Minutes of the VSS Audit and Risk Committee

Wednesday 13 January 2021, 14:00pm

Remote via Zoom



ARC Members Present:

Colm Doran (CD) ARC Member (Chair)

Bertha McDougall (BMcD) Board Member

Richard Solomon (RS) Board Member

Briege Lafferty (BL) ARC Member


VSS Officers in Attendance:

Margaret Bateson (MB) CEO and Accounting Officer

Tara Lewsley (TL) Acting Head of Corporate Services

Bryan Leonard (BL) Head of Health & Wellbeing

Melissa McCartan (MM) Business Support Officer (Minutes)

Others in Attendance:

Sinead Brown (SB) TEO

Marie Mathews (MM) TEO

Lisa Malcolmson (LM) EY (Internal Audit)

Kathy Doey (EB) NIAO




A Apologies


No apologies received.

B Minutes of Previous Meeting


The minutes of the previous Audit and Risk Committee meeting held on 14 October 2020 were agreed.


C Action Points


TL advised that all action points have been completed.


D Conflict of Interest


All papers were noted by the Committee and no conflicts of interest were declared.


E Accounting Officer Update


E1 CEO/AO Exception Report


MB introduced VSS Head of Health & Wellbeing Bryan Leonard to the Committee.


MB provided an update on the current progress against business plan targets and delivering on outcomes. It was noted Complementary Therapies and Personal and Professional Development continue to be below target and at risk of not being met due to the ongoing Government restrictions. It was noted funding has been redirected from this area into alternative social support activities such as food parcels, telephone support calls and alternative social supports such as Zoom coffee mornings and online self-care courses. MB is confident that VSS and our community partners can manage these underspends with constant flexibility and adaptation of services.


An update was provided in relation to the Covid-19 survey issued to VSS funded organisations. In response to the needs identified, MB advised calls were issued to VSP funded organisations in the following areas;


-       Covid-19 Emerging Needs

-       Welfare - Monitoring and Evaluation Systems (Victims Payment Scheme)

-       Environmental Improvements/Small Items (to meet clinical standards)



E2 Progress against Budget


The Committee noted this paper.


E3 Strategic Risk Register


MB provided an update on the Strategic Risk Register.


The Committee noted one new risk added during the quarter which relates to a potential gap in funding between the Peace IV and Peace-Plus Programme. SB and MM provided an update on this on behalf of TEO. It was noted VSS will continue to monitor the situation and engage with TEO around funding opportunities for the continued support of victims and survivors.

BMcD requested an update on VSS recent meeting with SEUPB Managing Authority director, which took place on 11 January 2021 to discuss PEACE cash flow difficulties. TL provided the Committee with an update on this.


The Committee noted one risk coming forward that has been escalated from green to amber which relates to VSS staff health & wellbeing.


F Quarterly Reports

F1 Quarterly ALB Report


The Committee noted this paper.

F2 Quarterly Assurance Statement


The Committee noted this paper.

F3 Quarterly M&E Report


The Committee noted this paper.


G Internal Audit Update


G1 Internal Audit Update


LM provided an update on internal audit. It was noted that there is no report available for todays meeting due to Christmas period delays. The following key points were noted:


-       Audit has been completed for VSP Verifications & PEACE IV and draft report issued to management in January 2021. It was noted the final report to be presented at February ARC meeting.

-       Audit scoping has been completed for the Monitoring and Evaluation report. Fieldwork to be delivered during February 2021 and final report to be presented at April ARC meeting.

-       Business Continuity Planning to be delivered on 15th February 2021. Final report to be presented at April ARC meeting.

-       Follow up of previous audit recommendations to be delivered during February 2021 and final report to be presented at April ARC meeting.



H External Audit Update

H1 NIAO Audit Strategy (2019/20)


KD provided an update on external audit. The following key points were noted:


-       Audit is progressing well remotely. It was noted the majority of the accounts work is now complete and the main area outstanding is the grants testing.

-       KD advised that the grants testing which requires NIAO to be onsite with VSS has been delayed due to Covid-19 restrictions and ongoing building work at the VSS office.

-       It was noted NIAO are on track to have the audit complete by Companies House deadline, depending on the issues raised around grants testing.


Concerns were raised in relation to NIAOs request for documentation given the current Government guidance and restrictions. The Committee noted this concern. TL advised both VSS and NIAO have carried out their own risk assessments to facilitate onsite visits.


The Committee noted the arrangements made with one funded organisation in relation to the request of documentation in order to complete the grants work.


I Standing Agenda Items


I1 2019/20 ARC Self-Assessment Report and Action Plan (No paper)


Following on from the ARC self-assessment, TL advised that she is currently reviewing the Cabinet Counter Fraud standards and will have an update on this at the next ARC meeting. It was noted TL will link in with KD at NIAO for some guidance on this.


I2 ARC Training Update and Requirements


The Committee noted this paper.


Members provided an update on their recent workshop/training around committee effectiveness.


I3 Audit Recommendations


TL provided an update on the outstanding audit recommendations.


It was noted that there has been little movement on the audit recommendations since the previous quarter due to the launch of HIA and limited resources. TL advised that VSS aim to close out as many as possible in January 2021 to allow the follow up at the end of February 2021.


I4 Gifts and Hospitality Update


The Committee noted this paper.


I5 Compliance Update


TL provided the Committee with an update on the three suspected fraud cases open at the quarter end. The Committee noted that one case is still awaiting a CCNI Final Report and that further contact has been made


Further contact has been made with CCNI in January 2021 but no response has been received to date.


Of the 2 active cases open at the quarter end, both have been referred on to TEO and GFIS, who have subsequently engaged the PSNI/Gardai.


Of the four debtor balances identified at quarter end, it was noted all cases are actively being sought by VSS, with one now referred on to legal.

The Committee noted that there was one whistleblowing allegation raised in respect of a funded organisation during the period. TL advised an initial investigation has found no evidence to substantiate these allegations. For clarification, the Chair noted the VSS Board member responsible for handling whistleblowing allegations.

There were no new Ombudsman complaints received in the quarter.

There are no ongoing governance reviews at 31 December 2020 and no assembly questions received.

The Committee noted that two FOI requests were carried forward from the previous quarter and a further three were received in the quarter. A full response was prepared and issued for all requests. TL advised all requests are now closed.

It was noted that one complaint was made to VSS in the quarter. VSS have issued an acknowledgement and will provide a written response in due course.

TL provided an update on call handling for Q3 2020-21. It was noted call volumes were extremely high during the month of October, which was largely down to client queries in respect of their Home Heating award.

It was noted that the percentage of missed calls is being closely monitored on a weekly basis and TL provided the Committee with an update on a few key issues identified as being the root cause of this issue.

GDPR Update

No data breaches occurred during the period.

One Data Sharing Agreement is still outstanding from a VSP funded group. TL advised work is ongoing on this matter but existing data sharing agreements remain in place.


I6 Procurement Update


The Committee noted this paper.


I7 Data Protection


Covered in I4.


J Any Other Business


TL advised that the VSS Risk Management Strategy has been revised to line with the February 2020 revision of the Treasury's Orange Book. It was noted changes have been approved by VSS Board and are now in place.


There was discussion around how VSS are supporting their staff following the most recent Covid-19 restrictions and the key risks around those with home schooling and caring responsibilities. MB provided an update following VSS exceptional SMT meeting which focused on urgent covid-19 matters in order to give some assurance and easement to staff and those delivering services.


K Date of Next Meeting


The date of the next Audit and Risk Committee meeting will take place in February 2021. Date to be confirmed.