Minutes of a meeting of the FINANCE & GENERAL PURPOSES COMMITTEE held on Wednesday 2nd November 2022 at 7.30pm in The Mountfitchet Exchange, Crafton Green, 72 Chapel Hill, Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex
PRESENT Cllr J O’Brien (Chair), Cllrs M Caton, J Hogg, M Jessup, P Jones and G Sell
Mrs R Clifford – Parish Clerk
Mrs E Philbrick – Deputy Clerk
Cllr L Prior – Via Zoom
2 x members of the public – Via Zoom
212 APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE
Apologies for absence were received from Cllr Richards – Unwell
Having been proposed by Cllr Sell and seconded by Cllr Jessup, it was unanimously:
RESOLVED To accept the apologies for Cllr Richards
213 DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST
Cllr Hogg declared an interest on agenda item 8 – Grant Application for Tennis Clu
214 TO APPROVE THE MINUTES OF THE MEETINGS HELD ON 29TH JUNE AND 19TH OCTOBER 2022
The minutes of the meeting of 19th October 2022 were tabled at the meeting
RESOLVED To accept the minutes of the meetings held on 29th June and 19th October 2022 as a true and accurate account
215 TO RECEIVE AN UPDATE ON ACTION POINTS SINCE THE LAST MEETING
Cllr O’Brien had contacted Google and asked them to amend the location of the Parish Council offices and this had been done
216 TO RECEIVE A REPORT FROM THE CHAIR, CLLR O’BRIEN
Cllr Sell noted the proposed move to savings accounts with higher interest rates which would help to off-set the rate of inflation.
Cllr Jones commented that our energy costs are pegged until next year so the effect will not be shown until the following year. Cllr O’Brien did point out that energy costs for the street-lights had gone up by 12%.
a) TO RECEIVE AN OUTAGE REPORT
Streetlight in Brook Road had been reported as out last week that was being looked at this week and before the meeting it had been reported that a light in St John’s Road had a missing door cover which would be reported to our contractors in the morning.
Cllr Hogg asked regarding the lights on Cambridge Road which he is aware do not belong to the Parish Council, but they have been reported to Essex Highways on numerous occasions but were still not fixed. The Clerk advised that the office had also been chasing this, but that Essex Highways were not responding. Cllr Jones asked that the Council put in a FOI for the information.
b) TO RECEIVE A GENERAL REPORT ON LIGHTING
The Deputy Clerk is currently obtaining quotes for structural and electrical testing to be carried out on all Parish Council lights as this due by Spring 2023.
218 FINANCE – TO APPROVE THE LIST OF PAYMENTS
Cllr Jessup had checked the schedule of payments against the invoices before the start of the meeting. The list of payments was approved.
219 TO RECEIVE A REPORT FROM CLLR O’BRIEN ON THE BUDGET PROCESS
Cllr Jones commented regarding the Parish Council’s financial contribution to the employment of the jointly funded PCSO. He sought clarification on the position in both Saffron Walden and Great Dunmow and queried how many PCSOs are funded by UDC. Cllr Sell believed that two PCSOs in Saffron Walden were funded but undertook to confirm this. Cllr Jones continued by stating that Uttlesford should be equal in the financial support it provides across the district.
A brief discussion took place on the funding of the PCSO now that Elsenham has withdrawn from the joint agreement.
Cllr Jones asked that during the budget consideration, and as a Climate Emergency has been declared, a sum of money be allocated to support this and any ideas that the new Climate Change Working Group may come forward with. There are no specific areas of spend at present, but it should be looking to show its support.
Cllr Jones also mentioned the Coronation next year and believes the village should hold a similar event as for the Jubilee. He believes this should take place the weekend before which is a bank holiday. He asked if the Events Working Group could try to establish if there are any residents who would be willing to organise an event which the Parish Council could actively support.
Cllr Sell voiced his support for a budget towards Climate Change and also commented that there was a grant available from UDC towards Climate Change initiatives and we should move ASAP to be in with a good chance of being awarded some of this and not miss out.
