Local Authority Internal Audit Virtual Forum

15 December 2021


Please note:

  • All Institute responses are boxed and highlighted blue
  • Where the chair comments in that capacity this box is highlighted in yellow
  • For confidentiality, the identities of all delegates/attendees are anonymised

CEO's welcome

Good afternoon and thank you for joining us today. The topic for today is safeguarding. Safeguarding as a general concept is to protect people from harm and abuse, both verbally and physically. The best way is to put appropriate measures in place. This often means a framework, which allows those involved to follow prescribed steps to prevent negative outcomes. Safeguarding is never the responsibility of just one or two people, it is a principle that everyone must follow if they come into contact with vulnerable people – both children and adults. All organisations have to ensure that they prioritise the safety of anyone who comes into contact with their organisation. Safeguarding is particularly relevant to local authorities, charities and care organisations who work directly with children or adults at risk.

Today, we will seek to gain a better understanding from a subject matter expert.


Chair's opening comments

Every so often we hear accounts in the media of distressing cases, whether they involve grooming gangs, modern slavery, elderly or vulnerable adults, or sadly as we have heard in recent weeks children and babies. Along with the inevitable anger, questions always follow these cases regarding why they were not identified sooner, who was responsible, and what more could have been done.

Local authorities have a statutory responsibility for safeguarding, promoting wellbeing within local communities and cooperating with partners to protect adults at risk of abuse or neglect.

Local authorities have wider safeguarding duties under the Care Act 2014, including: leading a multi-agency local adult safeguarding system; establish Safeguarding Adults Boards; making enquiries when they think an adult with care and support needs may be at risk of abuse or neglect; and carrying out safeguarding adults reviews when someone with care and support needs dies as a result of neglect or abuse.

Let’s hear what Stephen Watson, Chair of the Northumberland County Council Audit Committee, has to say on this challenging topic.


Key takeaways

Stephen Watson CFIIA, Chair of the Northumberland County Council Audit Committee

Slides from Stephen’s presentation are available here. Stephen also emphasised some key points:

  • Safeguarding is and will continue to be an extremely important area within local government. Local authorities are at the centre of safeguarding, along with the NHS and the police.
  • The recent publicised cases are horrific, but remember that verbal abuse or bullying also falls under the definition of safeguarding. Organisations are starting to realise that safeguarding also extends to their workforces (bullying in the workplace, for example). Does your organisation have policies in place to protect the vulnerable adults that it may employ?
  • Safeguarding is centred on assessing risk – this is nothing new for internal audit. However, it is also an extremely complex area, and internal audit may be best placed to review awareness, timeliness and relevance of safeguarding policies rather than second guessing the assessments of practitioners.
  • A few specific areas to consider:
    • Do the partners that your organisations work with share the same safeguarding standards?
    • Does your organisation protect the kind of information that could be used by someone to exploit or abuse a vulnerable person?
    • Is your organisation able to train the right people at all levels of the organisation on safeguarding readily?
  • Don’t be complacent – question and challenge the organisation’s measures. We are all aware of budget constraints within the public sector, but safeguarding cannot be allowed to fall off the radar. A near miss may not be a miss next time. How seriously was safeguarding taken within your organisation a month ago? Local Authority CEOs will certainly now be asking if there is more that can be done in response to recent events and it is reasonable to anticipate that follow up actions in response to concerns being reported has been a weakness.

Chair's closing comments

The Victoria Climbie murder case has stuck with me. As is often the case, there were lots of people who were aware of relevant pieces of information, but no one put the jigsaw together of a child being abused.

So what can internal audit do in this area? I agree with Stephen that it is appropriate for us to work around the margins, rather than second guess expert decisions. This has made me think of a couple of areas that we could consider:

HR – Are the proper background checks being carried out? Do we know all of our officers who are coming into contact with vulnerable people?

Procurement – Have the risks of contractors acting on behalf of the council visiting properties of vulnerable people been considered? Maybe during procurement organisations should be checking the policies and training of third parties.

I’m sure there are many others.


Institute's closing comments

We are currently finalising our programme of sessions and topics for the first half of 2022. Our January session (date to be confirmed) will likely focus on cash flow management – staving off a Section 114 notice.

The Audit & Risk Awards recognises the high standards of quality and integrity vital to the success of internal audit, as well as reward the innovation delivered by teams and individuals who are at the cutting-edge of their profession. Nominations for the Audit & Risk Awards are now open, submit your entry by 16 February 2022, ready for the award ceremony on 29 June 2022.

Thank you everyone, have a wonderful festive break and see you in 2022.


Q&A

Q: Would you expect council internal auditors to have safeguarding training in their toolkit and DBS clearances?

A: I would say that training is now necessary, whereas I may not have said so five years ago. Training not only for internal auditors and their professional dealings, but also training around understanding challenges faced by managers in safeguarding. I would encourage DBS checks for auditors who may audit schools or social care, while being mindful of a legal basis of doing so for that role.

Q: My concern is that because I am not a social care practitioner, internal audit could give a false level of assurance because we cannot check completely whether a referral has been investigated appropriately. What are your thoughts on this please?

A: Be cautious on where you are providing assurance and that the remit of the audit is clear. Focus on policies and compliance, rather than second guessing practitioner decisions.

Q: Is there any sort of assessment criteria to assess audit roles for the need to have DBS or even police clearance (specific to auditors)?

A: I don’t think there is, it is a decision for individual audit teams.

Q: What should an internal auditor do if they encounter a safeguarding concern during their work?

A: It is important to follow organisational policy. I would generally expect the first port of call to be a line manager, rather than to risk setting hares running unnecessarily, as long as there is no immediate risk of harm.

Q: Is there an opportunity to do data analytics here, considering what data was available to inform decisions by practitioners?

A: Data analytics has to be a key part of this – the more information and outliers we can identify that the organisation cannot identify itself, the more we are adding value.

Chat box comments:

  • We used to be CRB checked but have been told we do not now meet the criteria to be DBS checked - it would not comply with the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.
  • We used to get DBS checks for school audits but were told a number of years ago that we should not do this. Audit should have access to information only and the school treats the auditor as a visitor to protect the children.
  • I work for a Scottish local authority and we have to have a basic disclosure check by Disclosure Scotland prior to be being appointed to an audit post.
  • We recently audited children's placements and did a questionnaire to all social workers to ascertain their understanding of the policies and procedures in place. A very valuable tool for us and management.
  • We recently had Essex Police come and give our staff a presentation on modern day slavery. It was very good and has it helped us make lots of multi-agency connections. We are subsequently auditing this area at present.

Further reading

Chat box links – training videos and guidance:

CaerphillyCBCTV | Basic safeguarding training

Gwent Safeguarding | Safeguarding is everybody's responsibility

Gov.uk | DBS eligibility guidance

Guidance

Auditing safeguarding

Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS)