Lambourn Parish Council’s annual assembly 2022

The following is the address given by the Chair of Lambourn Parish Council, Moz Bulbeck Reynolds, at the parish’s 2022 annual assembly held on 27 April 2022. You can see the agenda here. The official minutes of the meeting will appear on Lambourn Parish Council’s website in due course. Some of the headings below have been added by Penny Post.

Introduction

Parish Councils are the most local tier of government and cover limited parish-specific responsibilities within their area.

Lambourn Parish Council (LPC) covers the area from Upper Lambourn in the west to Eastbury in the east and from the village of Lambourn in the north to the villages of Woodlands St Mary and Lambourn Woodlands in the south. It’s worth noting that the southern areas of the parish takes in land to the south of the M4.

The Council owns various assets including the Memorial Hall, most (but not all) street lighting and the allotments.

Councillors and officers

LPC is represented by 15 elected or co-opted councillors and five employees. Currently there are four councillor vacancies and, as of the AGM on 4 May, we will have five.

Councillors are expected to operate democratically, as no one councillor holds any position of hierarchy over another.

The Council elects a Chair who has the responsibility of chairing the Full Council and Finance meetings as well as this Annual Assembly. It is also the responsibility of the Chair to sign off minutes of those meetings and all financial documentation. The Chair is therefore taking on a higher level of legal responsibility, but the Full Council is held responsible for decision-making. The only other responsibility of note for the Chair of the LPC or any Chairs of its committees is that in the situation of a tied vote, the Chair holds the deciding vote. This is very rare, and in the past 12 months a tied vote has not arisen at any stage for me.

The main function of the councillors is to determine how much budget is needed to carry out the parish council’s responsibilities, then ensure the budget is spent according to the planned budget. The funding for LPC is allocated by the West Berkshire Council and is taken from the area’s council tax; this is called the annual precept. The LPC precept is typically agreed by Full Council in either the December or a January meeting for submission to West Berks in January.

The running of the Council is then in the hands of the Clerk and Responsible Financial Officer. In the case of Lambourn PC, Karen Wilson holds both the Clerk and RFO positions and the other four staff report to Karen.

Debates and discussions

Throughout the year the councillors meet monthly to debate, discuss and make decisions when we meet as full council, and in Committees or working groups.

In the past 12 months, LPC has debated topics such as:

  • how we approach staffing costs and management;
  • how to best support local groups like the Community Orchard;
  • and, of course, whether or not we increase the precept, and if we do, by how much.

We have had many discussions, including:

  • regarding overarching planning issues surrounding the industrial creep in the Woodlands;
  • how to increase communication within our community about what we are doing;
  • and on what we all feel or agree about the governance of the Parish Council.

We have made decisions about support for Lambourn Environment group, and the Lambourn Wellness Centre. As well as making countless decisions through the planning consultation process that West Berkshire must undertake before it makes planning decisions.

For more information on how the LPC operates and what areas of responsibility it covers, please refer to the website lambourn-pc.gov.uk.

Objectives

Over the course of the past 12 months, I stated that I would be chairing the Parish Council with a focus on inclusivity, transparency and accountability. I came to these three objectives as had felt the LPC was lacking in these areas.

This in part was my conclusion after what can only be described as a turbulent year during the first year of Covid, whereby the LPC and the community did not seem to see eye to eye on usage of the Memorial Hall. While the LPC had a duty of care to its staff, the community felt we should be focussing on the Foodbank. It was a difficult time and one I will discuss further in a moment.

To ensure we addressed these issues, in my first three months in the role, my focus was very much on the staff and the finances. I felt there was a need of support for the staff and I knew that we needed to increase transparency around our finances and the way in which we as a council were accountable in the way we were spending. More on staffing shortly.

Financial position

At our last Finance Committee, it was shown that we had finished the financial year with an underspend of approximately £12,000. And as we were in the final month before our bi-annual precept amount was paid into the LPC accounts, we had a cash balance of approximately £25,000. As a Finance committee we had already undertaken an exercise in 2021 to establish what our cash balance target should be (also referenced as our general reserves or working balance). This is typically expected to be an amount which would “keep the lights on” by way of salaries, general running expenses, contractual amounts etc for a period of three months.

