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Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee Report to the Assembly Commission Year Ending 31 March 2017

SARC Annual Report 2016-17.pdf (524.33 kb)


I would like to begin by thanking Colm McKenna, who served as Chairperson from 1 December 2011 until 30 November 2016, and who also served for almost three years before that as Independent Member, and Bernard Mitchell, who served as Independent Member from 17 September 2012 until 16 November 2016.  I am also grateful to Jim Wells MLA, who has served as the Commission Member on the Secretariat Audit and Risk Committee (“SARC”) since 23 June 2016.

In particular, I want to record my appreciation of Derek Martin’s input as Independent Member to the work of SARC.  Derek and I were both appointed on 1 December 2016 and we have worked closely together since then.

It is important that I acknowledge, in writing this Annual Report, that the Northern Ireland Assembly (“the Assembly”) is experiencing a period of political uncertainty at present. A new Assembly was elected on 2 March 2017 but Ministers were not appointed within the statutory time limit.  This time limit has now been extended until 29 June 2017 and the Secretary of State has confirmed that formal political talks are due to resume after the General Election on 8 June 2017.

In the context of the imminent commencement of negotiations between the United Kingdom Government and the European Commission, and the introduction of the Great Repeal Bill, I also acknowledge the potential future impact of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union on the work of the Assembly and the Assembly Commission.

I am pleased to present the Annual Report for 2016/2017 on behalf of SARC.  This Report describes how SARC fulfilled its role of providing support and advice to the Assembly Commission and the Clerk/Chief Executive in order to ensure sound financial and governance arrangements.  In line with its policy of openness and accessibility, SARC Annual Reports and the minutes of SARC meetings are placed on the Assembly website.

During the reporting year, SARC provided support to the Secretariat in relation to managing risk and contributed to the completion process for the 2015/16 Accounts.  In particular, SARC concentrated on assurances in relation to Members’ expenses, contracting activity and the implementation of outstanding audit recommendations. 

SARC members met with the Independent Financial Review Panel in April 2016 in relation to the Panel’s 2016 Determination.  SARC considered the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority Peer Review Report; the classification of Internal Audit findings; and compliance with HM Treasury’s Audit and Risk Assurance Committee Handbook, issued in March 2016. SARC members held a briefing and induction session with the new Clerk/Chief Executive, Lesley Hogg, in September 2016.

The Corporate Risk Register was reviewed each quarter by SARC, and a new format Risk Register was presented at the January 2017 SARC meeting. 

Stewardship Statements were reviewed in June 2016 and January 2017.  SARC members completed a self-assessment template, based on the National Audit Office’s checklist for Audit Committees, on 17 May 2017. An element of external review has been added to the assessment by requesting comments on SARC’s effectiveness from the NI Audit Office’s representative.  The findings confirm that SARC is fully compliant with best practice.

The draft Internal Audit Plan for 2016-17 was considered and agreed by SARC at its meeting on 22 March 2016. The plan was reviewed by SARC throughout the year in light of the Activity Reports received from the Head of Internal Audit at each meeting, and the programme was successfully completed, with one review being carried forward to 2017-18.

SARC has this year continued to see significant progress maintained in the timely implementation of audit recommendations and has continued to monitor the implementation of all audit recommendations to clear timetables and targets.

I am pleased to report that the Secretariat has developed and maintained a strong culture of accountability throughout the organisation and wisely continues to use the Internal Audit function as a business improvement tool. In these financially challenging times, I am also pleased to report that SARC achieved all of its targets within the allocated budget.

I am grateful to the Assembly Commission for its support and for allowing the outgoing Chairperson, Colm McKenna, to attend its meetings and to contribute to its discussions throughout the year. This is very helpful in providing a broader perspective for the work of SARC, and I look forward to similarly attending.  The opportunity given to Mr McKenna to meet privately with the Assembly Commission to discuss matters pertaining to SARC has proved to be particularly helpful.

Finally, my thanks go to the Clerk/Chief Executive and the staff of the Assembly Secretariat for their commitment and diligence in providing SARC with the information necessary to achieve its objectives as well as very valuable secretarial services. 


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