Minutes of a meeting of the FINANCE & GENERAL PURPOSES COMMITTEE held on Wednesday 7th December 2022 at 8.00pm in The Mountfitchet Exchange, Crafton Green, 72 Chapel Hill, Stansted Mountfitchet, Essex
PRESENT Cllr J O’Brien (Chair), Cllrs M Caton, M Jessup, P Jones, F Richards and G Sell
ATTENDING Mrs Ruth Clifford – Parish Clerk
Mrs Emma Philbrick – Deputy Clerk
Cllrs A Barnes and J Kavanagh
Cllr L Prior (via Zoom)
1 member of the press (via Zoom)
270 APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE
Apologies for absence were received from Cllr Hogg due to a prior engagement.
Having been proposed by Cllr Richards and seconded by Cllr Jones it was unanimously:
RESOLVED to accept the apologies from Cllr Hogg
271 DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST – None
272 TO APPROVE THE MINUTES OF THE MEETING HELD ON 2ND NOVEMBER 2022
RESOLVED To approve the minutes of the meeting held on 2nd November 2022 as a true and accurate account
273 TO RECEIVE AN UPDATE ON ACTION POINTS FROM THE LAST MEETING
217a – Answered by Cllr Lee Scott at the last Full Council meeting and Cty Cllr Gooding has since updated the office that they are waiting for UK Power Networks to restore power.
219 – Events Working Group are meeting on Monday 12th December to discuss
227 – The stall was held and they spoke to teenagers at the Castle Maltings and the Skatepark
274 TO RECEIVE A REPORT FROM THE CHAIR, CLLR O’BRIEN
a) TO RECEIVE AN OUTAGE REPORT
The Clerk noticed on her way to the meeting that a light at the Chapel Hill/Silver Street Junction is out so will be reported tomorrow. All other outages have been fixed.
Cllr Jones reported that the light outside the Queens Head goes on and off at the right times but that the Christmas Light attached to it stays on all night.
b) TO RECEIVE A GENERAL REPORT ON LIGHTING
The Structural and Electrical Testing of all Parish Council lights will be completed at the same time as this is cheaper than doing them separately.
c) TO CONSIDER A QUOTE TO REMOVE THE EMBELLISHMENT KITS FROM STREETLIGHTS
The Clerk explained that several years ago, heavy cast iron cladding kits were put around the lights on Chapel Hill and Lower Street. Because of these kits, the structural testing cannot be carried out correctly and no one can see what is happening to the post under the kit and whether they are structurally safe. She would like them removed before the next test to ensure it is carried out efficiently. A quote to remove the kits at £25 each had been received. Having been proposed by Cllr Jones and seconded by Cllr Sell it was unanimously:
RESOLVED To remove the embellishment kits from the lights on Chapel Hill and Lower Street
276 FINANCE – TO APPROVE THE LIST OF PAYMENTS
The Clerk reported that Cllr Caton had checked off the invoices against the payment schedule before the meeting
The list of payments was approved
277 TO RECEIVE THE FIRST DRAFT BUDGET FOR 2023/24 AND REPORTS FROM THE CHAIR AND THE CLERK/RFO
This was circulated to members ahead of the meeting along with explanatory notes. Members were asked for any questions/comments and the following points were raised:
- No provision for Youth Council – The Clerk explained that at the year end, there will be £4,000 sitting in an EarMarked Reserve (EMR) and there are no major projects in the pipeline, but members can obviously change this. Cllr Sell sought clarification of the current membership of the Youth Council and expressed his concern that the numbers had always been low. Cllr Caton stated that whilst two of the three members will leave the Council this year due to finishing school, attempts are being made to recruit new members and it is hoped in the future, activities will include a trip to the House of Commons and possibly trips to our twin town of Rungis.
- CCTV – Cllr O’Brien was going to speak to the Commissioner about the police taking it on and paying for the CCTV. Cllr O’Brien advised that the Clerk is contacting Videcom about the possibility of separating the cameras that cover the office building and the rest of the cameras in the village. If possible costs will be obtained.
- The Link – The Clerk advised that the costs are the same as last year as they have not asked for anything additional. Cllr Caton commented that the costs could be reduced. Cllr Sell advised that he had reservations about this as the magazine goes through the door of every household in the village and the printing costs involved have increased. He is cautious about reducing any funds as believes this is well read in the village and the presentation of the Parish Council pages has improved thanks to Dan. Cllr Richards also believes that this is read and not just by the older generation. Cllr Jones believes that if it’s read in any great detail, it is by the older generation and over the next 5 years, there will be a bigger market for social media and the Website. We are not there yet but it is something to consider in the future.
