Stapleford Town Council reply to Anna Soubry MP

StaplefordCarnegie Civic & Community Centre, Warren Avenue, Stapleford, Nottingham

Rt Hon Anna Soubry M.P.  , House of Commons, Westminster, London SW1A 0AA

17th May 2016

Dear Anna,

I write in reply to comments made in your recent Newsletter (which I picked up on Bramcote Today) re Stapleford Town Council particularly with regard to the Town Council’s painful decision to cease to pay for the Town’s Hanging Basket Scheme and its home, the Carnegie Centre.

  1. Hanging Baskets

For over 20 years Stapleford Town Council has been responsible for the provision of Hanging Baskets in the Town. Local businesses, individuals’ churches etc have all been given the opportunity to be part of this project for the cost of sponsoring a basket at £25. The Town Council bore the cost of the erection, dismantling, watering/maintenance, the admin involved, liability insurance and inspection costs over this time period together with the cost of any baskets that were not sponsored.

Each year this element of expenditure, together with the rest of the Town Council’s commitments is fully discussed by the Town Council as part of its budgeting procedure. On a number of occasions over the years serious discussion has been taken as to whether or not to continue with this project given the cost of the maintenance etc and whether or not it is good value for money. During the discussions of this project, at different budget meetings, the number of baskets has been reduced and their size cut to the minimum available, as has the possibility of replacing the living baskets with artificial ones.

At the Budget Meeting, held in January 2016, the Town Council reluctantly voted to end this project due to the Town Council’s desire to keep the necessary rise in the precept to as low a level as possible. (Copies of the relevant section of my report and Minute reference are attached for your information.)

At no time has the Town Centre Team (TCT) made an application, formal or otherwise, to the Town Council for funding towards this project. I understand that the Leader of the Town Council, Cllr David Pearson, met in January, with Matt Batterham (Broxtowe Borough Council’s, Town Centre Manager) and Amy Davis, the then Chair of the TCT, (Ms Davis informed me on 30th April 2016, that she was no longer Chair of this organisation). Following this Meeting in January 2016 I did provide Mr Batterham with details of the Hanging Basket Scheme but heard nothing more re any possible project. I should point out that the Town Council did state at its Budget Meeting that it would be pleased to work with the TCT and consider an application for funding should that body take on provision of Hanging Baskets in the Town.

Over the years Councillors of all political persuasions have canvassed businesses asking them to sponsor a Hanging Basket. The interest from businesses was very disappointing and in fact in the financial year 2015/16 only six local businesses sponsored a basket. The TCT sponsored two baskets situated on the Walter Parker VC Square and these were paid for from monies allocated by Broxtowe Borough Council. Please note that over and above these two baskets Broxtowe Borough Council also sponsored six separate baskets situated throughout the Town.

I am sure the question of Hanging Baskets will be raised as part of the budgetary process for the next financial year (2016/17) and it will be for the Town Council to decide whether or not it wishes to look again at this project.

  1. Carnegie Centre

Stapleford Town Council purchased the Carnegie Free Library building from Nottinghamshire County Council in 1986 following the County Council’s move to new library premises in Church Street Stapleford and the building lying derelict for some time.   Stapleford Town Council had just been reformed and needed to maintain a permanent base. Re your comments on the Town Council and its utilisation of this building:

  1. Limited Access:
  1. The Town Clerk’s Office is open most days to the public from 11.30a.m.-1.30p.m. (at other times by appointment).
  2. The Town Clerk and her staff will be in the premises working at other times, so although not open to the public, the building is not empty and the Town Clerk will often have meetings with Cllrs etc out with the two hour time slot.
  • The building is used as a polling station whenever there is an election affecting this Ward area.
  1. Throughout the year two art groups, Weightwatchers and a social group meet on a weekly basis while another social group meets on a monthly basis.
  2. The Town Council holds all its Council and Committee Meetings in the building, together with a number of social events and ad hoc meetings throughout the year.
  3. A number of one off events are held throughout the year by outside groups e.g. AGM’s, Art Workshops.
  • The Town Council makes space available to local charities on an ad hoc basis as required (free of charge). Broxtowe Women’s Group, Framework and the Royal British Legion, to name but a few, have benefitted from this service.
  • Cllrs hold meetings in the building when appropriate.
  1. What limits the access is limited staff time – all staff are employed on a part-time basis. Moving the premises would not change the hours the staff are employed.
    1. Relocating from the Carnegie Centre:
      1. This would be a decision for the Town Council to make once it had considered all options, costs etc.
      2. It is not usually advisable to sell property and move to rented accommodation other than as a short term measure. If one accepts that the Town Council will continue it needs to preserve a base within the Town for the long term.
  • You state that the Carnegie Centre is worth a lot of money, I would question that assertion. The insurance rebuild value of the property is high but the actual value of the site is unlikely to be as high as that of the recently sold former police station site.
  1. It is unlikely that anyone looking at this site would wish to maintain the current building on it and would realistically look to demolish and apply for planning permission to erect a residential development. Thus they would be unlikely to pay a premium price in this area of Nottinghamshire.
  2. Most of the Town Council’s costs are fixed. No matter where it was situated it would have to pay for: utilities, office equipment charges, building maintenance, insurance, security, fire services, rates, publicity, the costs of running events, staffing costs etc.
  3. The Town Council also needs appropriate space to hold Town Council Meetings. While there are a number of community rooms and churches in Stapleford, whether they would be suitable for a Town Council Meeting is open to question and whether or not they would be available for rent when the Town Council required them could be a difficulty. Further at the moment the Town Council can hold Meetings when and if it wants, this would not be the case if rooms were being rented. Further, it would necessitate documentation etc. being transported to the rented venue, photocopier access? Tea and coffee making facilities? Opportunity for meetings before and after Town Council?

