14 February 2023 – Minutes
THAME TOWN COUNCIL
Minutes of a Meeting of the Policy & Resources Committee held on 14 February 2023 at 6.30pm in the Upper Chamber, Thame Town Hall.
Cllrs B Austin, N Champken-Woods, P Cowell (Town Mayor), A Dite (Deputy Town Mayor), D Dodds (Deputy Chairman), M Dyer (Chairman), A Gilbert, A Midwinter, H Richards
M Sturdy, Town Clerk
K Slater, Corporate Services Manager & Responsible Financial Officer (RFO)
A Oughton, Operations Manager
L Fuller, Committee Services Officer
1 Apologies for Absence
Apologies for absence received from Cllr Fickling (personal). Cllrs Bretherton and Gregory were absent without apology.
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 Citizens Advice
Tricia Hook, Advice Services Manager, and Debbie Watts, the new Chief Officer for Citizens Advice Oxfordshire South & Vale, provided Members with an update on the Citizens Advice service locally. Across the area, over 11,000 people have been helped in the past year by over 120 volunteers. There are 4 offices and 3 outreach centres, with a further planned for Berinsfield. The Citizens Advice service provides free and confidential advice which has been vital during the current Cost of Living Crisis. Thanks were given to the Town Council for their support in delivering this service.
Thame Citizens Advice has been developing its relationship with local community support organisations such as Sharing Life Trust, Ukrainian support network, schools, the Red Kite Family Centre and Thame Green Living, on a range of matters including growing demand for the foodbank, benefits, cost of living crisis, budgeting for parents, and rising energy costs. Draught excluders have been created by Cosy Thame (Thame Green Living) which have been given to those in need, and also sold in aid of Sharing Life Trust.
Recruitment of volunteers continues to be a problem, despite some applicants applying now and thanks were given to the Town Council for assisting in the publicity of the volunteer opportunities. It is a stressful role, so the volunteers are very appreciated. Funding had been secured to redecorate the offices which has benefited both the volunteers and clients. Citizens Advice Thame receive no funding from the Government or Citizens Advice National, and rely on grants and contracting funding to provide the service. Aware of the financial pressures on councils, Citizens Advice Thame were grateful for the Town Council’s ongoing financial support and welcomed any advice on other funding avenues.
Members were pleased to see the partnership working in Thame, which also included with Thame Welfare Trust.
Was a larger premises being sought? Ms Watts advise that the location was ideal, but the internal layout was a challenge. External façade repairs had been discussed with the District Council, however relocating was not financially possible at the moment. The service was instead looking at drop-ins and pop-ups instead.
The report showed a significant rise in ‘Crisis Support’ during 2022. Ms. Watts advised this was due to the Household Support Fund, classed as emergency crisis support, which Citizens Advice were administering on behalf of the District Council, as well as rising fuel debt and a phenomenal rise in foodbank referrals.
Does the service assist clients from Buckinghamshire? Ms. Hook advised that the service assists clients where Thame is the closest advice centre, which includes Haddenham, Long Crendon and Shabbington, but no funding is received from the Buckinghamshire Citizens Advice.
What is the demographic of the clients currently? The age profile was lowering as the service assists those who are unable to make ends meet despite working.
How are people referred to the service? This can be from schools, Sharing Life Trust, health charities, Age UK and community welfare workers. Publicity through campaigns and consumer rights programmes have raised awareness of the service. The demand is unprecedented and outweighing capacity.
In terms of fundraising, could a monthly donation scheme be set up? The team were without a Fundraising Officer at present but when they are in post, they will be exploring various funding avenues as 25% of the service’s income must be raised this way.
Do the volunteers specialise? All advisors are general advisors, but some choose to specialise as they naturally develop knowledge and interests, whilst others bring specialist skills from their professional careers.
Members thanked Ms. Watts and Ms. Hook for their presentation. The Citizens Advice service in Thame provides an impressive service and a fantastic facility, and a special thanks were given to the volunteers.
The Minutes of the Committee Meeting held on 1 November 2022 were confirmed as a correct record, and were signed by the Chairman.
6 Financial Update
Members received the budget summary and balance sheet up to 31 December 2022 and noted the financial updates. Members noted that the budgets were on target and performing well. Thanks were given to Officers for raising the income on the Town Hall hire. The difference between the Rathbones Investment Fund shown on the Balance Sheet and the Portfolio Update (Item 8) was due to the fact the Town Council originally invested £1.3million but that is now worth £1.8million, noting that large sums had been withdrawn.
7 Financial Overspends
The financial overspends were noted.
8 Investment Update
The summary of the investment performance was noted. The markets were showing signs of improving so it was hoped that the next Performance Summary would be better, although the portfolio itself was performing well. Members were unclear regarding the relationship between the market value, total percentage return and the estimated annual income. It was agreed that Officers would ask Rathbones to clarify.
9 Council Policies
The Loan Policy had been updated following discussions at the previous committee meeting. The interest rate charged by the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) had increased from 1.74% to 4.3% since the Loan Policy was created, and it was recommended that the premium charged by the Town Council should increase from 0.5% to 1% to ensure the Town Council made a return. This would still be below others on the market to ensure community value. It was also recommended that any payment holiday / interest free period, if approved by the council, should be limited to one year rather than two. The loan agreement would be at a fixed interest rate, set by the PWLB, at the time of the agreement for 5 years when it would be reviewed, to assist community organisations with budgeting. The Town Council will ensure the loan agreements are appropriate to the needs of the project / activity.
