MINUTES of a meeting of the FINANCE & GENERAL PURPOSES COMMITTEE held at 7.30pm on Wednesday 12th January 2022 at The Mountfitchet Exchange, Crafton Green, 72 Chapel Hill, Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex
PRESENT Cllr J O’Brien (Chair), Cllrs M Caton and M Jessup
Mrs Ruth Clifford – Parish Clerk
Mrs Emma Philbrick – Trainee Deputy Clerk
Cllrs A Barnes, A Guney, J Hogg, L Prior, F Richards and G Sell – Via Zoom
1 member of the press – Via Zoom
1 member of the public – Via Zoom
287 APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE
Apologies for absence were received from Cllr Smith as his new baby is still in intensive care. Having been proposed by Cllr Jessup and seconded by Cllr Caton it was unanimously
RESOLVED to accept the apologies from Cllr Smith
Cllr Sell asked if the Council’s best wishes could be sent to Cllr Smith and his family. The Clerk confirmed that this had been done last week.
288 DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST – None
289 TO RECEIVE THE MINUTES OF THE MEETING HELD ON 1ST DECEMBER 2021
RESOLVED To accept the minutes of the meeting held on 1st December 2021 as a true and accurate account.
290 TO RECEIVE AN UPDATE ON PROGRESS SINCE THE LAST MEETING
The lights reported had been repaired.
291 TO RECEIVE THE CHAIRMAN’S REPORT – Attached
Cllr Sell noted the reference to the rate of inflation perhaps dropping by October but urged members to be cautious as he had heard that this was not the case, and it would still remain high. Cllr Hogg supported this statement. The Chair highlighted the imminent increase in energy bills and the impact this would have on members of the community. The services delivered by Touchpoint would be more in demand that previously. Cllr Sell stated that the CAB also delivers debt management advice and Cllr Richards believed that it did not matter which organisation was giving the advice as long as it was available in the community.
a) TO RECEIVE AN OUTAGE REPORT – Circulated to members ahead of the meeting
b) TO RECEIVE A GENERAL REPORT – Circulated to members ahead of the meeting
a) TO APPROVE THE LIST OF PAYMENTS FOR AUTHORISATION
This was circulated to all members ahead of the meeting and a couple of queries answered. The list of payments was approved by the quorum attending the meeting.
b) TO RECEIVE THE SUMMARY INCOME AND EXPENDITURE STATEMENT TO 31/12/21
This was circulated to all members ahead of the meeting and no queries raised
c) TO RECEIVE THE VAT RETURN TO 31/12/21
This was circulated to all members ahead of the meeting and no queries raised
294 TO CONSIDER THE DRAFT BUDGET FOR 2022/23 AND MAKE A RECOMMENDATION TO FULL COUNCIL
The Clerk stated that the draft 5-year budget had been circulated previously and had been considered in detail at the previous Committee meeting. No changes had been made to the document since that time. She reminded members that two major contracts, grass cutting, and gardening had been out to tender and whilst the final selection of contractor was yet to be agreed, the figures included in the draft budget would not need to be amended.
The Chair then referred to the precept options document which had also been previously circulated. This document asked members to consider two additional items for inclusion in the budget. The first was £10,000 to build up a fund, over a four-year period, for the surveying and approval of extra land acquired for burials. As members are aware, the current parish cemetery is almost at full capacity. The costs of surveying any land and securing the necessary permissions are high, anything between £30,000 and £40,000. With the Chair’s consent, Cllr Alan Barnes (Chair of Open Spaces Committee), confirmed this to be the case and stated there would also be other costs such as fencing and parking to be considered. Cllr Sell considered that this was in important issue for the community and the Council had no choice but to raise the funds for this provision.
Secondly, Election costs, the Chair reminded members that we had raised £2,500 in the current year and had agreed to raise the same amount in 2022/23. However, unforeseen elections in the current year have cost the Council £8,586 so even with £5,000 raised through the precept, there is still a shortfall. The Council currently has another vacancy, and it is unknown at the present time whether a further Election will be called. If so, this could add another £5,000 to the bill. The Clerk reminded members that there is an earmarked reserve of just under £9,800 but this would be wiped out if all the costs were taken from there. Cllr Sell pointed out that the democratic process can be expensive, and he hoped that we would enter a period of stability until the next scheduled Elections in 2023.
Cllr O’Brien acknowledged the Council’s current policy of trying to maintain a 2% maximum increase in the precept. However, if 2% was added to the current year’s figure this would generate a precept of £423,231, and if you added on £10,000 for the Cemetery and £3,500 for Elections this would result in a precept of £436,731, a real increase of 13p per week per Band D household or 5.32%. Both Cllrs O’Brien and Sell stated their belief that the precept should not exceed 5%.
The Clerk drew attention to the Council’s general reserve which at 31st March 2021 stood at £125,000. This represents approx. 30% of the current years’ precept and is at a level acceptable to the auditor. Cllr Jessup noted that if Touchpoint sign a lease on Crafton Green House, this would remove liability for the Business Rates for the Council, thereby freeing up approx. £9,000. The Clerk confirmed this to be the case and at that point should the Council agree that money could be vired towards refurbishment costs for the building. As the grant applications for improvement works at the Day Centre and Crafton Green House have not yet been decided, this is a matter which will have to be revisited in due course.
Cllr Sell considered it was important to remind members that the coming year would see progress on the Uttlesford Local Plan and depending on the development sites included for Stansted, this Council may need to seek professional planning advice which could result in significant cost. Cllr O’Brien asked if he was proposing to add a figure into the budget to cover such an eventuality, but Cllr Sell said no, he just wanted to flag this. The Chair agreed that this would be borne in mind as the year progresses and should additional funds be required, members may have to consider taking this from the Council’s free reserve or from another ear marked reserve.
