Shrewsbury Colleges Group
Group Minutes of the Audit Committee
Date 17th March 21
Time 6.05 p.m.
Minutes Membership In attendance by electronic device and contributing towards the meeting quorum, in accordance with Instrument 12. (Members may count towards the quorum if they are able to be present by electronic or digital communication (including attendance by video conferencing or telephone conferencing).
N. Merchant, R. Sartain, C. Sharp (co-opted member) and M. Thompson.
In attendance by electronic device
J. Staniforth, Principal/CEO
Member of the Senior Leadership Team: P. Partridge, Finance Director (FD)
Clerk to the Board, T. Cottee

In attendance by electronic device
W. Devitt, Engagement Lead, Grant Thornton, Financial Statement Auditors (FSA)
C. Parkes, TIAA, College Internal Audit Service (IAS)

A Allen, A. Benghiat, N. Merchant, G, Mills, D. Pulford, J. Rowe, R. Sartain, C. Sharp, J. Sharrock, J. Staniforth, M. Thompson and P. Tucker.
Apologies None.

Prior to the meeting of the Audit Committee, the Finance Director (FD) gave a presentation to the Audit Committee members and other invited governors on the College’s arrangements to fully re-open the College for students and staff from Monday, 22 March 2021.

  • The FD explained that the College had put in place measures to meet the requirements of the Government’s guidance to fully re-open further education colleges to students and staff. These measures supplemented and were in addition to the extensive measures already in place at the College to safeguard staff and students on-site during the partial opening.
  • All students were due back into College from Monday, 22 March 2021. The decision to welcome students back from this date, rather than from 08 March 2021, had been taken to provide the best opportunity for students to undertake on-site testing without undue disruption to teaching. The gross number of students requiring tests and the distance travelled to attend College by so many students meant there would be significant disruption to learning whilst conducting testing. The careful approach of the College earlier in the year had allowed face to face teaching for all 16-18 year olds for Term 1. The approach was aimed at ensuring face to face teaching for the rest of the year, rather than rushing to return. The College had made use of the flexibility within the FE Guidance. Students had been set independent work from 08 March 2021, for a two-week period, with teaching staff available to provide support throughout.
  • With respect to the administration of the onsite Lateral Flow Tests to students, testing stations were in place at each campus, staffed by a mix of College staff, volunteers and agency staff. This arrangement was working well and being managed efficiently, with around 80% student take-up overall. The College had also supported students who were unable to attend College to undertake their tests, where appropriate. To date, the College had undertaken over 7,000 tests, with 1 positive test that was negative following a PCR Test. The affected student was, however, self-isolating in accordance with guidance. Students were being provided with home testing kits after they had concluded their three tests on site.
  • In response to a question from a staff governor, the FD confirmed that all staff would be provided with return-to-work guidance, particularly on the use of face masks in classrooms and on campus, this week.
  • Staff proposing to come back into College, were undertaking home testing and the College had set up an online system, in addition to the NHS Test Result system, for staff to log their test dates and results.
  • The Staff Governor enquired if there had been any adverse parent response following the College’s decision to welcome all students back to College on 22 March and offer two weeks of independent learning from 08 March. The P/CEO explained that a very small number of parents had been in contact and, after receiving an explanation for the College’s approach, had been supportive. The Staff Governor confirmed this following parents’ feedback she had received.
  • A Governor enquired if staff had been given any guidance on the time of day, they should undertake Lateral Flow Testing. The FD confirmed that, included in the regular Covid updates sent to all staff, was a suggestion that staff undertake their tests the evening before intending to come into College.
  • The Health & Safety Link Governor expressed his support for the College’s approach and that he had been assured on the effectiveness of the College’s communications with students, staff and parents and the additional measures the College had taken.
  • In conclusion, the Briefing acknowledged the following risks and mitigation actions taken by the College –
    • The risk of students not attending for on-site testing. The College had taken mitigating actions including providing additional bus routes and offering, where appropriate, flexibility to undertake tests. These mitigations were an enhancement to the College’s existing measures to ensure the safety of students.
    • The risk of not having sufficient staff to undertake testing on site. The College had been able to redirect College staff due to the high levels of engagement from across the College and by vetting agency staff employed.
    • The risk of breaches in data security. The P/CEO confirmed that the College did not retain any personal data collected during the onsite testing exercise.
    • The risk that students’ health and wellbeing was adversely affected by testing arrangements. The College had arranged for ‘safe rooms’ for any students that tested positive after an onsite test and had members of the College’s Emotional and Wellbeing teams in place to support any students who tested positive.

01/21. Declarations of Interest

There were no declarations of interest.

02/21. Draft Minutes of the Meeting Held 25 November 2020 (Appendix Agenda Item 3)

The Minutes of the meeting held on 25 November 2020, were agreed as a true record.

