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Code of corporate governance

What do we mean by governance?

Monitoring and maintaining the code

Monitoring the code

Maintaining the code

Applying the seven core principles

What do we mean by governance?

Governance is about how Harlow Council ensures that it is doing the right things, in the right way, for the right people, in a timely, inclusive, open, honest and accountable manner.

It comprises the systems and processes, cultures and values, by which local government bodies are directed and controlled and through which they account to, engage with and, where appropriate, lead their communities.

Governance is at the heart of the council’s Corporate Strategy and is committed to effective leadership, which is the foundation for effective corporate governance.  The council commits itself to:

  • providing a vision for the local community and leading by example in decision making and other processes and actions
  • councillors and officers conducting themselves in accordance with the highest standards of conduct

Core principles of good governance

There are seven core principles of corporate governance as identified by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) and Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (SOLACE) (2016).

A. Behaving with integrity, demonstrating strong commitment to ethical values, and respecting the rule of the law.

B. Ensuring openness and comprehensive stakeholder engagement.

C. Defining outcomes in terms of sustainable economic, social and environmental benefits.

D. Determining the interventions necessary to optimise the achievement of the intended outcomes.

E. Developing the entity’s capacity, including the capability of its leadership and the individuals within it.

F. Managing risks and performance through robust internal control and strong public financial management.

G. Implementing good practices in transparency, reporting and audit to deliver effective accountability.

Key roles of the council

The council has three main roles to play:

  1. Community leader - representing the interests of Harlow and its community and holding others impacting on the town to account. Working with the community to agree and achieve shared objectives and ambitions, to ensure that Harlow keeps evolving as a community and as a place.
  2. Service provider - meeting the statutory duties placed upon it by parliament to protect people, to exercise regulatory functions and to provide discretionary services where it is best placed to do so.
  3. Commissioner of services - where such services can best be provided by others.

The council is committed to maximise its resources through innovative and new ways of working both internally and with partners, in both the public and private sectors. Helping the council achieve its vision for Harlow in being the best town in the country, to live, to work and to raise a family, and retaining robust governance arrangements at all times.  

The council is accountable to its taxpayers for its stewardship and use of resources and seeks to:

  • deliver value for money
  • make the best use of resources available to it
  • protect the interests of local people

Harlow Council is committed to working with others to build a strong sense of community and to encourage individual citizens to play a full and constructive part in the lives and development of their communities. The council is democratically accountable to its citizens.

Monitoring and maintaining the code

Harlow Council is committed to the principles of good governance identified in the CIPFA and SOLACE guidance and confirms its on-going commitment and intentions through the development, adoption, monitoring and maintenance of the local code of corporate governance (the code). The council recognises that achieving high standards of corporate governance will encourage our stakeholders to have confidence in us and allow the council to undertake its role as community leader more effectively.

Monitoring the code

Local authorities should test their governance structures and partnerships against the principles contained in the framework by:

  • reviewing existing governance arrangements
  • developing and maintaining an up to date local code of governance, including arrangements for ensuring ongoing effectiveness
  • reporting publicly on compliance with their own code on an annual basis and on how they have monitored the effectiveness of their governance arrangements in the year and on planned changes

An annual governance statement is made by the Leader of the Council and the Chief Executive giving an opinion on whether the corporate governance arrangements are adequate and are operating effectively.

The Corporate Governance Group which comprises of the Monitoring Officer, the Section 151 Officer, the Head of Internal Audit, the Insurance and Risk Manager, the Legal Services Manager and other officers when they have specific contributions to make have been given the responsibility for:

  • overseeing the implementation and monitoring of the code
  • reviewing the operation of the code in practice on an annual basis
  • reporting at least annually to the council on the compliance with the code and any changes that may be necessary to maintain and ensure its effectiveness in practice

In addition, Internal Audit has been given the responsibility to review independently and to provide assurance within the annual report to the Audit and Standards Committee on the adequacy and effectiveness of governance arrangements.

The annual governance statement will report on any aspects of the code that are not yet in place and propose appropriate steps to address the areas to further enhance the corporate governance arrangements. This approach to annual reporting should ensure that the principles of corporate governance are embedded in the culture of the council and are transparent to stakeholders and partners.

Maintaining the code

The Director of Governance and Corporate Services will be responsible for updating the code and for ensuring on going relevance and application of the code. The council (via the Audit and Standards Committee) will discuss any significant revisions to the code before its approval. Any significant changes will be reported to stakeholders and partners.

