11 August 2020 – Minutes
THAME TOWN COUNCIL
Minutes of the Virtual Meeting of Thame Town Council held on 11 August 2020 at 6:30pm by Zoom Conference Call.
Cllrs D Bretherton, N Champken-Woods, P Cowell (Deputy Mayor), A Dite, D Dodds, M Dyer, L Emery, H Fickling, S Francis, C Jones, A Midwinter (Town Mayor), J Tipping and T Wyse
J Cole, Town Clerk
C Pinnells, Community Services Manager
K Slater, Office Administration Manager
A Oughton, Asset Manager
L Fuller, Committee Services Officer
1 Apologies for Absence
Apologies were received from Cllrs Austin (personal), Deacock (personal) and Gregory (personal).
All Members who were present were able to be seen and be heard.
2 Declarations of Interest and Dispensations
There were no declarations of interest.
3 Civic Announcements
Cllr Midwinter expressed thanks to Kubota for lending the Town Council an RTV to deliver food parcels to residents during lockdown. Cllr Midwinter also thanked Kubota for donating 14 laptops to a local secondary school. Their contributions to assist local people during lockdown were greatly appreciated.
4 Public Participation and Public Questions
There were no applications to address the Committee.
There were no questions put to the Committee.
5 Civil Parking Enforcement – Presentation
South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) Cabinet Member and Councillor David Rouane had extensive knowledge of Civil Parking Enforcement (CPE) in the District and over the last year had given presentations to Town and Parish Councils on the subject. Illegal parking in South Oxfordshire is the responsibility of the Police but currently due to staff shortages, particularly at the PCSO level, Police resources were being allocated where there was the greatest risk to public safety. Some town councils had paid for an additional PCSO however this didn’t guarantee that they would be allocated to that town, so in some cases this didn’t prove value for money.
SODC, along with Vale of White Horse and Cherwell District Councils, were working with Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) to devolve the responsibility of CPE from the Police to the District Councils. It was noted that law prevented the responsibility being devolved down further to Town and Parish Councils. A feasibility study had been commissioned and indicated that costs were feasible for all parties. Subject to OCC’s approval, the proposal will then go to the Cabinets of each District Council in October. Following that, OCC will make a submission to the Secretary of State for approval. It is likely that OCC would provide the systems and software required, and it was hoped the process would be completed in Autumn 2021. Cllr Rouane advised that expectations needed to be managed as, in reality, the wardens will be spread thinly across the District and will rotate around the towns. However they will be present and issuing tickets where cars are parked illegally, and it was hoped the deterrent would then be in place. The project was progressing and on track, but in the meantime CPE remains the responsibility of the Police and any illegal parking should be reported to them.
A question was raised as to whether the traffic wardens would be staffed by SODC or contracted out? Cllr Rouane advised that it was likely they would be contracted out, subject to a county-wide tender, similar to the existing arrangements with SODC car parks and.
Regarding the specific locations within Thame where CPE would be monitored, Cllr Rouane advised that the wardens would ticket any vehicles parked illegally which included overstaying in timed bays. It was unlikely that they could patrol all areas and town centres were likely to be prioritised over residential areas. Members expressed concern that residents who live and park on Park Street and Lower High Street, which is currently under the control of the Police but considered locally as residents parking, could find themselves being ticketed. Cllr Rouane advised that SODC would take direction from the Town Council, and that an application to OCC would need to be made if the Town Council wanted these areas to become undesignated.
On the matter of devolving to the Town Council, the Town Clerk asked whether this would be possible as a contractor and whether SODC would support the Town Council in taking on residents parking? Cllr Rouane was unsure if it was possible for parking to be devolved via a contractor and that consultation would need to take place locally to establish views, adding that residents parking schemes rarely give residents the right to park outside their house.
Cllr Rouane advised that, if devolution of CPE is approved, the changes would be communicated over a period of months to ensure residents were well informed.
Members and the Town Clerk thanked Cllr Rouane for his presentation and update on CPE.
6 Report from County Councillor N Carter
Cllr Carter had given his apologies and advised that a report would follow by the end of the month. In the absence of a report from OCC, Cllr Francis contacted County Cllr Constance for an update on OCC’s Active Travel plans. It was reported that following a meeting last night, OCC will be devoting all of the second tranche of Government funding to Oxford City due to the instructions given by the Government. Members expressed their disappointment and frustration at this news. OCC will now be seeking alternative funding to support Active Travel plans across the county.
