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AUDIT COMMITTEE

 

Minutes of a meeting held on 24th April, 2017.

 

Present:  Councillor K. Hatton (Chairman); Mr. P. Lewis (Lay Member) (Vice-Chairman); Councillors J.C. Bird, J. Drysdale, A.C. Williams and C.J. Williams.

 

Also present:  Messrs S. Barry, S. Veale and S. Wyndham (Wales Audit Office).

 

 

1020   APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE –

 

These were received from Councillors Mrs. P. Drake and M.R. Wilson.

 

 

1021   MINUTES –

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the minutes of the meeting held on 20th February, 2017 be approved as a correct record.

 

 

1022   DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST –

 

No declarations were received.

 

 

1023   WALES AUDIT OFFICE CORPORATE ASSESSMENT REPORT 2016, INCORPORATING THE ANNUAL IMPROVEMENT REPORT 2015/16: PROGRESS AGAINST PROPOSALS FOR IMPROVEMENT (REF) –

 

The above report had been considered by the Cabinet at its meeting on 20th February, 2017 at which time the Cabinet had been informed of the progress in implementing the proposals for improvement as included by the WAO in their Corporate Assessment.

 

The Head of Performance and Development, in referring to the report as presented to the Cabinet, drew the Committee’s attention to the Implementation Plan which had been attached at Appendix A to the report and referred to the various aspects of progress made since the publication of the Improvement Plan against the five proposals for improvement.

 

He referred to specific aspects of the Implementation Plan as updated viz a viz:

 

Performance Management 

  • Two Proposals for Improvement related to Performance Management as detailed in the Implementation Plan at Appendix A.  Members would be fully aware that a considerable amount of work had been implemented over the last 12 months in relation to the Council's Performance Management Framework.  In summary, the following was now embedded:
  • The Corporate Plan was monitored on a quarterly basis by an overarching Corporate Health report presented to the Corporate Performance and Resources Scrutiny Committee.
  • Specific quarterly performance reports for each of the four Wellbeing Outcomes were presented to the four re-focused Scrutiny Committees.
  • A sponsoring Director was responsible for each of the Wellbeing Outcome reports and the Corporate Health report.
  • The reports were in a new format co-produced with Members and the Council's Corporate Management Team.
  • An annual self-assessment report was presented for 2015 in January 2016 and the self-assessment report for 2016 would be presented to Cabinet in April of this year.
  • A new set of Service Plans were currently being produced for consideration by Scrutiny Committees in March and Cabinet in April.
  • The target setting process had been brought forward to be undertaken in conjunction with the production of the annual self-assessment and service planning process as requested by the WAO.  Cabinet would consider targets for the coming year in April and these would then be monitored via the quarterly outcome focused reports. 

Finance   

  • A Proposal for Improvement related to the need to include detailed savings reports as part of the wider budget monitoring process and that there should be an identification of those savings proposals that related to Reshaping Services.  As a result, more detail was now included in budget monitoring reports and the same reports identified the progress made against Reshaping Services savings. 

ICT   

  • A Proposal for Improvement related to the need to progress a vision and objectives for the service.  This work had progressed and a draft strategy was attached at Appendix B.  Members were, however, asked to note that work was also being undertaken on a Digital Strategy.  This work was essential to enable the Council to use technology to reshape our services and enable the delivery of services, the provision of information and efficient management of customer contact.  As a consequence the ICT Strategy would need to reflect the ongoing work on digital services and was likely to be updated further in the very near future.  It was recommended therefore that the Draft ICT Strategy be further developed to reflect the work on the Digital Strategy and both documents would be reported to Cabinet in the spring of this year.

Asset Management   

  • A Proposal for Improvement required the acceleration of the gathering of buildings and compliance data and thereafter rolling out compliance training. This work had been monitored by the Corporate Management Team and required completion (Implementation Plan) by March 2017.  Progress was being made in recording compliance data in relation to the Council's housing stock and the situation had also been monitored by the Council's Head of Audit Services.

In addition to the above matters, the Head of Performance and Development also indicated that a further follow-up report would be made available shortly and this was confirmed by Mr. Barry (WAO) who confirmed that a follow-up report would be made available to Members over the next few months. 