Applying the seven core principles

Core principal A: Behaving with integrity, demonstrating strong commitment to ethical values and respecting the rule of law 

A1 Behaving with integrity

The council does this by:

  • having in place an agreed and regularly reviewed Code of Conduct for members and staff, which build on the Seven Principles of Public Life (the Nolan principles) and are part of the Constitution
  • programme of member training on the code
  • having in place well-structured and transparent decision-making processes and delegation arrangements
  • Corporate Governance Group (CGG) meeting on a monthly basis to consider governance and integrity issues
  • regularly review its policies to ensure that they remain effective and compliant.
  • regular meetings of the Senior Management Board (SMB) and Cabinet councillors to ensure coherent political direction.
  • established staff procedures through HR and annual Personal Performance Plans for all staff 

Supporting documentation and evidence of compliance:

  • Corporate Strategy
  • annual report
  • Constitution
  • Cabinet and Committee reports and minutes circulated to staff and available online for the public and staff to view
  • induction and training programme for members
  • Officer Code of Conduct
  • Councillor Code of Conduct
  • contracts register
  • anti-fraud and corruption strategy and action plan
  • corporate information security and computer use policies.
  • social media policy
  • register of interests and register of gifts and hospitality for both members and staff
  • personnel policies and training programme
  • investors in people
  • Internal Audit plan, annual report and review of effectiveness
  • CGG and SMB minutes

A2 Demonstrating strong commitment to ethical values

The council does this by:

  • appointing experienced Section 151 and Monitoring Officers with appropriate qualifications and seniority within the council to promote ethical values
  • appointing an Audit and Standards Committee and appointment of an independent member onto the committee
  • having established processes for quickly investigating complaint and ethical standards issues
  • having a supported, effective and regularly reviewed whistleblowing policy
  • promoting ethical values through standard contract documentation

Supporting documentation and evidence of compliance:

  • Constitution
  • reporting of standards issues to the Audit and Standards Committee
  • corporate equalities scheme
  • whistleblowing policy
  • financial regulations and contract standing orders
  • corporate complaints procedure
  • Cabinet and Committee reports
  • procurement strategy

A3 Respecting the rule of law

The council does this by:

  • having a modern, up to date, Constitution approved by Full Council
  • ensuring councillors and officers demonstrate a strong commitment to the rule of law as well as adhering to relevant laws and regulations
  • creating the conditions that the statutory officer, other key post holders, and councillors, are able to fulfil their responsibilities in accordance with legislative and regulatory requirements
  • ensuring all decision-making reports containing relevant legal constraints
  • ensuring decisions are only taken after advice from appropriate officers
  • Section 151 / Monitoring Officers are part of report clearing process
  • ensuring corruption and misuse of power are dealt with effectively
  • dealing with any breaches of legal and regulatory provisions effectively

Supporting documentation and evidence of compliance:

  • Constitution
  • financial regulations and contract standing orders
  • Cabinet and Committee reports
  • anti-fraud and corruption strategy and action plan – including money laundering and terrorism financing
  • Codes of Conduct
  • making declarations of pecuniary interests for councillors publicly accessible
  • making declarations of Gifts and Hospitality for Officers and Councillors publicly accessible
  • transparency agenda publications

Core Principle B: Ensuring openness and comprehensive stakeholder engagement

B1 Openness

The council does this by:

  • providing effective ‘critical friend’ challenge through the council’s scrutiny processes
  • responding to freedom of information and subject access requests in accordance with legal provision
  • using open data standards in our on-line data sites including spend and contract information
  • publishing on-line and properly documenting all decisions taken by the executive
  • maintaining a list of decisions due to be taken by the Cabinet including transparency and notice of those decisions to be taken in private session
  • ensuring that emergency decisions made by the head of the paid service follow constitutional arrangements 
  • webcasting of council meetings
  • maintaining an effective website
  • making agenda and clear minuting of all meetings publicly available in accordance with statutory regulations
  • adhering to the transparency agenda

Supporting documentation and evidence of compliance:

  • corporate and service plans
  • communications protocol
  • Constitution
  • Scrutiny Committee reports to Full Council
  • customer care standards
  • website
  • corporate equalities scheme and equality impact assessments
  • Harlow Times magazine for residents
  • publication of agendas and minutes of meetings
  • annual statement of accounts
  • annual report
  • medium term financial plan
  • published freedom of information and environmental information scheme
  • Cabinet workplan
  • staff training
  • publication scheme

