The Northern Ireland Assembly Secretariat Review Report of October 2007 dealt with a number of issues including the identification of the appropriate organisational and management structures, policies and governance arrangements necessary to provide the Assembly with the property, staff and services required and to the standards expected.
In particular, recommendations relating to the Audit Committee structure and membership were made in order to ensure compliance with the HM Treasury “Audit Committee Handbook”, as relevant to the context of the Assembly Secretariat.
Therefore, in order to support the revised governance arrangements within the Assembly Secretariat (which include delegated authority from the Commission to the Clerk/Director General, an enhanced system of business planning and risk management, stewardship reporting and clear management structures) it was agreed to improve upon the existing Audit Committee arrangements.
The appointment of an independent Chair and an independent Member to the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC) will facilitate an objective assessment of the assurances provided to the Accounting Officer on the risk management, control and governance arrangements within the Secretariat. These assurances include stewardship statements from operational management, financial statements and reports from both Internal and External Audit.
The information provided to the Committee will enable the Chair to advise the Accounting Officer on the adequacy and effectiveness of the assurances and on how well the assurance received meets the assurance need.
The Commission has established the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (SARC) to support the Director General (in his/her role as Accounting Officer) and the Assembly Commission and Secretariat Management Group in monitoring their responsibilities for issues of risk, control and governance by reviewing the comprehensiveness of assurances in meeting the organisation’s assurance needs and reviewing the reliability and integrity of these assurances.
The members of the SARC include:
- One member of the Assembly Commission;
- Two independent members;
- The SARC will be chaired by one of the independent members.
The SARC will be provided with a secretariat function by the Directorate of Legal and Governance Services.
The SARC will provide the Commission, Accounting Officer and the Secretariat Management Group with an Annual Report, timed to support the finalisation of accounts and the Governance Statement, summarising its conclusions from the work it has done during the year. The report will summarise the SARC opinion regarding:
(a) the comprehensiveness of assurances in meeting the Commission’s and Accounting Officer’s needs;
(b) the reliability and integrity of these assurances;
(c) whether the assurance available is sufficient to support the Commission and Accounting Officer in their decision taking and their accountability obligations;
(d) the implication of these assurances for the overall management of risk;
(e) any issues the SARC considers pertinent to the Governance Statement and any long-term issues the Committee thinks the Commission and/or Accounting Officer should give attention to;
(f) financial reporting for the year;
(g) the quality of both Internal and External Audit and their approach to their responsibilities;
(h) the SARC view of its own effectiveness, including advice on ways in which it considers it needs to be strengthened or developed;
(i) the manner in which issues involving best use of resources/value for money have been addressed.
The Chair of the SARC should attend at least one meeting of the Commission each year to report in private, without the presence of members of the Secretariat.
The minutes of each SARC meeting should be made available to the Commission.
The Independent Chair and Member of the SARC will undergo an annual appraisal.
The SARC can help the Commission to formulate its assurance needs and then advise on how well assurance received actually meets the assurance need. Assurance will help the Commission to judge whether or not its agenda is focussing on the issues that are most significant in relation to achieving the Secretariat’s objectives and whether best use is being made of resources.
The SARC will advise the Commission, the Accounting Officer and the Secretariat Management Group on:
- the strategic process for risk control and governance and the Governance Statement;
- the accounting policies, the accounts and the annual report of the Assembly Secretariat, including the process for review of the accounts prior to submission for audit, levels of error identified and management’s letter of representation to the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO);
- the adequacy of management response to issues identified by audit activity including the Report to those charged with Governance from the NIAO;
- assurances relating to the corporate governance requirements for the Assembly Secretariat;
assurance relating to the adequacy and effectiveness of both Internal and External Audit, the definition of future audit requirements and assist where required in deciding the best means of procuring these services;
- the extent to which anti-fraud policies, whistle-blowing processes and arrangements for special investigations comply with best practice.
Actions taken by the SARC in order to discharge its responsibilities will include:
- approval of the planned activity and results of both internal and external audit;
- the commissioning of specific audits;
- the identification (where appropriate) of sources of expert advice.
The SARC may:
- co-opt additional members for a period not exceeding one year to provide specialist skills, knowledge and experience;
- procure specialist ad-hoc advice at the expense of the Assembly, subject to budgets agreed by the Commission.
The Chair of the SARC should have right of access to the Speaker in his role as Chair of the Commission.
The Head of Internal Audit and the representative of the Northern Ireland Audit Office will have free and confidential access to the Chair of the SARC.
The SARC will meet at least four times a year. The Chair of the SARC may convene additional meetings, as he/she deems necessary.
A minimum of two Members of the SARC will be present for the meeting to be deemed quorate.
SARC meetings will normally be attended by the Accounting Officer, the Director of Corporate Services, the Head of Internal Audit and a representative from the Northern Ireland Audit Office.
The SARC may ask any other officials of the Assembly to attend to assist it with its discussions on any particular matter.
The SARC may ask any or all of those who normally attend but who are not members to withdraw to facilitate open and frank discussion of particular matters.
The Commission, the Accounting Officer or Secretariat Management Group may ask the SARC to convene further meetings to discuss particular issues on which they want the Committee’s advice.
At the discretion of the Chair, minor matters which require attention between scheduled meetings of SARC may be dealt with by correspondence and reported to the next scheduled meeting.
9. INFORMATION REQUIREMENTS
For each meeting the SARC will be provided with:
- A report summarising any significant changes to the Assembly Secretariat’s Corporate Risk Register and any issues of concern relevant to SARC regarding the delivery of the Corporate Plan;
- A progress report from the Head of Internal Audit summarising:
- Work performed (and a comparison with work planned)
- Key issues emerging from Internal Audit work
- Management response to audit recommendations
- Changes to the Periodic Plan
- Any resourcing issues affecting the delivery of Internal Audit objectives
- A progress report from the NIAO representative summarising work done and emerging findings.
As and when appropriate, or when requested, the SARC will also be provided with:
- Proposals for the Terms of Reference of Internal Audit;
- The Internal Audit Strategy;
- Head of Internal Audit’s Annual Opinion and Report;
- Quality Assurance reports on the Internal Audit function;
- The draft accounts of the Assembly;
- The draft Governance Statement;
- A report on any changes to accounting policies;
- A report from the Accounting Officer summarising progress against the Secretariat’s Business Plan, highlighting any issues that may be relevant to the work of the SARC;
- The NIAO’s Report to those charged with Governance;
- A report on any proposals to tender for audit functions;
- A report on co-operation between Internal and External Audit;
- The NIAO audit strategy;
- Information on any impending changes (as identified by Internal or External Audit) that may impact upon the work of the SARC.
10. REGISTER OF INTERESTS
Members of the SARC will record in the SARC Register of Interests any issues on which they might have a conflict or perceived conflict of interest. The SARC as a whole should consider how matters on which a member may have a conflict of interest will be handled.
The Directorate of Legal and Governance Services will provide secretariat services to the SARC. The secretariat will be responsible for ensuring compliance with procedures and maintenance of a Register of Interests. An agenda and papers will be circulated one week in advance of each meeting. A summary of action points will be sent to the Chairperson within three working days of each meeting. Approved action points will be issued to relevant staff within one working day of receipt. Draft minutes will be sent to the Chairperson within five working days of the meeting. The formal minutes will be posted on the Assembly website within three working days of their approval.
The secretariat will prepare an induction pack for new members.