7 Reports from South Oxfordshire District Councillors
In Cllr Gregory’s absence, District Cllr Pieter-Paul Barker summarised the main points in the report – the Local Plan Examination had been held virtually; real-time public participation was now reinstated at planning committee meetings with the first being held tomorrow and the Covid-19 Councillor Grant had been paid to Thame Town Council. Cllr Barker encouraged Members to respond to the Corporate Plan consultation, which closed on 13 August 2020. It was questioned how SODC planned to address Themes 1 and 3 in the Corporate Plan when the Inspector remarked in his closing comments at the Local Plan Examination that no change was allowed to the Local Plan’s environmental and climate policies.
The Town Clerk thanked SODC for their payment of the Councillor Grant to support the Town Council’s response to Covid-19.
8 Members Questions (under Standing Order 11)
Cllr Dite asked on what date the Information Centre will re-open and whether council meetings could be held in the Barns Centre, to enable them to be held in person whilst observing social distancing? Cllr Midwinter referred the questions to the Town Clerk to answer. It was advised that work in the Information Centre was ongoing but as soon as it was completed it would re-open. Regarding the Barns Centre, Cllr Dodds advised that the maximum number of people currently allowed in the main barn was 30. The Town Clerk advised that it was worth exploring and a discussion was needed on restarting the committees fully too. The number of members of the public may need to limited but if the meetings could be live-streamed then the Town Council would be complying with the law.
The minutes of the meeting held on 21 July 2020 were approved, subject to the insertion of “the contract with” after “terminate” in Item 9.
10 Planning & Environment Committee
The minutes of the meeting held on 4 August 2020 were noted.
11 Financial Update
Members received the budget summaries up to 31 May 2020 on behalf of the Community, Leisure & Recreation and Policy & Resources Committees. The Town Clerk noted that no income had been received from the Market or Kebab Van rent due to Covid-19, but the intention was to reinstate this.
12 Reports from Representatives on External Organisations
The reports were noted.
A question was raised regarding the bollards at the Barns Centre as to why the Barns Centre were against it and why it was reported that the Town Council decided not to proceed? Cllr Champken-Woods advised that the Barns Centre were not against the idea but previously felt it would be difficult to implement and there were concerns over staff safety with locking up, however due to recent damage, anti-social behaviour and illegal parking they are now supportive of installing bollards and the Cricket Club have offered to lock up.
Cllr Champken-Woods advised that the planning application for the Health Hub had been registered with SODC.
A question was raised as to whether members of the Thame Senior Friendship Centre were being contacted whilst they could not meet in person? Managers, trustees and volunteers had been calling the members to check on their well-being, and risk assessments were being prepared to re-open the centre on a smaller basis when it was safe to do so.
13 IT Equipment and Support Contact
The Office Administration Manager presented the report and specification sheets, and noted the recent email correspondence. Upgrades to the Town Council’s IT equipment and server were required, and this became exposed with staff having to work from home during the Covid-19 lockdown as the current IT set-up is unable to support staff’s needs. Triumph Technologies, as the IT Support provider, undertake an annual audit of the council’s IT equipment to ensure the current software and specification meet the council’s needs, and make recommendations for changes. Following the changes to working brought about by Covid-19 and internal discussions, Triumph provided a quote for a server and a cloud-based route. Officers then created a specification for tender based on like-for-like, with options to buy or lease the equipment. All companies were also given the opportunity to quote for the support service. Officers were recommending Option 1 (buy) as it would be more cost-effective. There would be further cost-savings with a cloud-based server when software used by the Town Council also moved to cloud-based systems.
A question was raised at to where the servers would be stored with a cloud-based server? The Town Clerk advised that IT companies would hold physical servers which are used to host space online ‘the cloud’, rather than the Town Council holding them. They will have multiple servers and back-ups so the Town Council would not be affected if one were to go down.
Some Members expressed concern that the Procurement Policy had not been followed as the specification had been written by one of the bidders and was based on a pre-existing product / service, and a specific brand of IT equipment had been specified. It was felt that the process had not been transparent and decisions had been taken to override the policy. The specification could have specified the brand and added ‘or equivalent’, and the quotes should have been scored on a range of factors against that specification.
