Withiel Parish Council
Minutes of the meeting held in the Village Hall
Wednesday 18th September
Present: Cllr Coy (Honorary Clerk), Cllr Harper, Cllr Kirkby, Cllr Malone, Cllr Nott-Bower, Cllr Shearer, Cllr Thomas (Chairman).
County Councillor Jeremy Rowe and two members of the public
The meeting began at 7.15 when the Chairman welcomed all.
The Chairman began by inviting County Councillor Jeremy Rowe to speak. Cllr Rowe, who represents an area encompassing seven parishes stretching from St Eval to St Mabyn, had been invited at the initiative of Cllr Nott Bower to explain the County Council’s localism agenda.
Cllr Rowe began by saying the context in which localism had to be discussed was budget, and the basis for devolution of powers and responsibilities was to save money. Over the last four years the County Council had been required to save £170 million out of a budget of around £1 billion. Four years ago, he said, there was quite a lot of waste in local government and there was quite a lot of fat to cut. The Council had managed to make the required cut without affecting front line services too much. It had in fact benefited from the creation of a unitary authority, which had provided savings of £43 million.
In the next four years, however, the County Council was required to save a further £196 million. They were, said Cllr Rowe, thought the fat and cutting into muscle and bone. The new cuts would undoubtedly have an impact on front line services.
One third of the council’s budget is spent on 10,000 people – these are the people who benefit from adult social care. This was a statutory duty upon the Council. All the Council’s other services were paid for out of the other two thirds. It was clear that there were savings to be made in the integration of Council services such as adult social care more closely with the NHS. There’s a lot of duplication of care and expenditure. Hospitals attempt to get patients out quickly for financial reasons, but they are simply switching expenditure on care from the NHS onto County Councils.
Devolution, Cllr Rowe said, had been a disaster so far. Toilets were a classic example. Cornwall Council operated about 350, and three years ago decided they couldn’t afford them. They would maintain 70 toilets, and the rest would close if parish and town councils failed to take over responsibility for them. There was a backlash, it was delayed for a year but it eventually happened. His view now is that the County Council must first build better relationships with parish and town councils. He was still an enthusiast for the unitary system but the way it was handled was very poor. They didn’t consult, didn’t listen to people or allow them to shape how it happened, they had a template which was imposed from the top down. This led to a schism between Cornwall Council and the towns and parishes, and there’s no sign of that being healed. He now had to try to repair that relationship. “We’re in the same business – ultimately we take the public’s money and spend it in the best way we can.”
If towns and parishes are better able to look after things like highway maintenance or gully clearances, if local parishes or clusters of parishes were able to do it more cheaply, this should be looked at.
The Chairman Cllr Thomas said Withiel Parish had recent experience of the excessive cost of bureaucracy, with some 75 percent of our precept being spent on administration. We had managed to reduce that to almost zero, but that situation would not obtain for long if we were to take on more responsibility.
Cllr Rowe said this was a conversation that needed to be had. It was likely that parishes would have to cluster together to obtain economies of scale. Unfortunately it would be necessary to begin any work with a business plan, which meant there would be administrative costs from the start.
Cllr Rowe said he had been looking at the Community Networks such as that in Bodmin. Some were better than others, and a discussion was needed on what role they could play.
Cllr Coy sought clarity on the situation at Cormac, whose debts were not carried on the County Council’s books. Cllr Rowe said Cormac was an arms-length company with only one shareholder, Cornwall Council, and it returned profits from its non-council work to the Council. They were more efficient now than they were in-house.
Cllr Coy questioned the amount of money that Cornwall Council was losing on Newquay Airport. Cllr Rowe said this was only about £3 million a year. Cllr Malone pointed out this was on top of about £100 million the council had already poured into the airport. Cllr Rowe said there was an argument that the airport was worth £30 million a year to the local economy, although he couldn’t see how the figures stacked up. He doubted whether, if they had their time over again, they would do the airport deal again. If the link with Gatwick was lost permanently, the viability of the airport would have to be in question.
The Chairman asked whether, knowing that so much money would have to be saved, the County Council had prepared an economy strategy. If so, it would be nice to know what part we were to play in it. If the parish council took on additional work it would have to increase its precept to people who were already paying the County Council to get the same work done, while itself providing its services free.
Cllr Rowe said this year’s County Council budget was settled but they had to start working now on redesigning services up to 2019. By then, County Council services would be a world away from where they are now.
