Report says sharing of officers between councils could '˜undermine decision-making'

CONCERNS have been raised over a council's ability to make '˜informed decisions' after its senior officers took on more responsibility.

Monday, 30th October 2017, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 12:21 pm
Portsmouth Civic Offices

Portsmouth City Council shares senior officers with authorities in Gosport and the Isle of Wight as part of measures to save funds.

The deal cut with Gosport last year sees the borough council pay £250,000 per year to Portsmouth in order to use the services of the city council’s chief executive, city solicitor and finance boss.

Chris Ward, the city council’s chief finance officer, is shared with the Isle Of Wight Council in a £56,000 deal.

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However, an external audit report into the council from consultants Ernst & Young this year says the structuring could undermine the authority’s decision making.

The report read: ‘We recognise that risk management processes are already under review by the council but we note that Portsmouth’s senior management team took on additional responsibilities in relation to two other councils this year.

‘This could reduce management’s capacity for effective oversight at Portsmouth.

‘We note that in 2015/16, internal audit’s annual opinion gave limited assurance on internal control and noted that it had declined in recent years. There is a risk that as the nature of the council’s work changes, associated required changes may not be made in a timely fashion to financial and performance information and internal control systems.

‘This could undermine the council’s ability to demonstrate sound governance and informed decision making.’

Councillors on the authority’s governance, audits and standards committee discussed the report on Friday.

It was also revealed at the meeting that the council’s pension fund deficit rose 12.8 per cent to £354.8m from £314.3m.

Southsea resident Jerry Brown spoke at the meeting and raised his concern that senior officers were losing ‘thinking time’ needed to make important decisions.

He said: ‘We are running the risk of them not being able to do the duties they have been given to perform.’

Following the meeting, Councillor John Ferrett, chairman of the committee, downplayed any fears over the consultants’ comments.

He said: ‘I have not seen anything that would give me any cause for concern or shows that the structuring is diminishing the services that we are providing as a council.’