03 November 2020 – Minutes
THAME TOWN COUNCIL
Minutes of a Meeting of the Policy & Resources Committee held on 3 November 2020 at 6.30pm by Zoom Conference Call.
B Austin, D Bretherton, N Champken-Woods, P Cowell (Deputy Mayor), D Dodds, M Dyer (Chairman), H Fickling, S Francis and C Jones
C Pinnells, Acting Town Clerk
K Slater, Acting Responsible Financial Officer
L Fuller, Committee Services Officer
1 Apologies for Absence
Apologies for absence received from Cllrs Emery (personal), Midwinter (personal) and Tipping (business).
All Members who were present were able to be seen and be heard. Due to technical issues, Cllr Bretherton joined the meeting via speakerphone.
2 Declarations of Interest and Dispensations
There were no declarations of interest or dispensations.
3 Public Participation and Public Questions
There were no applications to address the Committee.
There were no questions put to the Committee.
4 Investment Portfolio
Mr. Rupert Baron and Mr. Bert Weston-Davies of Rathbones presented the annual review of the Town Council’s Investment Portfolio. Rathbones had been given a discretionary mandate and took direction from the Town Council, with the objective being capital growth whilst conforming to the agreed level of risk. As of 31 October 2020, the investment fund stood at £1.8m and generated around £25,000 per year.
The events of 2020 could not have been predicted a year ago. Covid-19 had had an impact on the global economy with markets falling catastrophically in March 2020. However Mr. Baron was pleased to report that over the last year, after Rathbones and internal costs, the portfolio gave a 4.8% return. The Performance Graph showed how the Town Council’s portfolio had performed in comparison to other indices since October 2019. The portfolio results were satisfactory despite the continuing impact of Covid-19 and inflation at 1.3%.
Moving to individual investments, the Investment Portfolio Analysis showed the contribution of the 10 top and bottom performing investments. The investment performance had been and continues to be influenced by uncertainty over the US Election, Covid-19 (and associated lockdowns), Brexit and the accelerating Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) thinking, however some sectors had performed well such as technology. The portfolio had a risk strategy level of two, which incorporated a range of asset classes to reflect the risk profile.
A question was raised about the Town Council’s investments in energy, and whether alternative energies could be invested in? Rathbones advised that there was a move away from old energies such as fossil fuels and investments were embracing the ‘Environmental’ aspect of ESG, however it was imperative that the right stocks were bought at the right price, and the return had to be justifiable.
A question was raised regarding the Town Council’s investments in Black Rock, who have been associated with a controversial weapons industry, to which Mr Baron responded that the Town Council was only invested in the Black Rock Corporate Bond Fund which does not include any defence stocks.
Another question was raised regarding China? Rathbones advised that China was successfully evolving from a manufacturing to a consumer economy, however China and the trade tensions there were a worry, with many corporations bringing some of their supply chains back to the UK.
The Chairman thanked Rathbones for their comprehensive overview.
The Minutes of the meeting held on 18 February 2020 were confirmed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.
6 Financial Update
Members received the budget summary and balance sheet up to 30 September 2020 and noted the financial updates. The Acting Responsible Financial Officer (RFO) explained that in addition to providing various loans and grants, the Town Council’s finances had been impacted by Covid-19 due to loss of income and costs associated with event cancellations. A possible discrepancy on the Investment Activities figure was highlighted which the Acting RFO agreed to investigate.
7 Financial Overspends
Members noted the various overspends, which were largely emergency expenditures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Acting Town Clerk advised that there were concerns with the Market rents and that a meeting of the Market Working Group would need to be called to discuss this. There was also uncertainty whether the market could trade under the new lockdown and they were awaiting Government guidance.
8 Investment Update
The Investment Summary was noted. Cllr Dyer added that despite withdrawing funds and the challenges of this year, the investment continued to give good returns and thanked Rathbones for achieving this.
9 Reports from Representatives on External Organisations
The reports were noted. Further verbal updates were given as follows:
Thame Senior Friendship Centre:-
Cllr Champken-Woods reported that the centre which re-opened 3 weeks ago would be closing again from Thursday in light of the new lockdown. Funding had been secured from the National Lottery to deliver weekly fish & chips to its Members and volunteers were available to help with this. Entertainment packs would also be delivered. It was a shame that the centre had to re-close as Members had enjoyed seeing each other again.
21st Century Thame:-
Cllr Francis reported that they had received an investment from locally-based Landmark Garden Design towards the Thame Trees project. Some trees would be donated to a children’s memorial garden nearby. 21st Century Thame were continuing to support Thame Wild Gardens and Midsomer Murder walking tours.
Cllr Dodds reported that the Barns Centre would be closing again. Whilst this would have an impact on finances, the Barns Centre was fortunate to have financial reserves.
