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PC Question Time - December 2012

Posted on 14th January, 2013

From: Jo

To: "parishclerk@bleadonparishcouncil.gov.uk"

Sent: Sunday, 13 January 2013, 15:02

Subject: More on Questions

 

Dear Bruce,

 

Thank you for your reply, albeit that it has taken 5 weeks to arrive. Unfortunately it has not completely answered the original question so please find below further comment/query to each of your answers in bold italic.

 

As our original questions are on Mondays agenda, we would be grateful that this email is also copied and available to Councillors for PC meeting on Monday night. We've appended our original questions to the bottom of this email for continuity and completeness of correspondence.

 

Please could you acknowledge receipt of this email and our request to pass to the Councillors for tomorrows meeting.

 

Kind regards,

 

Jo & Chris

 

From: Parish Clerk

Date: Fri, 11 Jan 2013 17:01:45 -0000

To: Jo

Subject: Questions

 

Dear Jo & Chris

 

I would refer to your e-mail of the 5th December and my subsequent holding response.

 

Hopefully I am in a position now to answer the various questions raised in your e-mail.

 

1. Goal Posts.

 

The Parish Council has not as yet concluded its research with regards to this subject matter and as such has not committed to any expenditure. The £10,000 set aside for the replacement of the equipment was taken from reserves such monies being gained by the prudence of the Parish Council when it prevented a developer developing a property without it contributing some of his monetary benefit to the Parish Council the total of which was in excess of some £40,000. The equipment was replaced on the advice of RoSPA who following a succession of their annual reports indicated that the then equipment did not reach acceptable British and European standards.

 

We are grateful that the PC takes the safety of our equipment seriously and keeps an eye on its condition. You state that equipment has been replaced but the park is now missing its climbing equipment and appeared from the minutes to be replaced with goal posts. We're glad the PC is still investigating and hope that any new equipment will be more appropriate and challenging for older children in the junior and lower senior school age bracket. If research hasn't concluded in a process then we request that you please make this clearer on all future agenda items so that we can all distinguish between a discussion and a final decision point.

 

2. Toilets

 

The Parish Council is as you will have noted from recent issues of the Bleadon Village News still negotiating with North Somerset District Council on the proposed asset transfer. Failure to take them over will as has been stated result in their immediate closure and boarding up. The Parish Council are insisting that they are brought up to standard with immediate repairs and in addition and are currently seeking a grant £9,000 to complete the recommended repairs. It is anticipated that once the asset is transferred the annual cost of running the faculty will be in the region of £3,000 per annum. Contingent with this is the Budgeting process being undertaken at this present time where the Parish Council are endeavouring to see whether or not they can absorb the costs for the first year without over affecting the Precept. I am sure you will agree to lose the facility of the toilets will be a retrograde step considering that there no such facilities within the church and from the surveys taken as to their usage it clearly evident that they are well used by both resident and visitor alike. The long term aim is to incorporate say a disabled toilet within the hall complex that as an external access and then the current toilets would be available for re-use

 

We were pleased to see further information provided via the village news but again its hard for villagers to input into the PC agenda and decision making process without understanding the facts first. As regards future development, why would the PC need to use council tax money to re-develop and re-use a facility that is designed for purpose and been brought up to standard when it aims to lose this facility in the long-term anyway? How long is long term? The village already has two halls and a youth club so please can you tell us what the parish council intends to use the building for, other than toilets, as this too may potentially have planning and building control application costs, ongoing maintenance, utility and insurance implications that may need to be covered by future parish precepts? Surely development of the hall complex is for the Coronation Hall committee and absence of Church toilets a matter for the church although we do recognise that the PC is trying to save money by discussing alternative partnership working. Please can you explain these financial relationships to the PC? Notwithstanding, please also see our separate correspondence with constructive suggestions for paying for the toilets through the current budget.

 

North Somerset Council presumably got a better 'deal' for its toilet maintenance and cleaning contracts as it had 20+ toilets. Has the PC considered working in partnership with other PC's to reduced any maintenance and cleaning bills/contracts for the current toilets if/when they are taken on?

 

3. Footpaths

 

Like everything else that is happening with town and parish councils services are being devolved downwards by district councils without regrettably any suitable funding. The challenge to Bleadon Parish Council is to ensure services are upheld in the village and where they are not delivered by outside agencies it will have to consider what to fund and what not to fund. Obviously where pressure can be put on the district council the parish council will continue to do so.

 

Devolution of services to town & parish councils is a consequence of localism however this should not necessarily mean we have to solely pay for them. There is an economy of scale that is potentially lost through decentralisation of procurement contracts that ultimately increases national public expenditure. Something the financial ombudsman should be aware of if town & parish precepts continue to rise beyond and outside the council tax capping regime. I have raised this issue with our MP.