The only change to the Graffiti Policy was the change in the date of the Environment Act. Members asked if there was a way to engage with the schools to identify who is responsible for the ‘tagging’. The Town Clerk advised that the Headteacher of Lord Williams’s School was coming to speak at the next Full Council meeting which would provide an opportunity to discuss the matter then.
- The Loans Policy be approved as presented.
- The Graffiti Policy be approved as presented.
The report regarding the CCTV contract was noted. The CCTV report for April 2022 – September 2022 was noted.
- The two-year extension to the existing CCTV Agreement with South Oxfordshire District Council be approved.
11 Land Disposal at 28 Youens Drive
The landowner has confirmed that the covenants on this land may be released in order to facilitate the installation of the fence, as per the planning permission. The applicant has sought a valuation of £10,000 and Members were asked to agree the value of the land for disposal. The payment would go to capital receipts. It was suggested that the land be measured so that for future land disposal requests the Town Council has a cost-per-metre reference.
- £10,000 be agreed as the sale price of the land at 28 Youens Drive to be sold to enable Officers to progress the disposal of the amenity land.
12 Thame Museum
Thame Museum had received a request from Thame U3A to install a bench outside the Museum to commemorate the organisation’s 40th anniversary. The Museum Trustees have approved the request, but the Town Council must approve the bench too as landowners. It was noted that the Museum extension would require the bench to be relocated. U3A would be required to indicate their preferred second location on the application form, and have agreed to cover the cost of relocating the bench. It was confirmed that the bench location would not obstruct the pavement or fire exit.
- The Town Council approve the request to install a “Talking Bench” at the front of the Museum, on the condition that the bench is relocated prior to commencement of construction work associated with the approved extension.
13 Reports from Representatives on External Organisations
The reports were noted.
Health Hub (including Community Hub Pilot):-
Cllr Champken-Woods advised that circumstances had prevented a meeting with the Health Hub, but he and Cllr Richards had some discussions about the future of the Health Hub. It was noted that the Community Hub Pilot was no longer a pilot and could be removed as an external organisation report.
Cllr Dyer reported that the latest Business Forum had been a tremendous meeting, with good engagement and ideas from the businesses who were sharing their opportunities and challenges. Members raised concern about the development at the ASM site. It was noted that ASM do attend the Business Forum when available. Although the closure of Newitts was a big loss for the town and the future of that shop unknown at this point, there was nothing the Town Council could do, and the retail sector is not within the scope of the Business Forum.
14 Thame Barns Centre Lease
The report was noted.
The Barns Centre is jointly owned by the Town Council and The Diocesan Trustees (Oxford) Limited. Members of St Mary’s Church and the Town Council are trustees. The lease is due to expire this year. As the Barns Centre is a charity, the trustees and the owners cannot benefit financially. The Management Team have done an amazing job to create such a high standard building. In discussions with the trustees, the lease is expected to have only minor changes, although the charity is looking to become a Charitable Incorporated Organisations (CIO) to protect trustees against personal liability. Work to become a CIO will begin in July. One free use annually will continue for the Town Council, which is currently used for the Town Awards ceremony, and St Mary’s Church will continue to have some free ecclesiastical use. Any increase in the Town Council’s free use would need to be balanced against the impact on the community use and income loss.
A question was raised as to why the gates were locked in the Barns Centre car park, meaning that pedestrians have to go via the Churchyard. The cricket club have the right to close the gates, and have done so recently in response to anti-social behaviour. The Town Council has a signed agreement with the Cricket Club. The public right of way goes diagonally across the Cricket Club field adjoining the footpath through the churchyard, with walkers respecting the roped area on the field and walking around it. The field was originally a private field with no public footpath access.
Cllr Champken-Woods left the meeting.
15 War Memorial – Additional Names
The lectern and plaques had been ordered. Test repairs on the War Memorial would take place soon to check the repairs will match the War Memorial aesthetics. The War Memorial is due to be cleaned in Spring, along with repairs to the Moreton War Memorial. The unveiling event for the new plaques is currently expected for a Sunday in June or July 2023, with Officers due to meet with Thame Remembers to create an event plan.
16 Phone Box outside the Town Hall
The report was noted.
17 Town Guide
The report was noted. Members thanked Officers for producing a very impressive Town Guide.
The report from Thame Hockey Club following the Town Council’s grants of £2,400 made in 2021 and 2022 was noted. Members noted that the report was clear and concise, and were pleased to see that the money had been spent responsibly.
19 Staffing Updates
It was noted that Clare Peecock joined as Communications & Events Officer on 1 February 2023. The existing postholder will leave post on 28 February 2023.
It was noted that Amy Slater joined as a temporary casual Admin Assistant on 25 January 2023.
It was noted that a volunteer has been supporting the Environmental Project Officer with administration and small project tasks on a short-term basis.
20 Health & Safety
It was noted that the Town Council initiated Health & Safety Audits at the Barns Centre, Thame Museum, and the Girl Guide Headquarters which took place on 10 January 2023. Any recommendations from the reports requiring intervention by the Town Council will be brought to the committee’s attention in due course.
21 Free Use / De Minimis Delegated Authority
The report of the Free Use 2022-23 (and equivalent cost) granted by the Town Clerk through Free Use / De Minimis delegated authority was noted.
The meeting concluded at 7:38pm
Chairman, 18 April 2023