From:                                   Rob Whiteman <cipfa@email.cipfa.org.uk>

Sent:                                    07 April 2020 14:37

To:                                        Moore, Ashleigh

Subject:                                CIPFA COVID-19 Bulletin

 

Weekly update on coronavirus

CIPFA | The Chartered Institute of Public Finance & Accountancy


CIPFA COVID-19 Bulletin

Key financial challenges

CIPFA continues to meet with MHCLG, the LGA and ALATS on a regular basis regarding the response of local government to the COVID-19 crisis. 

Councils are telling us the largest pressures are being felt across social care, homelessness, the surge in universal credit, and incomes losses from fees and charges. Many finance staff are being re-deployed to support front-line efforts to support the vulnerable, keep key services going and get government grants out to local businesses. 

Using the data we’ve gathered through the CIPFA survey, and our ongoing conversations with the sector, we will continue to lobby government for the support the sector needs. So please do continue to talk to us about the financial issues you’re facing on the front line. 

Supporting our members 

I’d like to take this opportunity to assure you that colleagues from across CIPFA are in daily conversation with central government stakeholders such as MHCLG, HMT, BEIS and other departments, as well as the LGA. This is being done on both a strategic and operational level, with technical staff being asked to provide their expertise. 

We will continue to keep you informed via this newsletter and through other channels. To that end, do take a look at a recent interview with Don Peebles, CIPFA’s Head of Policy and Technical, on streamlining of accounts for Public Finance magazine:
Interview with CIPFA's Head of Policy  

Extending the accounts preparation timetable 

Final regulations are due to be made this week to extend the statutory audit deadlines for 2019/20 for all local public authorities, apart from health service bodies.

It is proposed that: 

          the publication date for final, audited, accounts will move from 31 July for Category 1 authorities and 30 September for Category 2 authorities to 30 November 2020 for all local authority bodies.

          to give local authorities more flexibility, the requirement for the public inspection period to include the first 10 working days of June (for Category 1 authorities) and July (for Category 2 authorities) has been removed. Instead, local authorities must commence the public inspection period on or before the first working day of September 2020.

This means that draft accounts must be approved by 31 August 2020 at the latest, though may be approved earlier where possible.

Authorities must publish the dates of their public inspection period this year. It is recommend that they provide public notice on their websites (where available) outlining when the public inspection period would usually commence, explaining why they are departing from normal practice for 2020.

2019 / 20 Accounting Code of Practice 

On Monday, CIPFA/LASAAC considered radical proposals to streamline the 2019/20 accounts, in an effort to alleviate the pressure on budget holders and finance teams that have been diverted from their normal duties. 

However, from extensive discussions over the last week, it is clear that the simplification and reduction we proposed is not acceptable to regulators and auditors. Separately, HM Treasury has advised us that some of CIPFA’s proposals arguably might not provide the information still necessary for whole of government accounts (WGA). 

CIPFA has consistently been briefed by local government CFOs that the workload associated with minor changes only would outweigh any benefits for stretched finance teams. Therefore, in order to create certainty for both the preparers and auditors of accounts, the CIPFA/LASAAC Board resolved that in the absence of regulator and audit support, full application of the 2019/20 Code will be required.

The risk that 2019/20 reporting deferrals will impinge on 2021/22 budgeting this autumn is still live. Councils and their finance teams will be grappling with reduced income, higher service costs and planned savings proposals that have to be reappraised. We will continue to do all we can to assist finance teams and councils with this difficult position.

Last week we sent a survey to all directors of finance. We are grateful to everyone that has taken the time to respond. I know you are extremely busy, but your responses will allow us to shape our work on the streamlining of the 2019/20 Accounting Code.

Feedback to date shows that your top three areas for consideration are issues around audit, valuations and disclosure notes. We will supply a more detailed summary next week. Your insights will be vital in informing our daily discussions.  

Section 114 notices

You will have seen from my article in the LGC that I am concerned about the vulnerability of local authorities at this time. The steps being taken by local authorities to ensure vital services continue to be delivered could have unintended consequences, such as triggering the issue of a Section 114 notice. Local authorities should make direct contact with MHCLG to initially explore what options are available if this situation arises. CIPFA will continue discussions with MHCLG and engage with the sector to understand what the most appropriate solution to this problem would be. No decisions have been or will be made without further discussion. 

Update from our networks 

Revenues and Benefits Service 

Business Grants: These grants are estimated to be worth up to £12.3bn and, in order to ensure local government suffer no impact on their cash flow position, central government have paid an allocation to each local authority in advance of payments being made to businesses. Government is conscious that the allocations are an estimate of the likely cost of the grant scheme for each authority and therefore the position will be monitored on a weekly basis and additional funds made available if required. As the final amounts required will not be known until after all grants have been paid to business, it is the government’s intention to carry out a reconciliation exercise at some point in the future to ensure that each authority has been allocated the correct amount of funding with balancing payments being made to/from authorities as required.

Grant for additional council tax hardship support arrangements: This funding is for the 2020-21 financial year and will be distributed using details of local authorities’ working age council tax support caseload at Quarter 3 of 2019/20. The intention of this scheme is that local authorities will use their allocation from the £500m hardship fund to deliver additional support to council tax payers in their area, primarily through local council tax support schemes.

Local authorities however, will already have established their local council tax support schemes for 2020-21 and legislation prevents them from introducing further changes now that they have been finalised. The only flexibility that authorities have is through using s13A(1)(c) to provide discretionary additional support. The government therefore expects that billing authorities will primarily use this new grant allocation to reduce the council tax liability of individuals in their area, using their discretionary powers to provide additional hardship support under s13A(1)(c) of the Local Government Finance Act 1992. The bulk of this grant funding should therefore be used to supplement the budget made available for such discretionary hardship awards.

Governance 

The Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) (Flexibility of Local Authority and Police and Crime Panel Meetings) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 came into force on 4 April 2020. They apply to all meetings taking place before 7 May 2021. The regulations enable local authorities to hold meetings remotely, including by teleconferencing, video conferencing, live webcast, and live interactive streaming. The regulations also remove the requirement for local authorities to hold annual meetings, and enable the requirements for public and press access to meetings and documents to be complied with via remote means and website access.

Counter fraud

The threat of fraud during emergency situations is higher than at other times. Right now, with the increased number of personnel self-isolating or sick, and the increased strain on services like public health and social care as confirmed cases of coronavirus reach their peak, the threat increases on a daily basis. CIPFA’s Head of Counter Fraud Operations Marc McAuley recently wrote an excellent article on this subject for the Municipal Journal:
Article by CIPFA's Head of Counter Fraud Operations

CIPFA’s code of practice on managing the risk of fraud and corruption outlines key principles, including acknowledging the risk of fraud in the first instance. All public bodies should be attuned to the risks facing their organisations and the public sector at large. Public bodies can reduce the threat of widespread fraud by integrating low-friction controls into payments where possible, and carrying out post-event assurance work. 

COVID-19 advice portal for local authorities 

Essential guidance for local authorities on all aspects of coronavirus support can be found on the GOV.UK website. It is being regularly updated and should act as the definitive reference point for councils: COVID-19 guidance for local government

Frequently Asked Questions

Please share any questions or issues you’re experiencing to Joanne Pitt,
CIPFA Local Government Policy Manager: joanne.pitt@cipfa.org

 

 

 


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