 

As an aside, I did notice that the proposed South Hill extinguishment order was effectively needed because the actual footpath had been quarried away at some point in history, something I am sure the current councillor(s) with diligent responsibility would not have let happen with modern legislation.

 

4. Hall Broadband

 

Currently the Parish Council has not paid BT anything as it is still in discussions as to the outcome of the first initial installation. Arrangements are that a new installation will be put into the Coronation Hall with the Youth Club taking over the first installation. The Parish Council has since its inception made a contribution to the Broadband Facility in the Café. This has been done on the basis that providing the computer in that location was a benefit to anyone in the village that wished to use it.

 

But please, what are the specific individual broadband and IT infrastructure costs like website and 'cloud' based server and backup technology provided via BT, CRM & VSM? Why are all these required and how are these paid for please and what usage statistics are there to determine value for money?

 

5. Neighbourhood Plan

 

Each year the Parish Council revisits the Village Plan in order to check as to its progress against the aspirations and where necessary provides monetary support to see that they are implemented. The plan that the Parish Council is now considering follows the suggestions of The Localism Act 2011 whereby it promulgates the idea of neighbourhood planning. The Parish Council is anxious to ensure that everyone has a say as to how the Marshalls Quarry Site is developed once it has closed for good. It is anticipated that the group would be in the form of a Working Party and again it would be hoped that sufficient volunteers will come forward to produce the plan

 

The Quarry site issue was raised and answered in the 2005 questionnaire as were many other matters to produce a 20 year plan. Therefore as we are not yet half-way into that plans term, surely this working group should pay very close attention to the past results and detail of that important work. If as you say the parish council reviews this plan annually please can the previous years plans/targets be posted online, or point us in the right direction, as we can't seem to find them, alternatively please send us copies via email. In particular please can you send us a copy of the current plan/targets/actions that the PC is working with?

 

Also I am sure you are aware that the localism act provides for other local resident electorate led initiatives not necessarily under the auspices of existing forms of government so we would not want duplication of effort or other contradictory target requirements through mis-communication between the PC and villagers.

 

6. Quality Council Status

 

The physical cost to the Parish Council was just the application fee – the cost of preparation for the first accreditation in terms of work time was absorbed in the Parish Clerk’s working time at no monetary cost albeit that a great deal of additional working hours was undertaken without recompense. The re-accreditation preparation was I am pleased to say undertaken by the members assisted by the Parish Clerk at no mean cost to their personal time, Again the only cost was the application fee costs.

 

We have to congratulate the Councillors and particularly the clerk for their efforts in achieving QC status for Bleadon, but there is a consequential financial cost beyond a simple application fee. Eg: The extra clerk qualification courses partly paid by the PC and subsequently gained by the clerk as a pre-requisite of the scheme has resulted in higher salaries and a pensionable employee status commitment for Bleadon's future. It has also led to an adoption of SLCC 'approved' contractors and contracts for facilities that were not previously needed but now are. One only has to look at pre-QC status precepts & expenditure for a comparison. Research has indicated that the QC scheme has had a very low acceptance amongst town & parishes and has now been suspended. What tangible benefits in terms of facilities & services does Bleadon have now that it didn't in 2003? Perhaps this is an area for savings to be made?

 

7. Precepts

 

Yes it has but so has the facilities and the benefits it provides. At the time of writing the Parish Council is considering its Budget but is held back in being able to make a decision on its Precept due to the fact that central government has changed the rules in dealing with the Council Tax Support Scheme. This undoubtedly will have an impact on the Parish Council resources. As always I am sure the Parish Council will continue to do all it can to balance what it has to provide in form of services and its legal obligations against the cost to the local community. The headline Tax for the current year for a Band D Property in Bleadon was £75.69 which equates to £1.45 pence per week. A moderate sum surely to enjoy all the benefits that Bleadon has to offer.

 

Please see previous comments. We respectfully request that Bleadon Parish Council compare it's Band D rate to other similar and comparible local parishes and then do a benchmark comparison of services and ask why are they cheaper to run than Bleadon? Again, what tangible benefits in terms of facilities & services does Bleadon have now that it didn't in 2003 for a lower precept cost?

 

 

8. Village News

 

You will no doubt be aware that the Village Newsletter is produced in its entirety by Councillor Keith Pyke on a voluntary basis. In the latest issue he gave what was considered to be a reasonable admission as to why the current edition was late on this occasion. I might just mention here that one of the suggested cost savings would be to produce three issue per year rather than four.