220 TO CONSIDER TWO GRANT APPLICATIONS
Citizens Advice (CA) East Herts
Discussions took place on the application received which was distributed to members ahead of the meeting. East Herts were seeking funding to put towards the recruitment, training and support of their volunteers.
Members decided to defer a decision on the application pending further research into the number of Stansted residents who benefit from this service. It was noted the application stated that 43 unique clients from Stansted had been helped in 2021/22 but members were interested in how this compared with figures from CA Uttlesford.
Stansted Tennis Club
The Tennis Club had requested a grant of £225 towards the cost of a new defibrillator which they had installed on the exterior of their clubhouse on Cambridge Road and would be freely accessible to anybody.
Cllr Hogg stated that the club had taken advantage of an offer through the Lawn Tennis Association to purchase the device and its cabinet for a total of £450 instead of the usual cost of £2,184. Cllr Hogg advised that apart from one being at Crafton Green, there were no other close ones if someone was taken ill in the Cambridge Road area.
Cllr Sell advised that he had funds remaining in his UDC allowance this year and would like to pay the £225 instead of being awarded through the Parish Council. Cllr Hogg thanked Cllr Sell and arranged to speak to him outside of the meeting to arrange payment. The rest of the Committee also thanked Cllr Sell.
Cllr Prior asked for permission to speak and commented that she did not support this application from a private members club, and it is not the sort of application the Parish Council should be considering, and it should never have made it to the agenda. She also commented that there is a defib at Tesco’s across the road.
Cllr Jessup pointed out that the Tennis Club is a community organisation, and anyone can submit an application for consideration but does not always mean that members will support it. He also advised that in his role as a first responder, he had been informed of a few occasions when members of the public had been denied access to the one in Tesco as it was not allowed to be removed from the premises. It would also only ever be available during their opening hours.
Cllr Hogg also pointed out that it would be the Tennis Club out of their own money who would be paying for the upkeep of the device even though the public could use it at any time day or night.
221 TO DELEGATE AUTHORITY TO THE CLERK, IN LIASION WITH THE CHAIR AND VICE-CHAIR OF F&GP TO DECIDE WHICH BUILDING SOCIETY ACCOUNTS TO OPEN AND THE AMOUNT AND PERIOD OF DEPOSIT
The Clerk advised that she and the Chair of Finance had been looking at savings accounts to move money into to get the best return for investment. In response to Cllr Sell, the Chair confirmed that any movement of funds would be in line with our investment policy and in response to Cllr Jones, the Clerk confirmed that this would be for a maximum of one year, although they would seek a variety of accounts for different amounts and different time frames. No one account would hold more than £85,000.
Having been proposed by Cllr Jones and seconded by Cllr Caton it was unanimously:
RESOLVED To delegate authority to the Clerk, in liaison with the Chair and Vice-Chair of F&GP to decide which building society accounts to open and the amount and period of deposit.
222 TO CONSIDER THE PURCHASE OF A NEW LAPTOP FOR THE OFFICE
The Clerk advised that the Deputy Clerk needed a new laptop. The current one is getting old and already has a replacement battery in. The laptop is playing up constantly and is making it difficult to use daily. Having been proposed by Cllr Caton and seconded by Cllr Hogg, it was unanimously:
RESOLVED To authorise the Clerk to purchase a new laptop for the office
223 TO CONSIDER QUOTES FOR FENCE REPLACEMENT AND BRANCH/BRAMBLE CLEARANCE ON FHP
The Clerk explained to the Committee that it involved the land to the rear of Brook Road. A section of resident’s fencing had been pushed down due to the overgrowth on land which is owned by the Parish Council and a section further along was in danger of doing the same (this was noted during a site visit).
