Fringe Box



Effingham Eye: Parish Council Responds To Questions On Additional Charity Funding

By Chris Dick

After a well-earned rest over the festive period, Effingham Parish Council (EPC) met on the first Tuesday in January for the first of its two public meetings during the month. The next will be Tuesday January 30.

Spirits were high and goodwill and happy new year well-wishings abounded.

For this first meeting of 2018 The Guildford Dragon NEWS had been copied into some questions about additional funding for the Effingham Village Recreational Trust (EVRT). The questions came from local resident, Simon Bisson.

Mr Bisson wished to know what due diligence EPC had undertaken to establish that the amounts quoted were realistic and that funding the expected £16,000 deficit, for the King George V hall and playing fields (KGV), was a proper use of public money.

The KGV hall and playing fields.

Parish council chairman Arnold Pindar explained that, as the custodian trustee, councillors had examined the charity’s accounts and considered the figures to be correct.

He said: “The parish council is the custodian trustee of EVRT.  In that capacity we have been given access to the detailed EVRT accounts and budgets. We have been given details of the estimated income and expenditure budget for 2018-19, and EPC therefore has confidence in these figures.

“It should be noted that the purpose of the £20,000 supplementary payment is to contribute to the realistic costs to EVRT of providing the facilities at the KGV used by the Effingham public; it is not intended to ‘fund the deficit’.”

However, those who attended the EPC meeting on October 30, 2017 might be forgiven for leaving with the impression, notwithstanding the proposal put forward, that the hour-long debate was indeed about funding the deficit as successive councillors referred to the predicted £16,000 deficit or, as Arnold Pindar himself put it, resolve “the immediate difficulties”. In retrospect it is unlikely that there would have been any debate about additional funding had not the charity been faced with a financial ‘crisis’ – as at least one councillor put it during the debate.

Referring to the EVRT financial report, Mr Bisson pointed out that the KGV had always been supposed to be self funding and that the EVRT financial report, dated October 17, 2017 appeared to throw this out of the window.

He said: “It [the financial report] proposes that Effingham residents pay around a third of the running costs, from the precept, for the free to access facilities. This proposal will impose a massive and ongoing burden on the precept. Do EPC accept or reject this proposal?” [The ‘precept’ in this instance refers to the parish council tax residents pay to the local authority].

In probably the politest and most well natured exchanges I have had the privilege to witness, Cllr Pindar acknowledged that it had been an ambition throughout the history of the KGV charity for it to be as self-funding as possible. However, this had never been achieved Cllr Pindar said that he now believed this was unachievable.

He added: “The parish council has always supplied funding from the precept, at various levels over the years. The KGV has never been ‘self-funding’ in the sense that user groups such as the school, rugby club, EPFA [Effingham Playing Fields Association] or even the WI [Women’s Institute], together provide all the income needed to maintain the hall, fields and playgrounds.

“Publicly available facilities have to be paid for by someone and EPC contributes to the cost of these facilities on behalf of the residents.

“During 2018, EPC intends to consult residents about parish council services and the precept level, including what facilities residents want at the KGV and what they are prepared to pay for those facilities through the precept.”

Mr Bisson pointed out that the EVRT 2017 accounts had indicated that they were holding substantial reserves of about £151,000. He then asked whether it would have been more appropriate to ask EVRT to use its own reserves rather than hand over public money.

Cllr Pindar responded: “On the matter of EVRT reserves, I have checked the position with the EVRT treasurer. EVRT does not have reserves of £151,000. This is a misreading of the accounts and something I often find difficult to interpret.

“The 2016/17 EVRT accounts show ‘unrestricted funds’ of £151,000, but just over £70,000 of this was a value put upon certain physical fixed assets, not accessible cash. The rest, nearly £81,000 consists of £60,000 that had to be retained – under Charity Commission guidance – as an emergency six-month reserve. This left only about £20,000 of freely spendable money. And this has since been wholly committed to significant improvement projects, including over £11,000 on playground renewal and forthcoming alterations for better disabled access.”

In his final question Simon Bisson asked at what point EPC might stop funding the charity. He pointed out that for the coming year EPC had already approved funding a service level agreement (SLA) of £12,000 with the recently agreed supplement of £20,000 as well as further funding for the children’s play equipment £8,000. There was also a probable £4,000 for the Scout gate improved security against illegal encampments. He noted that the grand total was £44,000 and that the financial year had not even started.

Mr Bisson said: “The report states many figures are estimates and that there is no contingency for unforeseen events. So the probable requirement is £50,000 plus. Further, the report notes that the trust is vulnerable to the loss of a major licensee e.g. the rugby club. In that case another third of the income would be lost and the funding requirement from EPC would rise to around £80,000.

“These are huge sums of money and would be ongoing. At what point does EPC say enough is enough and decline to provide further funding?”

In response Cllr Pindar agreed the SLA and one-off supplementary contribution and added: “The payments towards play equipment and the refurbishment steps, at the eastern end of the field, come from the community fund, which provides funding for specific capital projects judged to be of benefit to Effingham residents.