 

We appreciate the efforts of KP and the information that the BVN imparts to villagers but your response does raise the question that if the glossy version that is now produced is too onerous and too expensive then why was this agreed to by the PC? Many people I have spoken with are quite happy with the previous newsletter that didn't miss a copy! Perhaps a less ambitious return to a basic production is needed and a critical review of what is really required in an increasingly electronic communication age. Please see our other correspondence regarding paying for toilets.

 

Yours

 

Bruce

 

Bruce Poole BA(Hons); Fellow ILCM; MMC

Bleadon Parish Council

Clerk to the Parish

 

E-Mail: parishclerk@bleadonparishcouncil.gov.uk

Web Site: www.bleadonparishcouncil.gov.uk

 

Date: Wed, 5 Dec 2012 18:43:53 +0000

From: jo

Subject: Questions for December Agenda/Meeting

To: parishclerk@bleadonparishcouncil.gov.uk

 

Dear Parish Council,

 

Having seen the November minutes and December Agenda, posted on the web in the last couple of days, we ask you to consider and publish fuller details of the following, especially in relation to the council meeting on Monday:

 

1. ‘Goal Posts’ for the playground at a cost of over £4,000 (up £3,000 on November minutes quote), this on top of £10,000 already spent on play equipment more suitable for toddlers. There used to be taller slide, a large sandpit without toddler equipment in it, and a wonderful and challenging high climbing frame suitable for a range of ages. What exactly is this new equipment and for what age group is it intended?

 

2. Toilets – The Parish Council seems to have decided to acquire these from North Somerset. What is the ongoing cost and effect on precept? Will the Clerks report on this be made available on the website?

 

3. Footpaths – We applaud Andy Eddy and his volunteers but what pressure is being put on North Somerset Council to continue the service our Council Tax pays for? Will this not ultimately increase the precept when expenses are requested by volunteers?

 

4. Hall Broadband. – We believe the main purpose of this installation was for the Parish Council’s use in the hall with added benefit for Hall users and the Youth Club, therefore could you not get the cable re-installed at the hall at BT’s expense seeing as they haven’t seemed to achieve the objective? After all, it is only a phone line, it’s even possible the Wi-Fi signal will then work in Youth Club! Has BT refunded the cost of this failed installation? Is the line rental still being paid if it does not work, or has this also been refunded? What is the full cost (initial and ongoing) of Broadband facilities in the Café, Halls/Youth Club and Councillors, including the cost of supporting this and other technology eg. website? Please can you expand upon the local voluntary help requested to resolve this issue and why this is considered a solution for business failure i.e. BT’s?

 

5. Neighbourhood Plan – the 2005 Village Plan questionnaire was for a 20 year Plan and it cost a lot of money (more than £5,000) to produce results and views of the villagers and yet there seems to be no meaningful plan produced other than an outdated 2009 action plan created during Quality Status re-accreditation. Therefore, what plan is the Parish Council following for its priorities? Why do we need to investigate a new Neighbourhood Plan? Who will be involved in this proposed working group? If a new Neighbourhood plan is proposed will it work with the existing 20 year plan or will the group start anew, and possibly incur similar costs again if the villagers are to be widely consulted and have an input?

 

6. Quality Council Status – Now this scheme has been suspended and is being reviewed, what has been the cost to Bleadon, both to date and ongoing? E.g. Clerk & Ranger employment and pension, qualifications, subscriptions to various bodies and trips to meetings, increased technology support, etc. What proven tangible benefits to Bleadon can be identified from our participation in the Quality Council scheme?

 

7. Precepts – Bleadon Parish precept has nearly doubled in the last 9 years (£21.5K in 2003/4 to £41K for 2012/12). Given the national government austerity measures and that our precept is the highest of like/surrounding parishes, how is the PC intending to reduce its costs whilst maintaining or indeed improving services?

 

8. Village News – Please can you tell us why the Autumn Village News was not produced, published and distributed especially given the items currently being discussed, those without internet have been disadvantaged. Apparently this was the first issue missed in 25 years, what plans are being put in place so this doesn’t occur again? Will advertisers be recompensed?

 

Unfortunately, like others, we are unable to attend the meeting on Monday yet we are concerned about rising Parish Council costs especially during this poor economic time and subsequent need to cut costs at all levels of government without cutting services.

 

We look forward to these questions (and others) being answered as soon as possible, reported fully in the minutes and published on the website so that we can all appreciate what is being actioned and the reasoning behind the decisions.

 

Please confirm receipt of this email.

 

Yours sincerely,

 

Jo & Chris

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