Therefore it has been agreed at the last Finance Committee meeting (13 April) that the cash balance target should be £30,000. LPC thus finished the year in a healthy position and the underspend has been allocated to earmarked funds which include the Mill Lane and Streetlight upgrades.

The LPC reserves currently stand at £78,000. These are in place to cover off multiple assets projects, the streetlights upgrade, and the cemetery land purchase. While £78,000 seems a large amount, we have several large expenditure projects which we need to undertake in the coming year or so which means that earmarked budget is in effect already spent.

Achievements

  • In the past year the LPC has taken a firm stand against the over-development affecting the southern areas of the parish, most noticeably the Membury services area. Heavy goods traffic has significantly increased over the past decade and West Berkshire council itself has said that the area is unsustainable. Residents are affected in their homes as well as the vast majority of commuters from Lambourn village along the B4000 courtesy of the increase in HGV traffic and the subsequent damage to the roads and infrastructure. LPC is supporting the Lambourn Woodlanders of whom you will hear from later.
  • A staffing committee was formalised in 2021 which now supports the Clerk in a more formalised way to ensure she and all LPC employees are given adequate access to training and the tools required to improve their work life.
  • Modernisation of the way LPC employees are working has been ongoing since the beginning of the financial year 2021, with new computer hardware being push based last year, .gov emails being set up for each clerk, as well as the new .gov website. We rolled out of Microsoft 365 and in the coming months, all meetings will be held utilising Microsoft Teams which comes as part of the package the LPC now subscribes to. This all means that should our staff need to work from a remote location, whether home, at an off-site meeting or any other appropriate space, they will have the tools to do so. If this had been in place in March 2020, I believe the discord between the Council and the community would not have occurred.
  • Our financial reporting has been improved in our monthly full council meetings and the setting of the budgets process has been given over to the full council, and no longer rests on the shoulders of individual councillors.
  • Councillors have met with at least two developers on projects so that we could input from the planning stages what was important to the community. Much of this work has been informed by the work of the Lambourn neighbourhood development plan, who you will also hear from later.
  • Of the many achievements the council has completed in the last financial year, the launch of the new website has been one of the stand-outs.

For all of these achievements and the many more to come in the following year, I congratulate and thank all councillors and members of the community as possible. I also give much thanks to the five employees of the council.

LPC’s staff

Our litter picker gives us important feedback when asked which is beyond his job description, and the caretakers work some anti-social hours and occasionally have to put up with unpleasant situations and for that we are incredibly grateful. Our newest recruit is our assistant clerk who started in late summer last year. She has picked up an incredible amount of knowledge and managed to navigate the many nuances of working on the committees and their output. It is a relief to have her join the team as we are in capable hands with her.

Our Clerk and RFO has had a large amount of change asked of her in the past 12 months. She has had to manage several new and very eager councillors, as well as one very inquisitive new Chair. I personally have poked and prodded every element of the Parish Council’s inner workings as I have been able to find. My incessant questioning cannot have been easy and I am grateful for the time you have given over to these questions. Especially in the first six months, and especially around the accounts. Carol, Patrick, Mark, Rachel and Karen, I can only say thank you.

Outstanding items

We still have many items which are ongoing. Next week, the AGM will take place and the Full Council will vote for the Chair and the Vice Chair. I hope that whoever takes on the Chair role for the coming year is able to build on what we have already established. We have much work to do around governance, as I am convinced we much strive to be the best in class – and not just by doing the minimum.

Final comments

I therefore sign off with a large thanks to my fellow councillors. It has been a challenge at times and I am grateful for the support you have shown me in the past 12 months. Thank you for looking at and trying to adhere to the seven Nolan Principles – selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. I sincerely hope I have lived up to these as much as I can. I’m human so mistakes will happen, as with us all: but I believe together we can improve and get to the best-in-class achievement.

For now, my head is still spinning, to be honest…

Moz Bulbeck Reynolds
Chair, Lambourn Parish Council 2021-22

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