RSN Executive Meeting - 23 January 2012

Present:
Councillor Cecilia Motley (First Vice Chair – Midlands); Councillor Derek Haley (East), Councillor Robert Heseltine (North), Councillor Betty Harvey (Counties), Jenny Stewart (South – substituting for Julian German) John Birtwistle (Transport), Stuart Horne (Business), David Dickinson (Finance), Graham Biggs, David Inman, Dan Bates.

 

Apologies:
Councillor Roger Begy (Chairman), Councillor Mac Cotterell (Fenland), Councillor Hilary Carrick (Cumbria), Councillor Gordon Nicholson (Eden), Councillor Julian German (Cornwall).

 

To download the agenda, click here

To download these minutes, click here

 

1.    Minutes of the last Executive (19th September 2011) (See Attachment 1)
Agreed with no matters arising.

 

2.    Minutes from the last Main Meeting (21st November 2011) (See Attachment A)
Not yet available.

 

3.    Fairer Funding/Business Rate Situation
The DCLG position statement following the Business Rate Consultation has a commitment to consider whether or not to look at concessionary fares and rural service costs.  There was a need to:

 

a.    Keep up the pressure by further submissions( including to rural constituency MPs);

b.    A need for ongoing monitoring of the business rate position.

Damping of any improvement making them theoretical needed to be avoided.

After consultation with the Chairman the following measures had been taken:

a.    a call to all members to contribute £900 to a new fighting fund (17 acceptances to date);

b.    a call to all predominantly rural non members to join the organisation (£2095 until April 2013);

c.    a call to 15 significantly rural non members who would benefit if our proposal was accepted by the Government to join the organisation (£1000 until April 2013); (See Attachment 2a)

d.    Neil Benn had been taken on on the basis of a one day a week contract for an initial 6 months.

It was felt the better than average response from Sparse Authorities which had been actively encouraged by the Group and the pressure put on DCLG by rural constituency MPs had been crucial and needed to be repeated at strategic times over the next 6 -12 months.

Whilst there was a lot of satisfaction over the position reached there would be a need to:

a.    Keep up the pressure on rural MPs;

b.    continue to add to the evidence base.

There was also a lot of concern about some of the technical aspects of the Business Rate proposals and this situation would need to be addressed by the Group.

 

4.    Work on Refuse Collection
Dan Bates detailed further research he had undertaken in analysing the refuse collection (excluding recycling) of West Devon Borough Council.  Refuse rounds largely based on towns, villages and rural areas had been looked at in detail.  This had revealed that there was a ‘rural premium’ of approaching £600,000 per year in West Devon.  The total West Devon budget was £8.3 million so for the Waste and Recycling Contract Service alone there was a 7% rural premium.

Discussion with Neil Benn was taking place seeking to identify the (pre-damping) amount in the formula for West Devon in total.

It was decided to do further work in neighbouring Torridge and then try to develop a methodology capable of identifying this premium in all member authorities.  Letters would initially go out to those Sparse Authorities who had sent in data on refuse to the LGFutures report.

An information sheet would be prepared for MPs on this issue.

 

5.    Rural Fair Share Campaign
This was an inter Westminster campaign being organised by Graham Stuart the Chair of the APPG for Rural Services as a natural extension of the RSPs work.  It related to all services both in and out of government.  The Group had its own website and logo.  A meeting had been held with the Prime Minister.

A formal launch of the campaign was to be held

The RSN was supporting this campaign. All RSN members would be made aware of this new initiative

 

6.    2012/13 Settlement
The 2011/12 exercise was now being re-staged with the new figures.  The indication was that the gap between urban and rural had widened slightly in percentage (but not in monetary) terms.  Again the latest figures would be sent to rural MPs and member authorities.

 

7.    Restructuring of the Sparse Rural Group (See Attachment 2)
A detailed report from the Director was considered on what the constituent body of the SIG should be.  Following work on the benefit of the organisation it had been decided to recommend to the main meeting to include in the potential core for the Group the 113 Predominantly Rural Local Authorities and 20 Significant Rural Authorities giving a potential field for full membership of currently 133 councils.  These were listed and the authorities would be approached annually about joining.

The remainder of authorities in the Significant Rural classification could come into the Group as Associate Members if they wished but they would not be directly approached.

Associate Membership
This would now be available to all members of the Rural Commission at a subscription rate of £995 per annum.  Because of absence of commonality associate membership would relate to rural but not financial or performance services.

 

8.    Budget (See Attachment 3)
The budget sheets for 2011/12 and 2012/13 were circulated.  The budget continued to be in a reasonable state given the circumstances and negotiations would continue with the remaining authorities who had given the required notice for 2012/13.

The Executive looked at the constitutional requirement for notice and asked, given the demands on the organisation, that members respect the documented constitutional position to allow the organisation to run to programme.