Never, say never, the Town Council may wish to go down this road at some point in the future. However, it would need to look closely at the costs of moving: marketing costs of the building, legal costs re: selling the Carnegie Centre, buying/leasing another building, cost of changing address/ publicity related to this area of activity, refitting new premises, I could go on.

  1. Town Centre Team:

I do not want to go into this matter too deeply but suffice to say this is not an elected body and does not represent the whole Town. My understanding is that the individuals you met with discussed items that had been raised at a ‘Blue Skies Thinking’ event held earlier this year. I attended that event and no discussion was held as to how these ideas could be paid for or of why particular actions had not already been carried out, e.g. planting trees along Derby Road. Not only does Nottinghamshire County Council not have the finance to carry out such a project, there is no money for the continued maintenance of such a scheme. In fact where Nottinghamshire County Council is removing trees on the highway it is not replacing them to reduce maintenance costs.

A number of the items relate to training. Surely that is for businesses themselves to source and pay for? Is it realistic to ask/expect Council Taxpayers to pay for training for individuals running private businesses?

As an aside the Town Council is mindful to undertake a Neighbourhood Plan and as part of this process has recently held two Open Days and sent information/consultation forms to every household in the Town via the Inspire Magazine and a number of Cllrs volunteered to deliver the consultation form to all businesses in the Town: retail, commercial and industrial. The closing date for return of the consultation forms was 13th May 2016 and I will shortly be analysing these returns.

However, I am aware that only one business made the effort to visit either of the Open Days, and that only two businesses have returned the consultation forms. This does not demonstrate a great interest from businesses in this important opportunity for the Town.

I feel you have been given a deal of misinformation relating to the comments you made. This disappoints me and makes me wonder why any individual/s would wish to stop interested parties working together for the good of the community. As you state there are some excellent councillors and community leaders and I have had the privilege of working with many of them over the years.

To quote that old adage, ‘why tell the truth when controversy makes a better story’ it saddens me when this happens and it works against good quality individuals coming forward to become involved.

As the Proper Officer of the Town Council I steer a neutral course and carry out the instructions of the Town Council. I do not live in the Town, or within the area of Broxtowe Borough Council, so any decisions made do not affect me directly, as I am sure you are aware I do not make the policy but enact it as instructed. When the Town Council discusses any matter it will look at all sides of the argument and then vote on the decision. Once that vote has been taken the decision is binding and becomes Town Council Policy.

Apologises for the length of this letter but I feel these issues need to be addressed. I am sorry you have been misinformed and trust that the information I have supplied you with will assist you regarding Stapleford.

I will be copying this letter to all Town Councillors, Broxtowe Borough Councillors (for the Stapleford Area), (Nottinghamshire County Councillors for the Stapleford Area), Ms R Hyde, Chief Executive Broxtowe Borough Council, Mr P Horsfield, Monitoring Officer Broxtowe Borough Council, the Town Council Web Site and Bramcote Today.

Should you wish to discuss any matter I should welcome the opportunity to do so, as would the Leader of the Town Council, Cllr David Pearson.

Yours sincerely   M C Downie   Town Clerk   Stapleford Town Council     

Telephone: 0115 939 1818                                             email:staplefordtc@yahoo.co.uk Web Site: www.staplefordtowncouncil.org.uk

—————————————————————————————

Minute ref Stapleford Town Council Town Meeting 16.01.16                                                                                                                                 

  1. Hanging Baskets: Members had earlier in the evening been addressed by Ms A Davis,       the Chair of the TCT, regarding the views of the TCT that this initiative should be maintained and paid for by the Town Council. There followed considerable heated debate relating to this item with Councillor McGrath making a heartfelt plea to keep the Hanging Basket Scheme as one of the Town Councils projects.