 

A Member referred to the recent submission of the Council’s ICT Strategy to the Cabinet and sought clarification as to which Committee had the responsibility for agreeing the ICT Strategy in terms of Elected Members, how was it understood and overseen by Elected Members given that the Strategy had to be delivered across the whole of the Council.  In response, the Head of Performance and Development acknowledged the points made by the Member and accepted that the language contained within the Strategy was not necessarily easily understood given the various strands of the Strategy and the related challenges which would need to be met by the Council over the next four to five years.  He also made reference to the Council’s draft Digital Strategy which would be reported to Members in the near future.  The intention of this Strategy would be far reaching in terms of how the Council interacts with its customers and service recipients.  At this juncture, the Chairman made reference to the potential linkage of such Strategies with the Council’s wider collaborative agenda and the opportunity that may result from these initiatives.  In response, the Head of Performance and Development concurred with the Chairman’s comments.

 

Another Member of the Committee, in touching upon collaborative opportunities, referred to the Shared Services that already existed within the Council and enquired if there was an opportunity to out-source the Council’s ICT service.  In response, the Head of Finance confirmed that the Council had included ICT services within its Reshaping Services programme and the service was indeed included in one of the first programme tranches for implementation.  She also indicated that a recent staff restructure had been undertaken following the deletion of the Head of Strategic ICT post from the Council’s structure.  Consideration of the staff restructuring exercise included making the service more outcome focused and more customer orientated.  In addition, the Head of Finance also felt it was important to remind Members that under the Reshaping Services programme a number of initiatives had been undertaken and made reference to the Council’s joint wi-fi project with Cardiff, Merthyr, RCT and Bridgend Councils.  The Member expressed surprise that Welsh Government had not prescribed hardware and software ICT systems used within the Local Government sector in Wales thus providing uniformity and allowing smoother collaboration amongst each Authority who chose to do so.  In response, the Head of Finance assured the Member that joint ventures in regard to ICT projects were occurring and in the case of Social Services and the Health Service this was the case, with her making reference to the new system which was now being implemented across Local Authorities in Wales.

 

Having regard to the above and to the comments of officers it was

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T the Wales Audit Office Corporate Assessment Report 2016 Incorporating the Annual Improvement Report 2015/16: Progress Against Proposals for Improvement be noted.

 

(2)       T H A T it be noted that a further report would be submitted to the Committee on progress in relation to the Implementation Plan.

 

Reasons for decisions

 

(1)       In acknowledgement of progress made to date.

 

(2)       To allow ongoing monitoring of the Improvement Plan.

 

 

1024   EXTERNAL AUDIT PLAN 2017 (MD) –

 

As in previous years, the Auditor General Wales was required to carry out an audit which discharged its statutory duties and fulfilled its obligations under the Public Audit (Wales) Act 2004, the Local Government (Wales) Measure 2009, the Local Government Act 1999 and the Code of Audit Practice. 

 

Accordingly, the External Audit Plan 2017 outlined the work undertaken in the Council during April 2017 to March 2018 by and on behalf of the Auditor General. 

 

In referring to the report, Mr. Veale indicated that the External Audit Plan was set out at Appendix 1 of which the key highlights related to the following matters: 

  • To issue a certificate and report on the Council's financial statements which includes an opinion on their "truth and fairness".  Whether the Council has made proper arrangements for securing economy, efficiency and effectives in its use of resources and report by exception if the Annual Governance Statement does not comply with requirements.
  • To audit / independently examine the Joint Committee arrangements which are hosted by the Council; these being Shared Regulatory Services and Adoption Service.  In addition an independent examination of the Welsh Church Act Fund would be undertaken in accordance with timescales agreed with the Council and the Charity Commission.
  • A programme of performance audit work would be undertaken as outlined in Exhibit 6 within the report. 

In referring to paragraph 5 of the report, a Member referred the proposed fee proposed to be charged for the work associated with the External Audit Plan and enquired if this had been based on Wales Auditor Officers’ time and particularly whether that fee would potentially reduce or increase dependent on the work undertaken on behalf of the Auditor General.  In response, Mr. Veale indicated that the proposed fee was an estimate and could potentially increase or decrease depending on the project work undertaken by the WAO.  At this juncture, the Head of Finance indicated to the Committee that there was an error in paragraph 5 of the report and corrected the fee amount for the joint services of £69,374 to £14,397.

