RSN AGM - 21 November 2011

SPARSE Rural:

Apologies for absence:

Cllr Graham, Melton; Cllr Mortimer, Scarborough; Cllr Daubney, West Norfolk; Cllr Strange, Lincolnshire; Chris Bull, Herefordshire; Cllr Styring, Northumberland; Cllr Fleur de- Rhe-Phillips, Wiltshire; Cllr Mac Cotterell, Fenland

 

RSP

Apologies for absence:

Stewart Horne, West Devon BIP; Graham Patrick, Landex; Richard Crompton, Lincolnshire Police; Mark Howarth, Western Greyhound; David Bale, Easton College.

 

To download the agenda, click here

To download these minutes, click here

Meeting of the Sparse Rural Special Interest Group 
  
1    Election of Chairman for the ensuing year

Graham Biggs, the Chief Executive welcomed members to the meeting and invited nominations for the election of Chairman. Cllr Roger Begy was nominated and this was seconded.  There were no further nominations.  Graham Biggs welcomed Cllr Begy as Chairman for a further  term.      
        
Decision

Members agreed to the re-election of Cllr Begy as Chairman for the ensuing year.    
        
2    Election of Vice Chairmen for the ensuing year

Graham Biggs listed the current Vice Chairs.  No changes were proposed.  The Chairman proposed that all the Vice Chairs continue for another term, which was seconded.    
        
Decision

Members agreed to the re-election of the Vice-Chairmen for the ensuing year (Cllr Harvey, Cllr Motley, Cllr Cotterell, Cllr Nicholson, Cllr German, Cllr Heseltine).    
        
3    Election of First Vice Chair    
        
It was proposed that the first Vice Chair continue for another term.  This was seconded.
 
The Chairman congratulated members for all of their work and thanked them for travelling to London for the meetings. (See Attachment E)   
        
Decision

Members agreed to the re-election of Cllr Cecilia Motley as the First Vice Chair for the ensuing year    
        
4    Constitution (See Attachment A)

Graham Biggs said that there were no additions or alterations to the constitution.  The issue about the number of members on the Executive being determined at the annual meeting had been resolved through the earlier decisions taken at this meeting.     
        
5    Fairer Funding Campaign (See Attachment B and Attachment C and Attachment D)

The Chairman introduced this item, saying he, in his capacity as Leader of Rutland, had met with the LGA Chairman, Sir Merrick Cockell and with the LGA Director of Finance, Stephen Jones on fairer funding.  

A meeting has also been arranged by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Rural Services with Richard Benyon MP (Defra Minister) on local government business rates retention and there is still time to make representations on this important issue.

Graham Biggs updated members on the fairer funding campaign, highlighting that information had been sent to MPs and members to compare their areas with a nearby urban area and a London Borough. He outlined the key issues and challenges faced by rural areas:

•    The funding baseline needs to be addressed.

•    The New Homes Bonus could disadvantage rural areas.

•    Business growth is likely to be worth less in rural areas.

•    There is a continuing resources gap.

•    The message is not to seek a total equalisation of funding to rural and urban areas but to ameliorate the position and stimulate ideas for how Government could address the disparity.

Members discussed concern over the New Homes Bonus, differential rates of the community infrastructure levy and the importance of early engagement of town and parish councils in core plans. 

   
6    Our Consultancy Service

David Inman outlined the offer to members to get lower than market rate finance and performance assistance during times of staff shortages and workload peaks and troughs. He urged members to take up this offer which could be worth the equivalent of the membership fee.      
        
7    Performance (See Attachment F)  
Dan Bates set the context for the performance item, saying that it is important to strengthen the rural position in the first instance.  Figures have been sent to all rural MPs showing how their authorities compare to a nearby urban area and a London Borough and a letter from the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP has been received acknowledging his and the Prime Minster’s awareness of this.  RSN and SPARSE will continue to update the analysis based on the 2012/13 Settlement and send to authorities.

The Chairman invited comments and highlighted that if local authorities do not take the Council Tax Incentive Grant they want assurances that they will not be castigated.  He also informed members that he, along with Graham Biggs and Dan Bates would be presenting at the LGA Rural Policy Review Group meeting on 7 December 2012.

Members felt that:

•    local government gets a bad reputation due to government policy

•    it is difficult to get understanding from the electorate

•    there is a need for private sector and council funding for broadband.

Graham Biggs said that fairer funding is not only about council tax, government grants and spending power but also the additional costs of providing services in rural areas, which has not been picked up by the media.  He said that Dan Bates would work on some further analysis to demonstrate the extra costs.

Dan Bates gave a presentation to members which highlighted an increased demand for performance data locally since the Audit Commissions’ demise.  RSN and SPARSE will now send their information to authorities quarterly in line with the Government’s data releases which is a change from the yearly Audit Commission releases The presentation also exemplified the effects of the Council tax Incentive grant using Rutland as an example..  

The Chairman said that quarterly data would be more helpful and Dan Bates added that the exercise has become more meaningful rather than being seen as box-ticking.  

Graham Biggs reminded members of the profiling service which provides individual authorities with their comparison data.  David Inman reminded members of the resources available on the website.  Members should contact SPARSE for a password. Dan Bates ran through the website briefly.    
        

Full Rural Services Network Meeting 
 
 
        
1    Apologies for Absence

Apologies were noted by Members and are listed above.    
        
