F&GP Chair Report 2023-2024

F&GP Chair Report 2023-2024

Ahead of the Annual Parish Meeting in March, John O’Brien chair of the Finance & General Purposes committee provides an update on the SMPC budget for 2024-2025


In last year’s report, I raised concerns over inflation forecasts, at a time when the rate was at 10%.

Last September, we saw inflation had fallen to 6.7%, but energy costs were still very high, as we experienced when the library building’s energy contract was renewed in September with an eye-watering increase of 415%.

While we were happy to see inflation drop to 3.9% in November, our energy brokers were warning that there could be significant volatility in the markets caused by ongoing international events.

Street lights

These are our largest energy users, and their contract is due to renew in September. We are therefore unable to predict what future costs might be by then. Even after converting most of our street lights to LED, and further energy savings gained through part-night lighting, it would be unwise to risk predicting their level without knowing what baseline cost they would refer to.

To ensure that we are protected against unpleasant surprises, the council is deferring the £10,000 per annum for cemetery expansion for one year, and has also decided to bring in the anticipated £12,000 income from investments in 2024-25, as reserve cover against such surprises.

I hasten to add at this point that should our energy costs not increase by as much as we fear, any surplus within that item on the budget will be paid back into the Cemetery earmarked reserve.

Other Energy Costs

Now that TouchPoint are planning to expand their services in both the Day Centre and Crafton Green House, the energy bills are bound to rise significantly as the result of greater use. Consequently, we have had to increase the energy budgets for those buildings.

The Day Centre’s energy contract is due for renewal this February, with that for Crafton Green House in December.

We are looking into an opportunity to reduce the tariff for the library building and to align all our energy contracts to a common date, to allow the budgeting of future annual costs to be more accurate. We should also gain the advantage of a possible extra discount based on a combined energy demand.

Below I list other essential additions to the budget for this coming year:

Street lights £15,000

A structural and safety survey highlighted that the lights along Chapel Hill, Lower Street and Station Road are nearing their time for replacement. We cannot ignore this warning, so we need to raise £45,000 over three years to have them all replaced in one go — which will be much cheaper than doing it in phases.

Trees £6,000

The summer heat of 2022 exposed how vulnerable our native species are to climate change. The budget for this year has already been spent and we need to re-establish an earmarked reserve, not least because our three-yearly inspection of all trees is due in 2024.

Play Areas £7,500

Most of our equipment has wooden supports as the main part of their structures, and which need replacing.

CCTV £4,500

The system’s server is old and needs to be replaced. This system has proved helpful to the Police in their enquiries.

Repairs to Buildings £4,800

There is still some work to be done at Crafton Green.

Grass Cutting £3,000

To increase the cuts in the cemetery and churchyard to maintain them in a tidy condition.

Cautionary note

And finally, a cautionary note: Uttlesford District Council is having to make cuts that clearly indicate the authority is in extreme financial difficulty. This is raising concerns over their competence. Take their recent consultation on parking charges which has proposed swingeing increases in both car parks in Stansted. This was based on out-of-date information. This Parish Council is robustly arguing that this is just a debt reduction exercise with no thought for the potential detrimental effects on the businesses and residents of our own and surrounding communities. We are calling for a rethink on how the Lower Street and Crafton Green car parks are operated and pressing for a free 30-minute period.

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