 

Having regard to the report and the associated Appendix, it was

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the External Audit Plan for 2017 be noted.

 

Reason for decision

 

In acknowledgement of the proposed work to be undertaken as part of the above planned work programme.

 

 

1025   EXTERNAL ASSESSMENT FINAL REPORT (OMA / HOA) –

 

The External Assessments were required to be undertaken to apprise and express an opinion about the Internal Audit’s performance with the Public Sector Internal Audit Standards’ (PSIAS) definition of Internal Auditing and Code of Ethics and to include recommendations for improvement, as appropriate.  It was noted that an External Assessment must be undertaken at least once every five years, in accordance with the PSIAS. 

 

At the meeting of the Committee on 16th November, 2015 it had agreed a preference for an External Assessment be undertaken against the PSIAS by an independent organisation rather than by a peer review.

 

In accordance with the Committee’s decision, a review commenced on 30th January, 2017 and an on-site assessment concluded on 3rd February, 2017, the details of which were set out in Appendix A to the report.

 

In response to the above assessment, an Action Plan attached at Appendix 1 to the report had been prepared which included responses and action dates to address the Assessor’s 18 recommendations and a further 10 suggestions for improvement.

 

In referring to the assessment exercise the Head of Audit indicated that the process had been challenging and went on to touch upon some of the points made by the Assessor relating to the inclusion of the newly developed internal audit mission in the Charter, reference in regard to auditors placing more emphasis on policies and procedures than on actions and Audit Briefs were considered to be too short with further work required to integrate the core principles of Internal Audit which fell under the scope of each Audit Brief.

 

In referring to the comments of the Assessor regarding the Council being too focused on procedure and not enough on actions, the Head of Audit suggested that the assessment itself appeared to be largely procedure driven.  He suggested that the Committee may consider it worth next time undertaking a peer to peer review which was less likely to make the exercise process orientated.  In response, the Head of Audit indicated that it may be useful in the future to include the Audit Committee Members in such a peer review. 

 

Another Member congratulated the Head of Audit and her team, given the staffing pressures involving the delivery of the service and that despite this, the overall performance of the service had been excellent.  In addition, the Chairman referred to the External Assessment as giving some assurance to the Council and to the Audit Committee around the service itself. 

 

In commenting on the recommendations, Mr. Veale indicated that given the pressures facing the Internal Audit Team in terms of staff capacity, suggested that there may be some benefit from moving from a controlled environment to a more risk focused programme.  In response, the Head of Audit indicated that risks were always considered as part of the audit process and that she and her officers had to be mindful of the client’s requirements when undertaking an audit. 

 

Having regard to the above, and having given due consideration it was

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the External Assessment of the Internal Audit Shared Service and associated actions for improvement set out in Appendix 1 to the report be approved.

 

Reason for decision

 

To allow the monitoring of the Council’s Internal Audit Shared Service and to ensure it remained compliant with the Public Sector Internal Audit Standards.

 

 

1026   INTERNAL AUDIT – OUTTURN REPORT – APRIL 2016 TO MARCH 2017 (OMA / HOA) –

 

The Committee was apprised of the actual Internal Audit performance for the audit plan year covering the above period including the Annual Audit Opinion.  The Committee had previously approved the 2016/17 Internal Audit Plan at its meeting held on 25th April, 2016.  At that time, the Plan outlined the assignments to be carried out and their respective priorities.  In addition, the Plan provided for a total of 1,287 productive days covering this period with the following table indicating an analysis of what was done in relation to the Plan and the 1,287 available days:

 

Directorate

2016/17

Audit Plan

Year

2016/17

Actual days

Delivered

Managing Director / Resources

305

381

Social Services

115

101

Environment & Housing

119

187

Learning & Skills

125

82

Cross Cutting (including Fraud   & Error)

623

537

TOTALS

1,287

1,288

 

In addition to the above matters, the Committee noted that as at April 2016, the overall structure of the Section was based on 18 Full Time Equivalent posts of which, the Section was currently carrying nine Full Time Equivalent vacant posts. 