B2 Engaging comprehensively with institutional stakeholders

The council does this by:

  • developing formal partnerships and making arrangements where an effective business case can be demonstrated
  • Ensuring that partnerships are based on:
    • trust
    • a shared commitment to change
    • a culture that promotes and accepts challenge among partners
    • an explicit added value of partnership working
  • attending and participating in meetings with other local authorities under ‘duty to cooperate’
  • engaging with local organisations by officer attendance and participation
  • appointing members to other community organisations that request it
  • monitoring and maintaining an effective record of the partnerships we participate in
  • providing effective ‘critical friend’ challenge through the council’s scrutiny processes
  • developing a new scrutiny and cabinet protocol in response to government guidance

Supporting documentation and evidence of compliance:

  • partnership protocol
  • various service level agreements
  • Cabinet reports
  • Constitution
  • board arrangements for key partnerships including Harlow Trading Service, the Harlow and Gilston Garden Town and the Growth Board 

B3 Engaging with individual citizens and service users effectively

The council does this by:

  • having a consultation policy and plans
  • ensuring meaningful consultation takes place during key service changes that involves communities, individual citizens, service users and other stakeholders to ensure that service provision is contributing to the intended outcomes
  • ensuring statutory consultation processes are followed and consistently applied
  • ensuring that communication methods are effective and that councillors and officers are clear about their roles in community engagement
  • having clear feedback mechanisms in order to demonstrate how views have been taken into account
  • using a combination of communication methods to engage with citizens
  • having clear compliment and complaint procedures
  • ensuring the council and its members take account of consultation in the context of its decision making and the financial impact on taxpayers

Supporting documentation and evidence of compliance:

  • Harlow Times magazine for residents
  • council website
  • corporate complaints procedure
  • residents’ surveys
  • range of consultation outcomes including Local Plan, planning policy, leaseholders and tenant forums.
  • Business Insight Team that provides advice on designing, running and analysing consultations and surveys.

Core principle C: Defining outcomes in terms of sustainable economic, social and environmental benefits

C1 Defining outcomes in terms of sustainable economic, social and environmental benefits

The council does this by:

  • having a Corporate Plan that has a clear vision of the economic, social and environment of the district, with supporting service plans
  • a developed vision statement for the ongoing recovery of the town
  • ongoing Local Plan that supports the council's vision
  • decision making takes account of these effects on its residents
  • paying due regard to the public sector equality duty by ensuring the council provides fair access to the services it provides
  • full engagement with the Safer Harlow Partnership 
  • managing service users’ expectations effectively with regard to determining priorities and making the best use of the resources available

Supporting documentation and evidence of compliance:

  • Corporate Plan and service plans
  • sustainability strategy
  • carbon management plan
  • Harlow Times magazine for residents
  • tenant and leaseholder forums
  • Safer Harlow Partnership
  • emerging Local Plan
  • people resources plan

Core principle D: Determining the interventions necessary to optimise the achievement of the intended outcomes

D1 Determining interventions, planning interventions

The council does this by:

  • having decision making processes that receive objective and rigorous analysis including involvement of the Monitoring Officer and the Section 151 Officer
  • having processes that take account of service users when making decisions
  • retaining control over preparation of strategic and operational plans
  • developing a corporate approach to project management
  • ensuring decision makers receive objective and rigorous analysis of a variety of options indicating how intended outcomes would be achieved and associated risks
  • ensuring best value is achieved no matter how services are delivered
  • having a Corporate Plan with measurable objectives
  • having key performance indicators that are measurable (SMART) and take account of council's objectives
  • having a robust budget preparation process that reflects the council’s objectives and the medium term financial plan
  • establishing and implementing robust planning and control cycles that cover strategic and operational plans, priorities and targets
  • ensuring capacity exists to generate the information required to review service quality regularly
  • considering and monitoring risks facing each partner when working collaboratively, including shared risks
  • ensuring the achievement of “social value” through service planning and commissioning

Supporting documentation and evidence of compliance:

  • annual report
  • quarterly and annual financial performance reports
  • budget setting and approval process
  • annual governance statement
  • risk register
  • council website
  • Corporate Plan and service plans
  • Cabinet and Committee agendas, reports and minutes
  • people resources plan
  • procurement strategy
  • slavery and human trafficking statement