On the question of the need to share the load between authorities who stood to benefit significantly from the current claim but were not currently members of the Group, it was decided that the Chair and Senior Vice Chair would write out to Leaders (copy to Chief Executives) asking that their authorities should become involved.

 

9.    Unitary Special Interest Group (See Attachment 4)
A briefing note for the Chairman on the potential formation of a Rural Unitary Group as a group within a group was circulated.  It was agreed:

a.    That we seek to form a Rural Unitaries Group (RUG) SIG, open to 18 Predominantly Rural and Significant Rural Unitaries with common characteristics, with a subscription rate for the present non Sparse Rural authorities of £1,000 a year for the first three years and then reviewed.

b.    That the RUG SIG is separated as a SIG within a SIG with Sparse Rural providing the administration support etc., and with the full range of Sparse Rural Services provided for all members.

c.    That the Chair seeks the support of the other Group Chairs and then the Chair of the LGA in the hope that he could confirm his offer to have a representative of the RUG SIG at meetings with DCLG Ministers.

It was agreed that the Chair should report progress to the March Main meeting

 

10.    Neighbourhood Planning Survey (See Attachment 5 and Attachment 6)
A report from Brian Wilson and a subsequent press release was presented and approved.

 

11.    RSP
The Director reported on the position in relation to attempts to form specific groups inside the RSP.  Generally this area of work was going quite well.

 

a.    Police Group

A successful conference had been held in Kettering in November.  Talk at the conference had been of forming a group which it was hoped could proceed but as the ACPO Rural police lead was changing the new postholder needed to be involved.  The omens were however good.  Sponsorship would be needed here.

 

b.    Fire Group
Devon and Somerset held the Presidency of the National Fire Officers Associations.  A Meeting had been held with them about forming a group involving both County and Combined Services.  A meeting with the President had now been arranged for April.

 

c.    Housing Group
The intention was to do work with the Chartered Institute of Housing and form a group involving local authorities and small housing associations.  A meeting had taken place with the Institute and areas of partnership working successfully established.

 

d.    Health Group
The Chief Executive of Nottinghamshire Healthcare Trust had very kindly agreed to sponsor a Rural Health Conference at the Nottingham Ice Rink Centre on 14th June 2012.  The intention was to seek to establish a Rural Group spanning all forms of English & Welsh health bodies (and also those intended by government) as an output of the conference.  A small subscription (£250) would be involved.  We would work with the Institute of Rural Health sharing income and operating costs.

 

12.    Post Bank Coalition
It was decided to join the Post Office Bank Coalition and Brian Wilson would attend some of the meetings.

 

13.    Rural Bus Services (See Attachment B)
John Birtwistle from First Bus Group gave a presentation on the position in relation to bus services.  He pointed to the problems occasioned by the concessionary burden which would, as money was not elastic, mean that a fair number of rural routes would be impacted upon.  Local authority austerity cut backs and the government decision to lower the relief on fuel duty for buses would all have an impact.  There would be fare increases, frequency reductions and service cuts in the next 12 months but the industry wanted to speak to and work in collaboration with local authority colleagues to minimise the impact of these.  It was a time for talking and thinking together.  John was asked to present again at the 19th March meeting.  In the meantime RSN Officers and John would explore the options for an RSP Transport Group (see 11 above) and report back.

 

14.    Defra Priorities
This important scene setting report from RCPU in Defra had unfortunately been further delayed and was now expected in the spring.

 

15.    CRC Consultation (See Attachment 7)
A draft consultation response had been circulated.  It was approved by the Executive.  It would be submitted with any amendments felt necessary after the Rural Coalition discussion to take place on the 25th January.

 

16.    The Rural Economy
This item would be on the main meeting agenda for the 19th March 2012.

 

17.    Open Access to rsnonline (See Attachment 8)
This issue was discussed in detail.  It was decided that:

 

a.    the site would normally be opened up apart from the forum areas to which the current arrangements would continue to apply;

b.    all users should simply be asked to provide their email address allowing some monitoring where appropriate;

c.    individual authorities should be written to informing them of the intended action but giving them the option, if exercised in 28 days after sending the letter, of continuing security for their areas.

 

18.    Any Other Business
a.    Jenny Stuart detailed a conference held on current situations arising on Child Poverty Issues and Foodbanks and advice given as structures changed.  She would provide papers to the Directors who would ensure they were publicised on rsnonline.

b.    LEPs
Stuart Horne mentioned a discussion he had had with the Chair of the Cornwall LEP about the possible formation of a Rural LEPs group.  Although this had been considered before the time may now be better to pursue this option.  Further discussion would take place on possible objectives and purpose for such a group and who might be involved.  The views of the Heart of the SW LEP would also be sought.  The matter would go to the main meeting on 19th March 2012.

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