The Deputy Clerk had asked four companies to quote. One had not replied, one had said the job was too big and the other two had supplied quotes. The lowest quote was from a company the Parish Council had not used before and the second was from a contractor we had used before, but they were nearly double the price. Cllr Jones asked if we had any references for the company and the Clerk confirmed that these would be obtained before accepting the quote. Having been proposed by Cllr Jones and seconded by Cllr Sell, it was unanimously:
RESOLVED To accept the lower quote subject to satisfactory references being received
224 CHRISTMAS LIGHTING – TO RECEIVE AN UPDATE FROM THE WORKING GROUP
225 CRAFTON GREEN – TO RECEIVE ANY UPDATES
The Clerk advised that new replacement windows were being installed in Crafton Green House between 7th-9th December
226 WINDMILL – TO RECEIVE ANY UPDATES
Cllr O’Brien advised that there was little to update except that Molly Clark had stepped down as Trustee and Jeff Bowie had kindly agreed to take over the role. Cllr Caton advised that she had written to Molly to give thanks.
227 YOUTH MATTERS – TO RECEIVE ANY UPDATES
Cllr Caton reported that there were still only 3 members of the Youth Council but that she and the Clerk were working hard to recruit more. The Youth Club is also looking to see if they can recruit anyone for us. The schools have all been contacted but they have been giving very little back. There are plans for the current members to set up a stall outside the Co-op to see if they can recruit any new members.
With regard to the Youth Club, the new management is talking to the young people to see what they would like to see. Together with the Clerk, the Chair has meetings scheduled with the new management in November and again in December.
228 STAFF MATTERS – TO RECEIVE ANY AVAILABLE UPDATES
The Clerk advised that there is currently nothing to report
Meeting closed at 8.35pm
217a – Put in an FOI to Essex Highways regarding the lights on Cambridge Road
219 – Events Working Group to consider advertising for residents to run a “Coronation” event
227 – Youth Council to hold recruitment stool near Castle Maltings
Chair Report John O’Brien
In March I warned that, a predicted inflation rate of 7.5% at that time would give us little wriggle room and I declared my concern that inflation could reach to as high as 15% by the end of this fiscal period. By June the Bank of England had predicted inflation to rise to 10% and now some forecasters are predicting that inflation could reach 10-13% by mid-2023, providing, the Government freezes energy bills. If it doesn’t, then an inflation level of 14-17% could be expected.
There are now reports that the financial crisis is set to seriously affect Local Government services with the threatened closure of Libraries and Children’s Centres, even cancelling Disabled people pick-ups, to meet a £3.2Bn shortfall in order to make up the £30 – 50Bn black hole in public finances.
Like all parish councils within Uttlesford, we have yet to discover the fallout from UDC’s £2.1M gift to MAG Stansted Airport, plus the effects of £4M cuts to services over the next 4 years.
What is not clear are the financial consequences of the Government’s takeover of Planning decisions here as well. Will that result in parish councils losing S106 funding? If so, then developers could offer no benefits to affected communities. We therefore must find ways to counter the possible fallout from the above.
Uttlesford has released details of a ‘Zero Carbon Reduction’ grant for councils to bring about positive change. This Parish Council has the highest number of wholly owned streetlights in the district, and we are in the process of assessing the cost implications and savings to be achieved by converting our stock to LED.
The increase in inflation has brought about opportunities to take advantage of higher interest savings rates which we have thoroughly investigated and sought advice from EALC. We are seeking approval from this committee to take action to achieve optimum rates, subject to the Financial Services Compensation Scheme Investment cover regulations.
In addition to the above we have had to make repairs to the Air Source Heat Pump unit for the Library and Council Office building, costing us over £4,000. Fortunately, a successful action to recoup money, owed by the builder, has covered this unexpected cost.
Further comment will be made under agenda item 8.
Report on Budget Process (Agenda Item 8)
With the financial worries reported earlier, all aspects of this council’s finances will need to be closely examined. I am pleased to repeat that the External Auditor’s report highlighted no issues were raised, requiring attention. Our level of Free Reserves is at a healthy level which gives us the means to take advantage of the higher savings rates available at this time.
For those who feel that free reserves should be used to reduce the Precept demand, I warn that such a move would not only have the potential to destabilise our finances, but also cause the need to double up on a Precept increase later.