The Town Clerk felt that the policy had been followed and explained that the particular brand had been chosen for its reliability and longevity, following discussions with IT experts and based on experience. The specification of each laptop was based on the individual requirements of each staff member, ensuring the equipment would be fit for purpose. The current IT set-up was hampering the return to the office and the ability to work effectively and seamlessly moving forwards. The Town Clerk reminded Members of the 31 August deadline they had given to sort the IT equipment for staff. Some Members supported the tender process that had taken place, adding that by specifying a brand it enabled fairer comparison and ensured the equipment provided the required capability and the decision wasn’t based solely on price.
A motion was proposed to appoint Company A as the IT Support & Equipment provider for the next 5 years, as per the Officer’s recommendation. On being put to the vote, the motion fell.
14 Thame Fair
Cllrs Champken-Woods and Dyer had visited the Maidenhead Fairground to witness a Fair in operation under the current circumstances relating to the Coved 19 pandemic. A report and accompanying photographs had been provided to Members. The Fair is totally different to Thame with a single entrance (rather than 10) and situated in a field, however Cllrs Champken-Woods and Dyer were impressed with the Covid-19 arrangements made by the Showmen’s Guild such as a QR check-in for track-and-trace, one way system, spacing between rides and hand sanitisers. However they were not able to envisage how this could happen in Thame, even with half of the usual numbers in attendance.
Cllr Jones added that at the Working Group meeting with the Showmen’s Guild, the Town Council had suggested the Showground as an alternative location and reducing the number of rides to assist with social distancing, however the Guild were against these ideas as they preferred the hustle and bustle of the town centre.
Members felt that the risks associated with holding the September Fair this year were too great, and that given it was not possible to hold the fair in a way where social distancing could be observed, it would be irresponsible to allow the September Fair to take place. The Town Clerk added that holding the Fair would be an uninsurable risk. It would be unfair to residents if a local lockdown was enforced following the Fair.
Members unanimously agreed that cancelling the September Fair was regrettable but the decision had been made in the interests of health and well-being of the residents of Thame and nearby villages.
It was felt that the decision on the October Fair should be delayed until nearer the time.
i) Thame Town Council cancels the September Street Fair 2020 and leaves the decision open on the October Fair.
15 Staff Working Arrangements
The Town Clerk reported that she was working in the Town Hall most of the time, with other staff working in / visiting the town hall as per the rota however it was not possible for all staff to work flexibly between the Town Hall and home due to the current IT arrangements. Socially distant staff and management meetings have taken place.
16 Staff Away Day
It was noted that Officers will be partaking in a staff away day on Wednesday 9 September 2020. The Town Clerk added that the purpose of the day was to identify how the Town Council could move forwards after Covid-19, improve the way staff work and assist in the production of a 5-year plan for the council. All staff will be in attendance with two independent facilitators. The away day was at the request of the Personnel committee.
17 VJ Day – 75th Anniversary
The Community Services Manager reported on plans to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of VJ Day on Saturday 15 August 2020, whilst adhering to Government guidelines on social distancing. Wreaths will be laid by the Royal British Legion and the Chairs of Thame Town Council and South Oxfordshire District Council. An air cadet, standard bearer, bugler and local vicar will also be part of the event at the Memorial Gardens. Cllr Tipping has volunteered to film and live-stream the event to the Town Council’s Facebook page. Risk assessments have been sent to the insurance companies.
18 Land at The Elms, Upper High Street
It was noted that the Planning Court had dismissed the challenge made by Rectory Homes Limited against the Secretary of State’s decision to dismiss their appeal against the decision of South Oxfordshire District Council to refuse planning permission for P18/S3596/FUL.
19 Solar Street Project
Cllr Francis sought the Council’s support for a presentation by the promotors of the Solar Street Project. The project presented an opportunity to tackle a project in the Green Living Plan without expenditure to the council. The project could offer solar panel installation on a large scale locally at a 25% discount, with £50 per installation given to the community.
i) The promoters of the ‘Solar Streets’ opportunity give a presentation to the council and relevant members of the Green Living Group, to determine whether Solar Streets is something the council could endorse to take forward to the public to gauge the community’s interest.
20 Thame Market
The Market had had their rents waived for 17 weeks due to Covid-19. The Town Council had negotiated a 50% rent in August and from September they will return to paying full rent, however the Community Services Manager reported that the Market Co-Operative had found some traders were experiencing financial struggles before Covid-19. Therefore it was suggested that a Working Group be formed to discuss the issues, market agreement and rent negotiations with the co-operative. Cllrs Bretherton, Dite, Dodds, Emery and Jones volunteered to sit on the group, which would report to the Policies & Resources Committee.
The meeting concluded at 8:07pm.
Signed ……………………… Date ………………………..