Cllr Nott-Bower asked whether there was any chance the Council would recoup some of the millions it lost in the collapse of the Icelandic banks. Cllr Rowe said about £5 million had been at stake, and that work was still going on to recoup some of the money. He hoped good news would be forthcoming soon.
Cllr Coy asked whether the money could not have been invested with the Bank of England, where it would simultaneously reduce the national debt. Cllr Rowe said that the banks had triple-A ratings at the time, the council was required to hold cash in reserve, and it was wise to spread its investments.
The Chairman asked Cllr Rowe whether he could promise the County Council would not play politics in the way it had in recent times.
Cllr Rowe said the whole feeling of the council was different, political co-operation was manifest at every level.
The Chairman thanked Cllr Rowe for coming along. We give our time for nothing, the Chairman said, we want to do our bit, and there are certain things we could like to have responsibility for, but it comes back to cost.
85-13 Members declaration of Interest and any requests for dispensations. None.
86-13 Apologies for absence. None
87-13 Invitation for members of the Public to address the meeting. No takers
88-13 To approve the minutes of the meeting of 2 September 2013 – with minor amendments, done.
89-13 Matters arising from the minutes of 2 September. Cllr Shearer reported that maintenance work on the parish footpaths was due to start the following day.
90-13 Report from Cllr Thomas concerning Community Emergency Planning. The Chairman said he had attended a meeting at Lanivet to do with emergency planning. It had been poorly attended with only five people present. The County Council is asking parishes or communities to prepare a plan to meet any disasters that may occur – flood, snow, ice, any emergency that might effect our community. It was seen as wise to have a neighbourhood co-ordinator and to prepare a list of people to whom we can turn for support in the event of a prolonged power failure or other emergency. It was recommended that we prepare and formalise our reaction.
Cllr Coy harked back to the problems we experienced during two recent harsh winters when it was difficult to get in and out of the parish because of ice. The County Council cleared the main roads but Withiel was left to fend for itself. He suggested that the parish store 100 tons of road salt.
Cllr Harper said the Council used to put heaps of salt on the tops of hills but had discontinued the practice.
Cllr Coy said modest expenditure on a repository of salt would be desirable.
Cllr Malone cautioned that expenditure on salt would probably ensure that we didn’t have another big freeze in our lifetimes and said the first action should be to compile a parish-wide inventory of useful equipment such as 4×4 vehicles, tractors, telehoists, pumps etc.
Cllr Nott Bower said a response to the danger of bird flu should be part of the plan.
Cllr Malone cautioned that we should not apply the same risk evaluation as national government, which used an equation involving likelihood multiplied by the number of people potentially affected. Thus an extremely remote risk was elevated because it could strike many people. This led to massive waste, such as the NHS’s stockpiling of £1.5 billion worth of bird flu vaccine with a shelf-life of a few months. We had to be smarter than that.
It was agreed to bring this issue forward at the upcoming parish meeting to discuss the Neighbourhood Development Plan.
91-13 Planning application PA13/07936 is for Listed Building Consent for the replacement of rotten windows at Meneghyjy, Withiel, lodged by Dr M Davey. Cllr Coy said this was a like-for-like replacement of the old with the new and recommended support. Cllr Harper proposed support, Cllr Nott Bower seconded, unanimously agreed.
Cllr Coy suggested that the potential Schedule 160 revenue from the solar farm at Retire and the new turbines on St Breock Down be placed on the agenda for the next meeting.
93-13 Correspondence – To consider a request for further payment from the ex-clerk.
Cllr Coy read a proposed reply which had been written according to guidelines suggested by CALC and in consultation with them.
Cllr Kirkby suggested that the clerk be given payment for 18 hours in lieu of notice rather than the original 12 hours suggested.
Cllr Malone said this was public money and the council had an absolute duty to spend it in a wise and defensible way. He asked whether something like a gesture of goodwill was appropriate when we were talking about some parishioner’s taxes.
Cllr Harper said the matter should be deemed to be closed and no further payment should be made.
Cllr Kirkby said the sum involved would be an additional £51:60.
A vote was taken on whether the additional payment should be made. For payment: Cllrs Kirkby, Shearer, Nott-Bower, Coy. Carried.
The honorary clerk was instructed to write to the ex-clerk setting out the details, following the CALC guidelines, and saying that no further correspondence would be entered into.
94-13 Invitation for members of the public to address the meeting: no takers.
95-13 The date of the next meeting was fixed as Wednesday October 2nd at 7:15pm.
The meeting closed at 8:20pm with the Chairman thanking all.