority of the reports – 25 out of 28 – came back with either high, substantial or moderate assurance ratings.”
The council’s internal auditors Veritau check on council performance routinely, or because of specific requests from managers, as part of the authority’s commitment to improving services, he added.
But now the council’s head of internal audit, Max Thomas, has confirmed the authority intends to publish all audit reports in redacted form when they are submitted to the audit and governance committee, something York-based governance expert Gwen Swinburn has welcomed.
She said: “It is excellent news that efforts of The Press, citizens and councillors have resulted in the council conceding that internal audit reports will now be submitted in full to the audit and governance committee for proper oversight and monitoring.” While political opponents have called for more openness in the council, the Labour administration has welcomed the good reports from auditors and said the audit reporting procedure is the same as in many other authorities.
Conservative group leader Chris Steward said: “It is vital we see more openness with the publication of audit reports, particularly given the worryingly low level of assurance the auditors have given to areas as vital as budget savings and adult social care.”
A Labour spokesman added: “Just as in every other council, audit reports are prepared routinely to review and improve the quality of public services. These reports have always been available to members of the cross-party audit and governance committee along with information on actions in response to those reports.
“The reporting process is the same as under the previous Lib Dem administration in York and the same as under the current Conservative administration at North Yorkshire County Council.”
Elderly people have been left vulnerable to financial abuse by gaps in money management procedures at some council-run facilities.
Three of the 26 reports released to The Press relate to care for vulnerable people - in sheltered housing or extra care facilities, or through Direct Payments, where people administer and pay for their support themselves.
In a report Social Care Establishments, auditors said they had only limited assurance over the way staff help residents manage their money, and were worried that by not carrying out appraisals on residents’ financial capability the establishments were leaving residents without the help they need to manage their money and, staff open to allegations of theft.
Since the audits, senior managers say they have started monitoring of direct payments, have updated their policies on managing customers’ money, and now include a finance assessment when assessing customers’ needs.
A heavily redacted report on information security shows that despite earlier reports from the auditors, some sensitive data was still being left lying around council offices at night. The report said although improvements have been made, the list of the kinds of vulnerable information left insecure had grown.
Auditors are confident overall in the council’s processes for making the savings they need to keep up with Government funding cuts, but have concerns over the way the savings are monitored and planned for.
Among the problems spotted were delays in making changes necessary for the savings, and some areas lacking a written plan for saving money. A council spokeswoman has said that in its budget report, being prepared for the September cabinet, the financial position is better than in previous years.