2    Minutes of the last full meeting (See Attachment 1)

The minutes of the last full meeting on 4 July 2011were agreed by Members.     
        
3    Minutes of the last Executive meeting (See Attachment 2)

Members queried the recommended lowering of the RSP subscription fee.  Graham Biggs said that it was a policy of membership retention and recruitment and getting below the level at which expenditure has to be published.

Members agreed the minutes and recommendations of the last Executive meeting on 19 September 2011.    
        
4    Membership

Graham Biggs provided an update on the membership of RSN, highlighting that three new members have joined and four authorities trialled membership but did not join the network. He was confident that some of those members serving a year’s notice to leave would stay in membership.  He said that the services provide exceptional value and thanked the team for justifying this.    
        
5 and 6    Budget 2011/12 and 2012/13 (See Attachment 3)

Graham Biggs outlined the outturn for the last financial year and the estimated for this current financial year, 2011/12.  Some membership fees are still outstanding and are being followed up.  He proposed that members accept the figures on the assumption that outstanding balances will be paid and that the three existing strategic partnership arrangements would remain.    Members agreed the budgets for 2011/12 and 2012/13.

Members agreed the budgets for 2011/12 and 2012/13 and authorised the executive to make any necessary in-year changes.    
        
7    Work Programme (See Attachment 4 and Attachment 5)

The Chairman ran through the seminar programme, which is not fixed beyond June.  He highlighted the importance of ensuring the work programme is outcome focussed.

Graham Biggs said that the Defra ministerial statement expected in January would give the opportunity to reflect further on the work programme.

The 22 January should be amended to Monday 23 January.    
        
Action

•    Officers to amend the 23 January date.    
        
8    Presentation from the Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Rural Services, Graham Stuart MP

Graham Stuart MP sent his apologies for running late.  The Chairman said that this item would be taken at the end of the meeting instead.     
        
9    The website

Johann Tasker presented on rsnonline, highlighting the statistics available and the increased profile value of the syndicated news articles to regional newspapers, which promote RSN.  Log-in rates to the site had increased but could in any event be distorted by the fact that many members download the information to their desktops rather than logging on each time to view information.  Johann outlined plans to restructure and simplify the platform, improve the user experience and reduce duplication.

The Chairman thanked Johann and said that he always looked forward to the digests he receives.

Members discussed:

•    how much research there is on how to link local authority sites with rsnonline and how much duplication there is.  Johann said that rsnonline is unique in keeping people informed with news and analysis.  There will be some duplication but Dan’s work also reduces this as it means local authorities do not have to do the analysis themselves.

•    that more officers use the site and that members should be encouraged to use it more

•    whether passwords could be simplified for better accessibility.  David Inman said that it is recommended that local authorities have a common password accessible via their intranet.  Authorities should talk to their in-house IT colleagues to arrange this.   
        
10    The Area Forum and Seminar Programme (See Attachment 6)

Ivan Annibal outlined the seminars which have been loosely based on the present Defra priorities.  The first two seminars have been very well attended (partly as they were all free to attend) and the broadband seminar from last year is being repeated due to its popularity.  There is a meeting in as many regions as possible in order that regional issues can be discussed, however anyone can attend any event.  Ivan invited members’ ideas for topics and offers to host an event.  Bookings are still being taken which demonstrates that there is still a market for them and when the programme is finished, almost 500 RSN members will have attended a session.

Members raised concerns about their Authorities/organisations paying the expenses (travel & subsistence) for their members/staff attending  the seminars.  Ivan noted that there are no events in South Central or the South East and told members that the presentations from these seminars are available online.  
        
11    The State or Rural Public Services 2011 (See Attachment 7)

Brian Wilson presented on the State of Rural Public Services Annual Report, which looks at trends of public service provision and draws out good practice and innovation.  He highlighted some improvement in bus services and the take up of concessionary fares but said that difficulties and impacts on services would still continue.  Addressing rural isolation and transport issues are key, especially for marginalised and vulnerable people.  He said that the financial situation is tough but rural areas are innovative and there is positive work being done, which needs to be communicated to the media.    
        
8    Presentation from the Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Rural Services, Graham Stuart MP

Graham Stuart MP was introduced.  He assured members that he is working to get the rural voice heard in parliament and said that to get MPs to do the right thing for rural areas members must be persistent and provide research and evidence and the right messages and narratives as support.  He agreed that rural authorities are not looking for more money being made available nationally but a fairer allocation of existing funding.  He welcomed members’ views and questions.

The Chairman thanked Graham Stuart MP for reinvigorating the APPG and members asked how they could most effectively approach and persuade the treasury.  Graham Stuart MP said that members needed strong campaigns and to be persistent in communicating the important messages as well as provide detailed background and evidence.  

Members felt that the Government does not recognise that rural areas are good at innovating, providing value for money and surviving, all whilst starting from a lower financial baseline.  Members can provide examples to demonstrate that rural areas are worth investing in.  Graham Stuart MP said that members should focus more on what a fair deal and success looks like for rural areas rather than current successes which would not be rewarded.

Members also felt that rural LEPs are worse off than urban counterparts.  Graham Stuart MP saw this issue falling under the fairer funding campaign and urged members to identify what would be fair, campaign and communicate that message.

The Chairman thanked Graham Stuart MP for his work and for taking the time to meet with RSN.    
        
12    Community Group
The opportunity had been given to members of the Community Group to make representations to this Annual General Meeting but no business had come forward    
        
13    Any Other Business

None

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