ECCLESHALL PARISH COUNCIL – POLICY AND RESOURCES COMMITTEE – Wednesday, November 4th, 2020

A meeting of the Policy and Resources Committee was held on Wednesday, November 4th, 2020, following the planning committee meeting at 7.40pm online via Zoom videoconferencing.

1).   Present were:-

Councillor P. Jones (Chair)      Councillor L. Dale

Councillor J. Jones                    Councillor E. Amos

Councillor. G. Dale

Mrs S. J. Worden

No members of the Public

Cllr. S. Kean (observer)

Apologies:- Apologies were noted from Cllr. R. Taylor

2).   Minutes of the meeting held on Wednesday March 4th, 2020:-

The minutes, which had previously been noted by the Council were agreed and will be signed at the earliest opportunity.

3).   Matters arising from the minutes:-

There were no matters arising.

4).   Budget update 2020/21:-

Prior to the meeting, the Clerk circulated reports detailing the cash and investment reconciliation, the detailed Receipts and Payments Budget report and the Earmarked Reserves update, which were discussed in detail and accepted by the committee.

Summarised Account figures were provided as follows:

Current cash at bank (all 3 accounts) totals £129,429.13.

Of this, £56,270.96 is held within earmarked reserves. This leaves a balance of £73,158.17, which is a combination of unspent budget allocation and unmarked (free) reserves.

Budget planned expenditure for 2020/21 is £90,059.00.

Expenditure to date is £41,862, with some larger elements of expenditure still to come, e.g. Christmas Trees, regular grant payments, newsletter printing, insurance renewal, further verge works.

Unspent budget allocation as of the 3rd November is therefore £48,197, and free (unallocated) reserves stand at £24,961.17. Unallocated reserves closely match the element of the finances that is held in the Investment Account and is not in excess of small authority accounting guidance.

It was noted:

The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly affected the planned expenditure this year, with some budget headings underspent due to the cancellation of activities. Examples include the bus service and delays in recruitment of an assistant Clerk. Other areas have seen an unrelated increase.

There will be no expenditure related to the purchase of the police post, although the majority of the budget allocation of £2,700 for the loan repayments will be vired to grants, to cover the £2,500 grant to Eccleshall Cares.

At present, there is expected to be some underspend within the budget. The potential underspend will provide an opportunity to cover some unexpected costs, which include a replacement swing at Croxton, potential arboricultural works on land off the Eyeswells and the loss of the Borough Council annual Christmas tree grant. It is not yet confirmed if the SBC Bloom grant will be available this year.

6).   Discussion of budget preparation, planned projects and precept setting for 2021/2022.

Committee members discussed the budget in context of the upcoming projects and the need to ensure availability of sufficient funding to deliver these projects.

It was noted that grant funding may not be as widely available, so this must be considered for any large scale projects.

The council are still awaiting a decision from the Borough Council regarding Beech Road play area. Should they agree to transfer ownership, there will be a significant cost to refurbish the play equipment. Cllr. P. Jones will speak to SBC again in order to ascertain if this is likely to be approved, to inform budget planning.

The Clerk has not yet been informed of the Tax base for 2020/21. If the tax base (number of households paying Council Tax) increases, then the precept amount is spread over more houses, and the amount per household in real terms decreases, with an unchanged precept amount. It is also possible that the Tax Base could decrease this year, as households in receipt of benefits due to the current financial problems will exempt households from paying Council Tax. The Clerk expects to receive this information soon, and this will inform the budget and precept calculations ahead of the next meeting, when a draft budget will be presented.

The committee noted it was of the opinion that the precept for the next year should not require any increase, whilst considering the potential lack of external grant funding and the commitment of the Council to deliver more projects and services, but ensuring that no additional burden is placed on residents. However, any decision on the Precept will be informed by the proposed draft Budget presented at the next meeting.

7).   Consideration of deeds and insurances:-

The Clerk circulated details of the land/property owned by the Parish Council and insurance policies relating to the Council and the Community Centre. The committee resolved to recommend that all was in order. The paper will be appended to the minutes of the committee, for information and adoption by the Council.

Cllr. L. Dale queried whether the Personal Accident Cover limit of £1 million was sufficient and whether it should be £5 million. The Clerk noted this and will ask the insurance broker if this was the industry standard and how much it would cost to increase the cover limit.

8).   To consider a members area for the website to store documents and reduce the need to print/circulate documents:-

Members were in favour of this idea, which would allow for collation of key documents for all councillors to access, via a securely passworded members own area.

The Clerk noted the potential delay in actioning this course of action due to current problems with the current website provider. The website needs a completed accessibility statement completed and uploaded in order to meet the new accessibility regulations, but despite regular chasing, the website provider has failed to do this or respond to emails. The Clerk has provided as much information as possible and updated all online documents but is now reliant on the web designer. It is also doubtful if the requested new councillor email has been set up as requested. Whilst there has been some mitigating circumstances for the initial delay, this has been ongoing for some time and the Clerk is concerned about the lack of support in place.

Members suggested it would be of interest to enquire about the cost of transferring the website to an alternative provider, and the Clerk will make initial enquiries.

8).   Consideration of Grant Requests:-

There were no requests to consider.

9).  Items for next meeting:-

Any items for the next meeting can be forwarded to the Clerk.

The Chair suggested that in order to move forward with drafting of the Council Business Plan that it would be useful for the Clerk to review templates and provide some outlines for consideration in order to start the process. All were in favour of this suggestion.

10).  Date of next meeting:- Wednesday 2nd December 2020, following the planning committee  meeting.

There being no further business, the Chairman declared the meeting closed at 8.20pm.