“This is available for any village group to bid for whether at the KGV or elsewhere e.g. the cricket club, the Scouts and St Lawrence Church Hall have all received grants from this fund in recent months. I do not accept that the required KGV payment is likely to be greater than £50,000. This suggestion has no basis.

“As the report points out, the future funding model for the KGV from 2019 on, and the public facilities available there, need to be reviewed to ensure that the facilities wanted by Effingham residents can be provided by the charity and are not wholly dependent on funding from other licenced users. The consultation with residents that I have already mentioned will feed into this review, which it is hoped will be completed in time for the results to be included in EPC’s 2019-20 budget. It is EPC’s intention that Effingham residents will decide how much should be spent from the precept on KGV facilities.

“In conclusion, the KGV trusts going back over 50 years or more have struggled to make ends meet and there has never been a fully satisfactory funding model. It is this that the parish council and EVRT want to address in the coming year in order to establish a mechanism that serves Effingham residents and is sustainable for the foreseeable future. Key to this are the views and interests of Effingham residents.”

Entrance to the KGV car park.

After these exchanges several councillors thanked Mr Bisson for the efforts he had gone to in order to ask these questions and expressed the hope that other residents would show similar interest.

The rest of the meeting seemed to take on a positive feel as though uplifted by Mr Bisson’s questions and the chairman’s handling of them.

Simon Bisson later said to me that it really did not matter whether funding for EVRT came from the parish SLA or the parish community fund, either way it was residents’ money that the parish council would draw from.

He said: “It’s the same trousers whichever pocket they use. I was really pleased that they intend to seek the views of residents and hope that they will include the costings for the various options.

“Whilst some of the chairman’s answers may not have nailed the issues I raised, there does seem to be an ongoing willingness to support the charity even if no limit was mentioned. But I do wonder how much support there will be from residents. I am also bemused as to what the point is of presenting accounts nobody understands. Reserves are, by definition, just that or they should probably be called something else.

“But it is worthwhile remembering that these people are all unpaid volunteers and that being a trustee is an utterly thankless task that few are willing to take on. The good ship Effingham all too often crashes on to the rocks of public apathy. I wish them well and hope to remain involved in this process.”

Looking back at December

Some conversations should ring alarm bells! Unfortunately this one caught me completely off-guard. We had just finished the second annual Living Nativity involving around 100 residents walking round the village singing carols, eating free nibbles at the Haig pub and drinking hot chocolate at Loolabell’s.

And of course let’s not forget the same two donkeys doing their business in the church. I had played my part and actually remembered my one line; “We come from afar” at least I think that was what it was. Then I got volunteered….

“We are having a candlelit midnight communion service on Christmas Eve.” Revd Mandy MacVean informed me. “Perhaps you could sit at the back and take some photographs. They would be beautiful.”

Oh dear, Mandy clearly had no idea that I’m a point-and-press photographer. I just put it on automatic, take a few shots and hope for the best. And I’ve never come across a setting on my little Sony DSC-HX50 for candlelight. Actually I don’t know what half (I mean ‘most’) of the settings do.

I had not planned on attending the service, which I suspect Mandy was fully aware of. I went into decline mode with a pathetic: “Err… that would need a tripod and more skills than I possess Mandy.”

This was greeted with a polite silence and I was obviously caught.

 But, having no skills, I wondered just how difficult it would be to check out all the camera modes and see if one might do the trick.

I did not have a tripod but thought, why not use a stepladder and control the shutter from my phone. As my father used to frequently tell us boys: “If all else fails, read the instructions.”

Actually, he always said the “destructions” which was both funnier and less likely to happen as neither of us read well as kids.

Not to seem too eager, I tried one last vain attempt to get out of it. I explained that we would need a nine-foot stepladder at the back of the church. To my disappointment Mandy instantly agreed.

In fact it sounded like she thought that every church should have a nine-foot stepladder decorated with tinsel at Christmas.

So long story cut short, it was an uplifting and somewhat serene service … that is, if you ignored the tubby guy pottering around at the back trying not to make any noise as he realised, about halfway through, that the camera should have been at the front of the church so as to see all of the candles which were now mostly blocked by the bodies of the congregation!

Christmas Eve, St Lawrence Church Effingham midnight communion with lights on.

St Lawrence Church Effingham midnight communion lit by candlelight – with a little adjustment to light levels afterwards.

And for those of a technical bent I think it was in S mode… or maybe I had nudged it on to another setting as I was in the dark.

I look forward to helpful advice from readers in the comments box below.

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2 Responses to Effingham Eye: Parish Council Responds To Questions On Additional Charity Funding

  1. Des Tanner Reply

    January 12, 2018 at 1:02 am

    At last, someone else questioning in open debate the ways EVRT are spending residents funding in a sensible fashion.

    In one meeting with EVRT I raised the question that if I was unhappy as to how they spent their budget or prioritised it, who do I complain to? The reply was “no one”. So well done Simon.

    With regard to your camera skills, my father from his war days told me that if you heard a click you dive for cover. Hopefully this wasn`t the case here. Congratulations Chris on a well written and imformative column.

  2. Revd Mandy MacVean Reply

    January 12, 2018 at 6:17 pm

    Great photos of Midnight Mass.

    I am sure we can find you further projects during 2018!

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