 

The Opinion contained within the report at Appendix A related to the system of internal control at the Council and the overall control environment in place.  The system of internal control was designed to manage risk to a reasonable level rather than to eliminate the risk of failure to achieve corporate / service policies, aims and objectives; it could therefore only provide reasonable and not absolute assurance of effectiveness.  Separately and included within Appendix B to the report was the supporting evidence which listed all those assignments which had been commenced / completed for the year and where an assignment had been completed; an audit opinion had been applied. 

 

In referring to the report, the Head of Audit / Operational Manager Audit indicated that on the basis of the audit work undertaken and taking into account all available evidence, it was her opinion that a substantial assurance level could be applied to standards of internal control at the Council.  In addition, those reviews where weaknesses in internal control environment were identified and where the overall opinion was that of “limited” during 2015/16 had all been reviewed / revisited and significant improvements had been made to such an extent that reasonable assurance could now be placed on the systems of control.

 

In terms of specific elements of the report, the Head of Audit / Operational Manager Audit indicated that the Plan for 2016/17 was based, to a large extent, on the Council’s Corporate Risk Register.  This was complemented by: 

  • Priorities identified by Corporate Directors
  • Heads of Service key risks
  • The requirements of the Council’s Section 151 Officer
  • External Audit and
  • Those concerns / issues raised by Internal Audit in previous audits and our knowledge of potentially high risk areas. 

The Committee noted that the actual outturn in terms of the overall productive days originally planned had been achieved, with it further noting a total of 111 reviews had been completed, 25 of which, although necessary, did not culminate in the overall opinion and eight of the reviews were as a result of a specific investigation and would be incorporated into a separate annual fraud and error report.  Of the remaining 78 reviews, 61 (78%) had been closed with either a substantial or reasonable assurance opinion level.  10 (13%) of the reviews completed had identified weaknesses in the internal control environment to such an extent that the overall audit opinion was limited and the remaining 7 were ongoing reviews that had been carried forward into 2017/18. 

 

The Committee was also provided an update on the status of all the reviews as at the end of 2016/17 and related to the following. 

 

Year

 

Review Title

Status

Action taken

2016/17

Cash handling and Stock Control.

Awaiting response from management

This would be included in 2017/18 as part of a much wider review within waste.

2015/16 and 2016/17

Firewall follow up

First identified in 2015/16 as limited. First follow up it remained limited.

Second follow up visit undertaken and significant improvements identified.  Reasonable Assurance given.

2015/16 and 2016/17

Social Media follow up

First identified in 2015/16 as limited.  First follow up it remained limited.

Second follow up visit undertaken and significant improvements identified.  Reasonable Assurance given.

2015/16 and 2016/17

Fire and First Aid Payments follow up

First identified in 2015/16 as limited.  First follow up it remained limited.

Second follow up visit undertaken and significant improvements identified.  Reasonable Assurance given.

2016/17

Deprivation of Liberties.

Limited Status

Included on the Council’s Corporate Risk Register and a follow up would be undertaken during Quarter 1.

2016/17

Food and Feed Law Enforcement

Limited Status

The Food Standards Agency were in the process of undertaking an inspection therefore any follow up work would be undertaken in 2017/18 having regards to the outcome of the inspection.

2015/16 and 2016/17

Landlord Compliance

First identified in 2015/16 as limited.  Follow up in 2016/17 remained limited.

Second follow up visit has just been concluded and the report was under review; however, early indications suggest that improvements had been made with a reasonable assurance level.

2016/17

Management of Trees

Limited Status

See below

2016/17

Management of Trees – follow up

 

First follow up has just been completed and this remained limited.

2015/16 and 2016/17

Contract Management – Waste and Cross – Cutting Directorate Contract Management

Limited Status.  Included in the Council’s Annual Governance Statement for 2015/16.

Significant improvements have been made with all contracts now in place.  A Contracts Register was being maintained.  Training provided on   procurement, contract and project management.  Corporate oversight from the outset which continues.  Included in 2017/18 Audit Plan to keep an oversight of continued improvement.

 

The Head of Audit / Operational Manager Audit indicated that having regard to the reviews completed, the overall opinion given, responses received from Chief Officers, the follow up work undertaken and the overall improvement in contract management arrangements, her opinion was the Council’s overall internal control arrangements were considered to be satisfactory, with a medium level of risk.  She went on to refer to the audit recommendations during 2016/17, with Internal Audit making a total of 180 recommendations, of which management had given written assurance that all these would be implemented.

