Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Annual Parish Assembly - It only happens once a year

This evening was Hedge End's Annual Parish Assembly.  In recent years this has been the occasion for the Town Council to announce the winner of its Serving the Community Award.  The nominees were invited along with friends and families, which tended to inflate the public participation.  This year there was no award, and turn-out was - how should I put this - a bit sparse.  Seven town councillors, one borough/ county councillor, the Town Clerk, caretaker, two police representatives, and three members of the public.

It's a shame more people didn't come.  It's a chance to hear what the Town Council has been up to in the past year, to put questions to councillors and for other local organisations to publicise their own achievements.  It should be the focus for what the Prime Minister insists on calling "The Big Society" in Hedge End.  A big hand goes to the Police and Carnival Committee, but apart from their reports it was a bit like a group of councillors telling each other what they had done in the last year.

I'm sure it's not lack of interest.  Perhaps it needs to be publicised better.  Perhaps we should change the name to something more interesting or at least descriptive.  Perhaps it's a bad time of year.  Perhaps people are just too busy, or too content, to turn out on a Tuesday evening once a year.  Perhaps the agenda just looks too boring.  Perhaps in an era of online social networking, blogs and twitter the concept of an annual parish assembly is an anachronism.

Let me know what you think and I will pass your input on to the Town Council.  Either comment here or email me at hedgeendblogger@gmail.com

In the meantime, here is the report I gave as outgoing chair of Finance and Administration:

"Firstly although it was never really in doubt, I am pleased to be able to confirm that the council’s accounts for the year ending 31st March 2010 were signed off by the audit commission in August last year, and the return is available for all to see on the council’s recently rebuilt web site or by calling into the office.

My predecessor as chair of Finance and Administration announced at this meeting last year that the council would be making a significant contribution to the Berry Theatre of £300,000 from reserves that had been built up over the years.  Our reserves had frankly got too large and it is better that that money is spent for the benefit of Hedge End now and not kept indefinitely in the bank (especially with low interest rates making income from bank deposits negligible). The Berry is a fine investment and asset to the community and  I would urge as many people as possible to go along to the free open weekend on  9th and 10th April to see for yourselves the very high standard to which it has been built and kitted out.

A consequence of this contribution was that our budgeted expenditure for the financial year 2010/2011 was over £1 million for the first time.   Hedge End Town Council is now a very significant provider of services and facilities for local people.

The current financial year does not end until Thursday but indications are that our expenditure has been controlled and we will come in within budget.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Clerk and my colleagues on the Finance and Administration Committee for the professional way in which these large amounts of public money are administered and monitored.

Looking to the future, we are budgeting for £895,000 of expenditure in 2011/2012.  This includes provision for the upkeep and maintenance of the new Dowd’s Farm Park which has been transferred to the Town Council from Bovis Homes, and of a number of established green spaces which have been transferred to us from Eastleigh Borough Council.  We have also budgeted for capital investments to improve various facilities in the village centre and at the Woodhouse Lane, Greta Park, Turnpike Way and Nelsons Gardens recreation grounds.

A new storage building is proposed for our grounds staff off Pavilion Road.  We intend to apply for a loan from the Public Works Loan Board in order to finance this project.  Once the new building is complete we will be able to give up the storage units that are currently rented and use that money to service the loan.  This makes sense as an invest to save project, and is necessary as the rented facilities are no longer fit for purpose.

In terms of income, just over £200,000 will be generated from charges for the use of our community halls and outdoor sports facilities, leaving the rest to come from our council tax precept.

It is worth pointing out at this stage that both Hampshire County Council and Eastleigh Borough Council are receiving grants from central government to enable them to freeze council tax for the next financial year.  Unfortunately the government’s generosity did not extend to parish and town councils.  As a result Hedge End has had to increase its precept to account for inflation and our increased responsibilities.  However for a band D council tax payer, the increase from last year is just  £1.86, or less than 19p per month.

I hope you will look at the services provided by your town council:  Community Halls here at the 2000 Centre, at the Drummond Centre and Norman Rodaway and Turnpike Way pavilions; the Albert Road cemetery, allotments, football and  cricket pitches, bowls, tennis, skateboarding, children’s play areas, paddling pool, formal and informal public open spaces, and agree that we give good value for money.

In closing I am pleased to be able to announce that in future you will be able to take a closer look at our finances and help us ensure that your money is well spent.  Earlier this year the government required primary authorities to publish online details of all expenditure over £500.   This did not apply to parish and town councils.  But, in the interest of open government Hedge End will in future publish its annual budget and all monthly expenditure details on our web site.  So you will have the chance to review all our outgoings down to the smallest item.  

Thank you for your attention this evening.  Are there any questions?"

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