03/21. Internal Audit Reports (Appendices Agenda Item 4)

Ms Parkes presented the following –

Apprenticeships Audit
An audit of the College’s apprenticeship provision had been included in the Internal Audit Service Work Schedule. However, Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) had recently undertaken a funding audit of apprenticeship provision at the College and; therefore, after discussion, it had been agreed to reduce the number of IAS days put aside in the Workplan for this review from 5 to 3. The FD reported that the PWC funding audit report had not reported any errors, nor had it resulted in any clawback of funding, providing assurance that the Group Vice Principal - Information & Strategic Development and his Team had recognised the risks and mitigated them effectively.

Compliance Review of Sub-Contractor Controls (previously circulated).
The Review had considered the College’s arrangements to manage and monitor its subcontracted provision. The Review had concluded that the College had good arrangements in place, undertook regular risk management profiles for each provider and signed contracts and contract addendums were held for all current providers.

The Review had also identified examples of good practice including that the Contracts Manager maintained a Subcontractor Schedule with all of the key processes evidenced, reviewed and audit dates scheduled with each document embedded and that the College had a comprehensive subcontractor policy in place. There were no recommendations arising from the report and thus had Substantial Assurance. A Certificate to evidence that the audit had been undertaken would be submitted to the Education & Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), as this was a condition of funding.

In response to a question from the Committee Chair, Ms Parkes confirmed that IR35 considerations had not been included in the scope of the audit. The FD explained, however, that the College worked only with large sub-contractor organisations to which these considerations did not apply.

In response to a question from a governor, Ms Parkes explained that the College had clear processes in place for receiving feedback from apprentices on their experience of delivery through sub-contractors. Each apprentice was subject to a risk assessment matrix, which determined the level and type of support required. The FD confirmed that the College also undertook regular quality management inspections of sub-contractors’ provision.

The Committee passed on its congratulations on a Substantial Assurance outcome to all staff involved in the audit.

Resolved: That the report be noted.

Assurance Review of Key Financial Controls – Payroll (previously circulated)

The Review had considered the College’s arrangements for the creation, amendment and deletion of payroll records, payment of allowances and pay awards, reimbursement of travel and subsistence expenses, severance payments (including tax compliance) and payment of salaries. The scope of the Review did not include determination of salary scales, appointment and removal of staff or pension arrangements.

The Review had identified two instances of good practice in that the pay budget had been increased to allow for additional teaching support for students and to ensure cover had been provided due to staff having to self-isolate or those who had contracted Covid-19 and the College used iTrent as its HR and payroll system and all documentation could be accessed within the secure system. There was one routine and two operational recommendations and thus had Substantial Assurance. There were no urgent Action Points and all recommendations had been accepted by College management.

The Committee passed on its congratulations on a Substantial Assurance outcome to all staff involved in the audit.

Resolved: That the report be noted.

04/21. Risk Register and Board Assurance Framework (Appendix Agenda Item 5)

As recommended by the Committee (Audit Committee Min. No. 26/20 refers), the format of the Risk Register had been revised in line with the proposals subsequently approved by Board (Board Min. No. 94/20 refers) to incorporate a new set of definitions and working methodology.

The Finance Director highlighted the top risks identified were –

        • Board 1 - Risk of disruption to learning from strike action; and
        • Board 10 - Coronavirus Pandemic: Failure to meet student/parent expectations (e.g. by comparison to similar institutions) for online learning and teaching

In response to a question from the Committee Chair on what mitigation actions the College was taking to prepare for 2021- 2020 enrolment, the P/CEO explained that, at present, the College was focussing on supporting applications, as they had risen by c.15% this year. However, the College had in place an extensive suite of policies and procedures to support preparation and future planning would be informed by the experience of enrolment undertaken in September 2020 and on feedback from student surveys.

In response to an observation from a governor on the increase in enrolment, despite the College’s OFSTED Grade, the P/CEO explained that the increase appeared to come from students prepared to travel from outside the immediate area to attend the College because of the quality and breadth of provision.

Resolved: That it be RECOMMENDED TO BOARD that the Risk Register, be approved.

05/21. Audit Recommendation Tracking Report (Appendix Agenda Item 6)

The Committee received the Audit Recommendation Tracking Report (previously circulated).

The FD explained that the Report to the next meeting would include the recommendations arising from the Financial Statements Audit.

The Committee Chair observed that the report included a number of recommendations that were on hold, in recognition of the current priorities of the College. The Chair requested an indication of when these outstanding recommendations could be revisited. The P/CEO acknowledged that this review should be undertaken and that the Committee would be advised of the outcome at its next meeting.

06/21. Irregularity and Fraud

None reported.

07/21. Risk

08/21. Date of Next Meeting – Wednesday, 16 June 2021 at 6.00 p.m. Venue – tbc.

09/21. AOB

The P/CEO reported on a recent ransomware attack on a local College, exploiting Outlook Exchange vulnerability. The College, to further supplement its existing arrangements, was rolling out compulsory Multi Factor Authentication to access remote services for all staff from 05 April 2021. In response to a query from a governor, the P/CEO explained that the College had in place sufficient insurance in the event of a cyber-attack.

The meeting concluded at 7.04 p.m.