 

In terms of Internal Audit and its successes, she indicated that some of the successes for the year included: 

  • Internal Audit Plans for 2015/16 were delivered in accordance with expectations
  • Internal Audit Plans for 2016/17 had been approved by both Audit Committees and Corporate Management in a timely manner.
  • We continued to provide an excellent internal audit provision to both Bridgend County Borough Council and the Vale of Glamorgan Council, so much so that both Audit Committees had supported the proposal to extend the Shared Service Partnership Agreement until 31st January, 2018, which had been approved by both Cabinets.
  • We continued to support staff in obtaining professional qualification including CIPFA – Corporate Governance, Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) and the Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) as well as continuing professional development (CPD).
  • We continued to build on our excellent working relationship with Members, Chief Officers and staff within both Councils.
  • The outcome of the External Assessment had been positive.

In terms of Internal Audit and its other activities, she referred to the following matters: 

  • Anti-Fraud – the Internal Audit Shared Service continued to assist in promoting an anti-fraud and corruption culture.  We have ensured that staff are made aware, via StaffNet, of any recent scams and frauds that have occurred in both the public and private sectors. 
  • National Fraud Initiative – The Council, via Internal Audit, had again participated in the National Fraud Initiative (NFI) as part of the statutory external audit requirements.  This brought together data from across the public sector including Local Authorities, NHS, other government departments and other agencies to detect “matches” i.e. anomalies in the data which may or may not be indicative of fraud, for further investigation. 
  • Advice and Guidance – Internal Audit continued to provide advice and guidance both during the course of audits and responding to a wide range of ad hoc queries. 
  • Attendance at and contribution to, working groups etc. –  The Section continued to contribute to the development of the Council and ensure that it was are up to date with best practice by attending the following:- 

-       Audit Committee;

-       Scrutiny Committees (as required);

-       Cabinet (as required);

-       Corporate Management Team (as required);

-       Corporate Improvement Group;

-       Insight Board;

-       The Welsh Chief Auditors Group and all its sub-groups (including South Wales Computer Audit Group; South East Wales Education Audit Group; Social Services Audit Group). 

  • Investigation Work – We continued to support Senior Management in providing resources and expertise in investigating allegations of fraud and misappropriation. 

As for Internal Audit – Performance Indicator, the Head of Audit/Operational Manager (Audit) indicated that performance between April 2016 to March 2017 achievement was 80.6% for the Vale of Glamorgan Council and 62.5% for Bridgend County Borough Council equating to overall achievements: Number of audit completed, 162 with the number completed within planned time being 119.  Therefore, overall percentage achieved was 73.46% when compared to the agreed target of 89.7% for the same period.  In terms of the Welsh Chief Auditors Group benchmarking exercise, she indicated that the results for 2015/16 were as detailed below:

 

Performance Indicator

2015/2016

IASS Performance

For the Vale

2015/16

Overall Average

Performance

2015/16

Overall Average

Performance

2014/15

Overall Average

Performance

2013/14

Percentage   of Planned Audits Completed

99%

85%

84%

80

Number   of Audits Completed

135

96

111

126

Percentage   of Audits Completed in Planned Time

93%

68%

71%

71%

Percentage   of directly chargeable time, actual versus planned

103%

90%

88%

94%

Average   number of days from audit closing meeting to issue of draft report.

9.5 days

7.3 days

8.2 days

9.5 days

%   of staff leaving during the Financial Year

3%

10%

11%

22%

 

In concluding, the Head of Audit/Operational Manager (Audit) indicated that from the information contained in the above table it could be deduced that the Section was performing well.  This, together with overall performance indicators for the service provided to Bridgend, placed the service in the Welsh top quartile.

 

In referring to the contents of the report, a number of the Members expressed their gratitude to officers for their diligence in undertaking the audit role and performance in spite of the obvious staff resourcing issues.  The Chairman in particular reiterated the Committee’s ongoing concern at the level of staff vacancies within the service and the implications for the Council in the event of a risk occurrence arising and not subsequently being identified as a consequence of staffing resources. 

 

Having considered the above and relevant issues, it was

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T the contents of the Internal Audit performance for April 2016 to March 2017 be noted.