- FHP Fund – Could this be reduced as she is keen to see a little or no increase in the band D figure this year.
- Lighting – Are the figures for street lighting taking into account any potential grant from UDC. Cllr O’Brien replied that if they get 100 lights replaced with LED then the energy costs will reduce.
Cllr Jones commented that once Touchpoint have the Licence to Occupy Crafton Green House, there were potential savings to be made.
The Clerk advised that the Uttlesford Ready Reckoner Tool had arrived late this afternoon. This spreadsheet enables her to accurately forecast the percentage increase or decrease for the following year as it has the most up to date tax base information. She has used this to give different options starting with If the Council raised the same precept as in the current year, then the actual Band D figure would reduce by 0.78%. This is because the tax base has changed. If this option was pursued, it would leave the Council with a projected surplus of around £500 which might be considered a little tight for comfort.
There are options such as taking from the Free Reserve or re-allocating EMR funds to enable the Council to maintain or reduce the Band D level. Cllr Sell commented that although we do have the Free Reserve, and UDC have a good collection rate for Council Tax, the latter could change due to the current economic climate. The Clerk advised that until members were able to discuss and agree on some of the discretionary items, it was difficult to know how many different options to put forward.
The Clerk then circulated a list of the current EMRs with a column added at the end to show additions/subtractions at the year end. Cllr Sell noted that this would increase the EMR total quite considerably, due to new funds such as the Day Centre grant of £22,000, a further £10,000 into the Cemetery extension fund etc. The Clerk pointed out that it was likely that there would be a reasonable sum, perhaps around £6,000, remaining in the NDP fund as, once the draft document has been submitted, the remaining costs are met by UDC. This money could be put into the Free Reserve or used to help offset an area of overspend.
Cllr O’Brien then presented two spreadsheets showing the likely increased costs over the next five years. He stressed that these figures were a worst case scenario in the event that the level of inflation, and energy costs, did not drop back down. The Clerk commented that given the potential high energy costs in 2024 and 2025, members might like to think about increasing a bit each year rather than hitting with a larger increase in 20024 and 2025. Cllr Sell agreed that he would not wish to see a much higher increase in the following years.
Cllr O’Brien referred to the annual repayments to the FHP S.106 fund – the Council’s current policy is to repay the £200,000 over 8 years at £25,000 per year. If this period was extended, the annual amount could be reduced to help mitigate cost increases and maintain a zero/low increase to the Band D figure.
The Clerk drew attention to other discretionary items that the Council may be asked to fund, such as a start-up contribution to the Climate Change group and the potential acquisition of land for sport/recreational use. In addition, just the day before, UDC had announced that Essex CC has withdrawn its funding for the Highway Rangers Service and asked if Town and Parish Councils would be prepared to contribute £1 per elector to cover the costs of this service. Cllr Sell stated that he had asked the Local Highways Panel if this was something that they could fund instead, and members agreed that this would be their preferred option. Finally, the Clerk pointed out that, as per her notes, the draft budget took no account of staff costs which the Personnel sub-committee would be discussing the following week.
It was agreed that the focus should be on the following year’s budget as anything beyond that point was too uncertain at this time. The committee’s desired outcome would be a 0% increase in the Band D figure and the Clerk and Chair agreed to revisit the draft budget and the FHP repayments to achieve this. Amended documents would be circulated to all members of the Council for consideration ahead of the January FGP and Full Council meetings.
278 TO RE-CONSIDER THE GRANT APPLICATION FROM CITIZENS ADVICE EAST HERTS
The Clerk reported that at the last meeting she was asked to speak to Touchpoint to see how much they dealt with Citizens Advice East Herts and they had reported that this was very little if any at all. All of their contact is through the Uttlesford Branch. The Clerk also reported that since the start of the Citizens Advice out reach drop in sessions, there have been no visitors for this service. Having been proposed by Cllr Jessup and seconded by Cllr Caton, it was unanimously:
RESOLVED Not to award a grant to Citizens Advice East Herts on this occasion.
279 TO CONSIDER AWARDING FUNDS TO THE CLIMATE CHANGE WORKING GROUP TO COVER START-UP COSTS
The Clerk asked for this item to be brought back to a future meeting as the Climate Change Working Group have not yet provided the office with the sum they think they require. This will be on an agenda as soon as received.