It is imperative that we continue to keep tight control of our spending as no doubt the present recessionary pressures will persist for some time to come.
The most important part of that is to ensure that any additional unexpected expenditure is covered by the ability to transfer monies no longer needed to be called upon in our Earmarked reserves.
Looking to the Fiscal year 2023-2024 we must hope that the interest on investments will provide a valuable cushion in a year that could prove more testing financially than this council has faced for a long time.
The threat of recession, accompanied by high inflation, will mean we must continue to seek ways to maintain and, where possible, improve our services and assets for the benefit of our community. It therefore stands to reason that we need to maintain our support for Touchpoint.
The pressing issue for this council is the maintenance of crime prevention. The action of Elsenham Parish Council to cease joint funding our greatly valued PCSO has created a dilemma for next year:
Do we stand alone? With this option the advantage is that we have better quality community policing through a much more visible presence. This Council will then have to approve the extra funding.
Do we continue in partnership with Henham? If we do, then the likelihood of our PCSO being called upon to spend time on criminal activity in Elsenham is greater.
Christmas Lights (Agenda Item 13)
Last year, you may remember we were unable to spend the £5,000 that we had allocated for Christmas lighting due to a lack of workable options and leaving it too late to order from our suppliers.
This year, we started thinking about Christmas right back in April, and assembled a team of councillors to look at a host of options to improve the festive lighting around the village.
We concentrated on how we could enhance the lighting around the Lower Street area, including whether we could encourage businesses in our efforts to have ‘Icicle drop’ or ‘festoon’ lighting. The reason we chose Lower Street is because the Parish Council owns most streetlights there and it is, after all, the social hub of our village.
I met with many business owners who were initially keen, but, unfortunately, our efforts to create a better and more modern display were thwarted, due to the lack of streetlighting to drape the lights at a safe and secure distance, and the reluctance of building owners to attach the necessary fixtures, for fear of damage to their properties. Installing new standalone fixing posts was not possible either, owing to costs, space availability and planning requirements. We even looked at solar-powered lights, but the length of time for the lights to work was questionable.
We have worked positively with the Stansted Social Club, which owns its building, and who will be having ‘Icicle drop’ lights with our financial support.
We also plan to light up the Fountain at the top of Chapel Hill.
Our existing streetlight decorations will be installed again, and these will be up by mid-November.
We are disappointed that we weren’t able to do more, but we will work with businesses again next year to see if there is anything else we can do to further enhance the festive lighting together. The money set aside will be ringfenced for a further year.
Let’s hope that the forecast doom and gloom this winter is given a lift in the run up to Christmas. Report Ends.
NOTICE OF MEETING You are summoned to attend a meeting of the FINANCE AND GENERAL PURPOSES COMMITTEE which will be held at 7.30pm on Wednesday 2nd November 2022 in The Mountfitchet Exchange, Crafton Green, 72 Chapel Hill, Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex where the following business will be transacted:
1 To receive apologies for absence
2 To receive declarations of interest
3 To approve the minutes of the meetings held on 29th June and 19th October 2022
4 To receive an update on action points from the last meeting
5 To receive a report from the Chair, Cllr O’Brien.
a) To receive an outage report
b) To receive a general report on lighting
7 Finance: To approve the list of payments for authorisation – To be tabled
8 To receive a report from Cllr O’Brien on the budget process
9 To consider two grant requests received – attached
10 To delegate authority to the Clerk, in liaison with the Chair and Vice-Chair of F&GP, to decide which building society accounts to open and the amount and period of deposit.
11 To consider the purchase of a new laptop for the office
12 To consider quotes for fence replacement and branch/bramble clearance on FHP
13 Christmas Lighting – To receive an update from the Working Group
14 Crafton Green – To receive any updates on the community buildings
15 Windmill – To receive any updates
16 Youth Matters – To receive any updates
17 Staff Matters – To receive any available updates
Ruth Clifford, Parish Clerk- 27 October 2022