Cllr Jessup, the Committee Vice-Chair, stated that he was keen to keep the increase as low as possible and would favour including an allocation for the Cemetery but not for Election costs. If this route was followed, the total increase would be 4.48% or 11p per week per Band D household. Cllrs Caton, Richards and Sell all supported this position.
Cllr Jessup then proposed the following
RECOMMENDATION that the Parish Council set a precept for the financial year 2022/23 of £433,231 equating to 4.48% or 11p per week for a Band D household.
This was seconded by Cllr Caton and unanimously agreed.
Members also hoped that the Full Council would adopt the draft 5-year budget as circulated with the addition of £10,000 for future Cemetery needs.
Meeting closed 8.17pm
No Action Points
by Chair John O’Brien
Stansted Mountfitchet has the highest levels of deprivation in Uttlesford which has become prevalent recently and this Council has welcomed the initiatives created by the arrival of Touchpoint, offering a new impetus for community support. It is for us to examine how best we can support their endeavours.
Setting the new Precept
In recommending the Precept for 2022-2023 for Full Council’s approval, this committee’s prime objective will be to find a balance between keeping any increase as low as possible while maintaining and improving services where required.
This Parish Council’s policy is for a minimum annual increase of 2% and that is our starting point for consideration. At the last F&GP meeting a view was expressed that a zero-increase should be considered., but would that necessarily help those in the greatest need? It is important that this Council supports the establishment of a Community Support Hub which can offer free help and advice to improve the physical and mental wellbeing of the more vulnerable members of our community. This will require some financial resources.
I ask all members to carefully consider all aspects of our financial position, bearing in mind the external pressures on the UK economy where inflation sits at 5.1% and is due to rise to around 6% in April, but hopefully to revert to 3% by October.
Our community, as elsewhere in this country, is and will face financial difficulties this year, to the extent that the question of “Eat or Heat” is a very real predicament for those at the lowest income levels. The Stansted Food Bank has gained a boost through Touchpoint’s involvement.
Touchpoint: – For Touchpoint’s ambitions to succeed, taking the lease on Crafton Green House and the Day Centre will require some financial support from the Parish Council which will need to fulfil its landlord’s responsibilities to provide a safe and secure premises. A reserve of £20,000 was set aside this fiscal year, but might it be necessary to bolster that amount? The business rate provision, factored into the annual budget, could be transferred for that use.
Grass Cutting and Gardening
Tenders have been received for new contracts which have been modified to include extra work.
Grass Cutting: – Here the phenomenon of ‘Climate Change’ has shown its effect with the grass growing season starting earlier and finishing later. As a result of views expressed from residents, tenders were asked for 16 cuts pa as against the present 14.
Cemetery maintenance: – This was separated from the general contract after complaints from mourners regularly visiting there, seeking a tidy, peaceful and comforting environment. Tenders for this work are awaited.
Gardening: – No change to the core contract was sought.
Staff Salaries: – A 2% increase, (plus NI), as per the Council’s policy of the annual 2% Precept increase, has already been factored into the forecast. The question of increasing a member of staff’s hours has yet to be considered by the Personnel Sub Committee.
Cemetery: – Our present site is reaching capacity and extra land to extend burial facilities is being actively sought. Before any land is used for burials, it must be surveyed, (CDS), which could cost an estimated £40K. It is recommended that £10K pa be added to the Precept, over four years, to build a fund in preparation for such an outlay. To delay saving would inevitably mean a larger demand on the Precept at a later date.
Other items usually on the agenda
Windmill: – As discussed at the last F&GP meeting the 2% uplift, for the following 5 years, on the annual contribution of £4k into the EMR has been factored in next year’s budget.
Youth Matters: – Remains under constant and active review.
Fireworks: – Remains under constant and active review.
Chairman’s Supplemental Report 12/01/2022
The unfortunate position for Parish Councils is that they are at the bottom the inverted pyramid which collects the frustrations of residents over tax increases applied further up the Local/National Government scale.
Energy bills are now centre stage with many facing increases above 50% and some experts are predicting the situation could last two years. The consequences of this situation will be, as I stated in my main report, the accumulation of debt which could lead to an “Eat or Heat” choice. One of Touchpoint’s areas of help is Debt Relief which will be of great benefit to those reaching that low point.
It is fortunate that the the Parish Council’s energy contracts will not be up for renewal until August 2023, at the earliest, which relieves us from considering adding energy costs to the Precept. REPORT ENDS.
NOTICE OF MEETING
You are invited to attend a meeting of the FINANCE AND GENERAL PURPOSES COMMITTEE to be held on Wednesday 12th January 2022 at 7.30pm using the Zoom platform, where the following business will be transacted:
1 To receive apologies for absence
2 To receive Declarations of Interest
3 To receive the minutes of the meeting held on 1st December 2021
4 To receive an update on progress since the last meeting – Written report to follow via email
5 To receive a Chairman’s Report – Written report to follow via email
6 Lighting: a) To receive an Outage Report – Written report to follow via email b) To receive a general report on lighting – Written report to follow via email
7 Finance: a) To approve the list of payments for authorisation – To follow via email
b) To receive the summary Income and Expenditure statement to 31/12/21 – Attached for members
c) To receive the VAT Return to 31/12/21 – Attached for members
8 To consider the draft budget for 2022/23 and make a recommendation to Full Council – Paperwork to follow
Ruth Clifford, Parish Clerk – 6 January 2022