280 TO CONSIDER UNDER-WRITING THE COSTS OF THE WINDMILL FETE
Discussions took place and having been proposed by Cllr Richards and seconded by Cllr Sell, it was unanimously:
RESOLVED To underwrite the costs of the Windmill Fete in 2023
281 CHRISTMAS LIGHTING
Cllr O’Brien reported that the Christmas lights were now up and also the icicle lights around the Social Club. He thanked Alan Snook of the club for supporting the scheme to improve lighting in the village. Cllr Jessup advised that the lights for the fountain were built but the battery boxes for them were still being worked on. This has been delayed due to the fact they are being done by someone as a goodwill gesture but that they were also busy with work so fitting it in when they can.
282 CRAFTON GREEN.
The Clerk reported that meetings have taken place with regards to looking at the way forward. A meeting will be taking place with Touchpoint we are just waiting on them to confirm a date. The vandalised windows of Crafton Green House have been replaced and we are very happy with the result.
Cllr Jones commented as to whether the Parish Council can apply for energy reducing in Crafton Green House? It was commented that Touchpoint are aware of all the channels where funding is potentially available and in regular contact.
Nothing further to report
284 YOUTH MATTERS
Cllr Caton reported that they had held a stall at the Malting and Skatepark to drum up interest in the Youth Council. They spoke to a number of young people, some of whom had some ideas and others who said it wasn’t for them. They also left some leaflets at the train station and the surgery offered to post the marketing sheet on their website. This sheet has also been sent out to the schools and has been put on the Parish \council website. She is hoping they can get into the schools to speak to the children direct but the schools have not been very helpful in promoting or supporting the Youth Council as they are too busy.
There is a Partnership meeting on Thursday next week. The Youth Club site has flooded so they have had to suspend all sessions until after Christmas when they move into the Peter Kirk site. Cllr Caton and the Clerk will be shown around the Peter Kirk site next week before the Partnership meeting. The Youth Centre has a decent amount of attendees and they have lots of events planned. They are also putting in applications for grants and funding. Stansted Youth 2000 are looking at handing over their funds at some point. It has not yet been decided if this will go to the Parish Council or direct to the Youth Club.
285 STAFF MATTERS
Nothing to report until after the Personnel meeting taking place next week
Meeting Closed at 9.25pm
275a Report light outage and Christmas light staying on
By Chair John O’Brien
The day after our meeting of 2nd November the Bank of England raised its interest rate from 0.75% to 3.0%, a clear indication that it is taking steps to slow the rise in inflation.
The rate of inflation, recently published for November stands at 11.1% and we are reasonably confident that our situation will not be badly affected for the remainder of this Fiscal Year.
As for next year, The Bank of England has forecast that inflation should fall to 5.2% by the fourth quarter of 2023 and then fall slightly to around 4.7% in 2024. Is that wishful thinking?
Whether that is so, it gives a level of hope that extraordinary increases in the Precept should not be required.
There have been unexpected demands on our resources during this year with the deterioration of some elements of our play equipment and the failure of the Air Source Heat Pump at the Mountfitchet Exchange, yet we have been able to carry the cost from our reserves.
However, we are due to see the renewal of energy supply contracts for our buildings at Crafton Green, commencing with a threefold increase in the cost of electricity for the Mountfitchet Exchange in August 2023 and for the Day Centre in February 2024, bringing a possible total increase in energy charges for 2023-2024 of over £5,500.
Furthermore, based on a worst-case scenario, we could expect further increases in energy charges of nearly £30,000 for Fiscal year 2024-2025, plus a possible extra £21,000 for that of 2025-2026.
The largest contributor to these costs is the renewal of the energy supply contract for our streetlights due 30th September 2024, but we hope by that time energy costs will have come down somewhat by then and we are in the process of forming an application to UDC for a “Zero Carbon Community Grant” to convert the majority of our streetlight stock to LED.
If successful, it will significantly reduce our carbon footprint and help complete the conversion programme in less than half the timespan originally anticipated and reduce the energy consumption by nearly 70%.
Those previously mentioned figures have presented us with a significant challenge in finding ways to lessen the burden on our community over the next three years and it is hoped the discussions this evening will help in setting a way forward on this issue. Report Ends.
NOTICE OF MEETING You are summoned to attend a meeting of the FINANCE AND GENERAL PURPOSES COMMITTEE which will be held at 8.00pm on Wednesday 7th December 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 meeting held on 2nd November 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
c) To consider a quote to remove the embellishment kits from streetlights
7 Finance: To approve the list of payments for authorisation – To be tabled
8 To receive the first draft of the budget for 2023/24 – attached
9 To receive a report on the above from the Clerk and Chair
10 To re-consider the grant application from Citizens Advice East Herts
11 To consider awarding funds to the Climate Change Working Group to cover start-up costs – Cllr Jones to give a verbal report
12 To consider under-writing the costs of the Windmill Fete
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 – 1 December 2022