Core principle E: Developing the entity’s capacity, including the capability of its leadership and the individuals within it

E1 Developing the entity’s capacity, developing the capability of the entity’s leadership and other individuals

The council does this by:

  • members and staff have appropriate induction processes, access to personal development appropriate to their roles
  • staff have annual personal performance plans and access to arrangements to maintain their health and wellbeing
  • statutory officers having the qualifications, skills, resources and support necessary to perform effectively in their roles
  • having clearly defined leadership roles for the Leader of the Council, Head of Paid Service and Directors
  • job descriptions with candidate specifications and using interviews and tests during the recruitment process to assess the ability of candidates to carry out the duties set out in the job description
  • reviewing the council operations, performance and use of its assets regularly to ensure their effectiveness
  • having an effective workforce plan to enhance resource allocation so that defined outcomes are achievable
  • having clear systems of decision making and publishing effective delegation schemes
  • participating in partnerships where there is a sound business case that it will add value

Supporting documentation and evidence of compliance:

  • people resource plan
  • corporate and member training programme
  • member and staff training records and development plans
  • recruitment process
  • job description and person specifications
  • continuous professional development for professional officers
  • Constitution
  • reports to SMB, Cabinet and Committees

Core principle F: Managing risks and performance through robust internal control and strong public financial management

F1 Managing risk, managing performance, robust internal control, managing data, strong public financial management

The council does this by:

  • ensuring risk management is an integral part of the council’s activities and decision making
  • having robust and integrated risk management arrangements with regular and dynamic consultation of risk by SMB and Directors
  • clear responsibilities for managing individual risks and a risk plan that allocates responsibility against each risk
  • an effective overview and scrutiny function to provide constructive challenge on policy and performance
  • councillors receiving regular reports on service and council delivery plans
  • Having anti-fraud and corruption arrangements in place and a whistleblowing policy
  • having an effective money laundering and terrorism financing policy in place
  • having an effective Internal Audit function to provide independent assurance on governance, risk management and control that can be adapted to take into account emerging areas of risk 
  • an Audit and Standards Committee, with an independent person, that is independent of Cabinet providing additional assurance within its power to ensure its recommendations are listened to and acted upon
  • having effective arrangements in place for the safe management of data particularly data sharing with other bodies and a designated Data Protection Officer
  • having effective financial management systems that include management of financial risks
  • making decision based on relevant clear objective analysis and advice pointing out the implications and risks inherent in the financial, social, environmental, legal position and outlook.

Supporting documentation and evidence of compliance:

  • Constitution
  • risk management strategy 
  • corporate risk register
  • regular risk management reports to Audit and Standards Committee
  • business continuity plans
  • data sharing agreements
  • Internal Audit plan, annual report and recommendations tracker
  • anti-fraud and corruption strategy and action plan
  • whistleblowing policy
  • Cabinet and Committee report template
  • external audit reports
  • annual governance statement
  • reports to Full Council, Cabinet and Committees of the council with implications provided that are clear and measured

Core principle G: Implementing good practices in transparency, reporting and audit to deliver effective accountability

G1 Implementing good practice in transparency, implementing good practice in reporting, assurance and effective accountability, managing data

The council does this by:

  • having a defined process to ensure that reports for the public and stakeholders are fair, balanced and easy to access and understandable for the audience
  • reporting regularly on performance, value for money and on the use of resources
  • requiring managers to produce annual assurance statements
  • ensuring that management and members have clear lines of responsibility for the performance results
  • preparing an annual governance statement on the robustness of this framework
  • having processes to ensure external / internal audit recommendations are acted upon and responded to by managers and the council
  • having effective internal audit and annual audit programs that are accessible for member scrutiny and tracked subsequently
  • ensuring that arrangements are in place for confidential reporting or ’whistleblowing’ which are published to staff
  • having the Scrutiny Committee undertake constructive challenge
  • ensuring that when working in partnership, arrangements for accountability are clear and the need for wider public accountability has been recognised and met

Supporting documentation and evidence of compliance:

  • Constitution
  • agenda and minutes of Cabinet and Committee meetings
  • transparency code
  • data sharing agreements
  • Internal Audit plan, annual report and recommendations tracker
  • anti-fraud and corruption strategy and action plan
  • whistleblowing policy
  • agenda and minutes of Scrutiny Committee
  • annual work programme of Scrutiny Committee
  • external audit reports
  • annual governance statement
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