10 Free Use / De Minimis Delegated Authority
Members noted that the Town Clerk* and Acting Town Clerk through De Minimis delegated authority, have granted the following free use of the Upper Chamber for:
- *Thame Community Land Trust Public Consultation on 4 & 5 September 2020.
- Thame Youth Projects consultation on 27 & 29 October 2020.
It was noted that due to the new lockdown restrictions from 5 November, the free use for Lord Williams’s School on 23 November 2020 had been cancelled.
11 Emergency Response Plan
Members reviewed the Emergency Response Plan and proposed no amendments.
- The unchanged Emergency Response Plan be approved.
12 Residents Car Parking Permits
The Acting RFO explained that currently residents in the Town Centre with no off-street parking can purchase two £50 permits to park in the Upper High Street Car Park. The cost of the permits has not increased in 11 years and, following a price comparison exercise with other local town councils, Officers were recommending that the prices were increased to £65 per permit. The price increase would help to recoup some of the financial impact of Covid-19. The price increase would apply to new permits and would be advertised with 30 days’ notice in the newsletter and noticeboard.
Members agreed that a price increase was necessary and felt that the Town Council should match Henley and Abingdon Town Councils at £100 per permit, which would equate to roughly £2 per week.
- The charge for a resident’s annual parking permit for the Upper High Street Car Park be increased to £100.
13 Kebab Van
The Acting Town Clerk explained that the Kebab Van had been arriving on site one hour earlier (at 4:30pm) than in the terms and conditions in order to take phone orders. The Kebab Van was currently trading between 5pm and 10pm in response to the Covid-19 restrictions. A recent visit from SODC Licensing had highlighted this discrepancy and as such an amendment to the timings in the Kebab Van terms & conditions needed to be agreed to reflect the current trading times. After Covid-19 restrictions are eased, the Kebab Van will return to normal trading hours.
- The revised terms and conditions, enabling the Kebab Van to trade earlier in the Upper High Street car park, be agreed.
The committee were asked to consider whether to administer the Town Council’s Grant Award Scheme this year, after it had been postponed due to Covid-19. If the Grant Awards were to be held in this financial year, they would conclude as the 2021-22 Grant Awards began. It was suggested that the 2020-21 Grants budget be transferred to Earmarked Reserves for next year’s Grant Awards. If organisations needed emergency funding they could apply to the Town Council outside of the Grant Awards scheme, however it was noted that many organisations had benefited from Government support during Covid-19 and currently their previous years’ accounts would not reflect the impact of Covid-19 on their finances.
- The Council’s Grant Award Scheme is not administered in 2020-21.
- The 2020-21 Grant Award budget is transferred to Earmarked Reserves.
The Community Safety Team at SODC had contacted the Town Council to seek their views on proposed replacement CCTV cameras in the Town Centre. Two options were presented – the Vision Dome VRHD and Vision Predator Ultra – with SODC and the Town Council’s CCTV Working Group favouring the Vision Predator option. The Acting Town Clerk had also contacted Thame’s Conservation Area Advisory Committee who preferred the Dome option but appreciated that town centre safety was paramount.
- The Vision Predator Ultra be approved as the replacement CCTV camera option, in line with the recommendation the CCTV Working Group and South Oxfordshire District Council Community Safety Team.
16 Compliments & Complaints
The reports were noted. A concern was raised about the number of complaints received about the Market House toilets. It was explained that these were managed by Healthmatic on behalf of SODC and the problems were reported at the time.
It was noted that due to the recent ingress of rainwater, particularly over the weekend of 3 and 4 October, a small amount of scaffolding had been erected to gain access to parts of the roof and dehumidifiers installed in the museum. Repair work was being progressed with Town Council Officers.
It was added that Officers were checking the situation weekly and no water was getting through. Clearing the gutters was now on a six-month schedule.
It was noted that the Cricket Club had reported water damage to the bar and bar store of the Cricket Club Pavilion as a result of a leak from an internal pipe in the eaves of the building. Investigations are taking place to check the building warranty, alternatively a claim for the cost of repairs will be made via the Council’s insurance company.
It was also noted that minor damage was caused to a parked vehicle after being hit by one of the Council’s ride on mowers as a result of the operative having to take avoiding action when an unobservant pedestrian stepped out in front of the mower. The Council’s insurance company have been informed.
19 Staffing Update
It was noted that at the Personnel Committee meeting held on 13 October 2020 it was approved that for a six month interim period Cassie Pinnells will be Acting Town Clerk and Karen Slater will be Acting Responsible Financial Officer.
It was also noted that additional responsibilities have been delegated to the Asset Manager, Information Centre Officer and Office Administration Officer to assist during the six month interim period.
It was noted that the interviews for a part time Community Project Officer that were due to take place in November would be postponed until after the upcoming lockdown.
20 For Information
The items for information were noted.
Post-meeting note: Members received the CCTV Report from April to October 2020.
The meeting concluded at 8:06pm
Chairman, 16 February 2021