 

(2)       T H A T the Committee note and have due regard to the Head of Audit’s Annual Opinion as contained in Appendix A to the report.

 

Reason for decisions

 

(1&2)  To apprise the Audit Committee of the outturn of the Internal Audit service for the period April 2016 to March 2017.

 

 

1027   PROPOSED INTERNAL AUDIT SHARED SERVICE STRATEGY AND ANNUAL RISK-BASED AUDIT PLAN 2017/18 (HOA / OMA) –

 

In referring to the report, the Head of Audit / Operational Manager Audit referred to effective planning as one of the standards contained within the Public Sector Internal Audit Standards (PSIAS) and against which the Council’s audit service was assessed.  It was from this overall assessment of internal audit’s programme of work, the contribution that it made to the overall control environment of the Council, that the Authority’s external auditors would draw the necessary assurances that they required.

 

Whilst Internal Audit planning was not an exact science it was felt that the proposed plan for 2017/18 struck a good balance between the risks identified, the internal audit resources available and the assurance work being carried out by other agencies.

 

As reported in the previous report to the Committee, the structure of the Internal Audit Shared Service was based on 18 Full Time Equivalent Employees.  The Committee had noted in the previous report that the Service carried nine vacant posts which represented 50% of the staffing structure.  However, the Head of Audit / Operational Manager Audit indicated that arrangements were in place to address this shortfall and consequently a prudent approach had been taken to the number of deliverable productive days for the forthcoming year which was required.  Therefore, the proposed Plan provided 1,145 productive days being delivered during the period.  This was based on the following considerations: 

  • Quarter 1 – April to June 2017 status remained the same at 50% of the establishment.
  • Quarter 2 – July to September 2017 increases to 75% of the establishment in post.
  • Quarters 3 and 4 – October 2017 to March 2018 a full establishment in post. 

In addition, attached at Appendix A was the proposed Internal Audit Strategy for 2017/18 and the Annual Risk-Based Audit Plan 2017/18, which was separately attached at Appendix B.  These documents demonstrated how the Service would be delivered and developed in accordance with the Services Terms of Reference and how it linked to the Council’s objectives and priorities.  The Committee was informed that the Strategy would be reviewed and updated annually in consultation with stakeholders i.e. Audit Committee, Corporate Management Team, External Auditors and senior management. 

 

A Member, in referring to Appendix A to the report, suggested that the bottom two bullet points of paragraph 8.6 had been transposed in the wrong order and suggested that the report prior to publication, be amended.  This point was acknowledged by officers.  The Chairman, in alluding to the current level of staffing vacancies held within the service, enquired of the potential to provide additional support for the Service.  In response, Mr. Barry in particular referring to the Performance Audit Programme, intimated that he was prepared to look into the feasibility of working jointly with the Council and its officers to provide support, but this would be dependent on the alignment of its work required to be carried out in regard to the Performance Audit Programme.  The Head of Finance indicated that the proposed staff restructures would address staff resourcing issues moving forward.

 

Having regard to the above and discussions and to the contents of the report, it was

 

RESOLVED –

 

(1)       T H A T the proposed Internal Audit Shared Service Strategy and Annual Risk-Based Audit Plan for 2017/18 be approved.

 

(2)       T H A T the Head of Finance be requested to submit a further report subject to consultation with the WAO on the feasibility of additional support being procured from the WAO to support the Council’s Internal Audit Service if needed to deliver the Annual Risk-Based Audit Plan 2017/18.

 

Reasons for decisions

 

(1)       To approve the above strategy and Audit Plan for the period 2017/18.

 

(2)       To assess the potential risk and support to deliver the above Audit Plan. 

 

 

1028   AUDIT COMMITTEE – FORWARD WORK PROGRAMME (HOA / OMA) –

 

RESOLVED – T H A T the updated 2016/17 Forward Work Programme as set out in Appendix A to the report be approved.

 

Reason for decision

 

To approve the updated 2016/17 Forward Work Programme for the Audit Committee.

 

 

1029   CHAIRMAN’S CLOSING REMARKS –

 

The Chairman thanked the Vice-Chairman and the Committee Members for their support during the year and in previous years.  He also thanked officers for their contribution including representatives of the WAO.

 

 

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