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Audit investigation highlights need for further work in Fire & Rescue Service

Published
04.10.2018

At its meeting on 12 October, the county council’s Audit and Governance Committee will hear that a range of compliance audits should be carried out to strengthen governance arrangements within Gloucestershire’s Fire and Rescue Service (GFRS) and rejuvenate the culture within the service.

Earlier in the year, the council instigated an independent audit investigation, carried out by its internal auditors, Audit Risk Assurance (ARA), to look into a number of whistle blowing concerns that had been made relating to GFRS. ARA is today making a series of recommendations, to ensure that where better process and governance arrangements are needed, they are established as quickly as possible.

Outside of the audit process, an allegation was made in relation to the role of the Ex Chief Fire Officer in disposing of a GFRS Land Rover Defender. This matter was fully investigated by ARA and is now being handled by Gloucestershire Constabulary which is currently carrying out its own investigation.  

The five key recommendations are as follows:

  • To rebuild the confidence and trust within GFRS, the “cultural review “of GFRS undertaken in 2016, which seems to have initially been well received, needs to be rejuvenated, and implemented in a timely manner
  • Focusing on the governance areas identified as part of the investigation and notified as part of the whistleblowing allegations, internal audit to immediately commence a series of extensive compliance audits across GFRS
  • In addition to the above, during the next 18 months, internal audit to undertake ‘pure compliance’ audits across the whole council. These audits will review compliance with the council’s key corporate policies (financial and non financial)
  • To ensure that GFRS staff are made aware of the Council’s Contract Standing Orders, Financial Regulations and Accounting Instructions, the provision of relevant (including financial management) training is provided. Consideration should also be given to introducing a countywide training programme that is not just restricted to GFRS which includes periodic refresher training, and
  • Internal audit to test the adequacy of the 2018/19 Directors and Heads of Service Governance Assurance Statements, which in relation to GFRS may previously have given false assurance. This activity will be incorporated into Quarter 1 of the 2019/20 Internal Audit Plan.

Peter Bungard, Chief Executive at Gloucestershire County Council said: “Our Fire and Rescue Service delivers strong outcomes in communities across the county but we must also have confidence that the processes behind the scenes are robust. Where governance arrangements are not there, aren’t appropriate or aren’t strong enough we must take the necessary steps to correct the situation. The work being recommended, some of which is already underway, will do this. In addition, the wider checks proposed will help provide reassurance that we are doing all we can to ensure we conduct ourselves at the level expected of us.

“Where a colleague raises a concern, they can be confident that it will be taken seriously and appropriately investigated. I have made this point to the service and indeed the wider organisation and encourage anyone to speak up, if they think something isn’t right.”

There will be ongoing audit oversight as the detailed work is carried out and the Audit and Governance Committee will receive updates on progress against each of the recommendations in line with the deadlines set out in the report

A link to the full report can be found online: http://glostext.gloucestershire.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=655&MId=8782&Ver=4

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