Councillor Pearson stated that it was with regret that the Finance and General Purposes Committee had, had to reluctantly recommend that this scheme be discontinued but the cost of the maintenance of the scheme, made it untenable in the current financial climate.

With regard to the Chair of the TCT’s comments, which are attached to these minutes as Appendix 2, Councillor Pearson did not have the evidence to support many of the points made by Ms Davis, particularly with regard to the notions that the hanging baskets attracted people to the Town Centre or that their absence would reduce footfall or have negative or damaging effects on the Town.

Very few baskets were sponsored by businesses and that a greater number received their sponsorship from individuals or organisations.

It would have been useful if the TCT had approached the Town Council prior to this Meeting with a request to discuss the issue but despite this matter being in the public domain since November 2015 and the Report under discussion being dispatched three weeks prior to this Meeting, no one had contacted either the Leader of the Town Council or the Town Clerk in relation to this item.

Members were aware that the TCT did not wish to have a Town Councillor as a rep on its Committee so there was no formal exchange of ideas etc. possible.

Councillor Mrs Hull, together with a number of fellow Councillors, agreed that it was regrettable that the Town Council could not comfortably continue paying for the Hanging Baskets in the current financial climate. However, following a comment from Councillor Mrs Ensor, it was agreed that should the vote; be carried to cease to continue to fund this item, that the TCT be encouraged to take it over and that should that group agree to do so, that it could apply to the Town Council for appropriate assistance, if the TCT devised a suitable scheme.

Upon a recorded vote it was:

RESOLVED: NOT to maintain the Hanging Basket Scheme.         

RECORDED VOTE: for the motion Cllr: R Browne, P Ensor, Mrs S Ensor, D Grindell, Mrs J C Goold, Mrs A J Hull, J Longdon, D Pearson and Mrs S E Roome.

Against the motion Cllr: I Lawton, R MacRae, J McGrath, C Rice and Ms J Townend

Abstentions Cllr: R Darby


This is an extract from the Budget Report considered by the Town Council at its Meeting on 16th January 2016.

11 Civic Initiatives

The following paragraphs list a number of Civic Initiatives for consideration by the Town Council:

11:1 Hanging Baskets

This is a highly visible initiative and is a display of Civic Pride. The scheme has been supported by Stapleford Town Council since 1988 and at some point between 1989 and 1995 it was decided, by the then Administration, to invite local businesses to sponsor a basket by paying for its purchase and for a plaque to advertise their business and the fact that they supported the scheme. In 2000 the scheme was extended to include local residents who wished to commemorate a loved one. Further it was agreed to leave the plaques insitu all year. (Prior to 2000 the plaques were removed each September and remounted when the baskets were replaced in June). This was to save erection and dismantling costs and as an added incentive to businesses to support the scheme.

Please note the Town has the minimum number of baskets necessary to support the scheme and buys in the smallest sized baskets available. This is not a money making scheme. The idea is to engender Civic Pride and make people calling into the Town during the summer months feel good about their Town or if visiting, think this is a place people care about. A number of both major and minor local authorities throughout the County and beyond provide such floral displays during the summer months, (some also provide them in the winter). Please note major authorities only tend to provide such displays in the Town they are based in.

The cost of the individual baskets themselves are the cheapest element of the project, the maintenance costs of running this project are:

  • manpower to erect/dismantle baskets
  • maintenance costs (including element to cover replacement due to vandalism)
  • watering costs
  • testing of lighting columns and licence (carried out by NCC on a rolling programme, if same columns used as for Christmas Lights cost halved with Broxtowe Borough Council).
  • cost of sponsorship is: £25 per basket per year (£30 for new business sponsors)
  • cost of plaque (a one off cost): £25
  • cost of provision of the baskets (including maintenance): £4,475
  • cost of licence/column testing: £573 (2010)
  • Monies received from sponsors: £525

(It was agreed in 2013/14 that new commercial sponsors would pay £30 for a basket.)

This is a high cost project which is popular in the Town.

Investigations re: planted tubs to replace the hanging baskets have been previously carried out but there are limited sites to place such structures and they would by design, have to either be small clustered arrangements or large planted fixed structures, similar to the planter at the Roach. They are also equally as expensive to maintain and more likely to be vandalised. The Walter Parker VC Square is pleasantly planted by Broxtowe Borough Council so there is seasonal colour in that area.

Small planted clusters on the ground would be at risk of vandalism and the cost of purchasing large planters and maintaining them would be prohibitive. Fixed planters would necessitate round the year planting and maintenance which would have ongoing year on year revenue costs as well as capital costs. These works would be essential to prevent such structures from becoming eyesores.

This item engendered considerable debate by the Finance and General purposes Committee. A number of Councillors felt that the provision of hanging baskets was a luxury, while others felt it was an element of the Town Council’s service to the community. Following discussion the Meeting voted to recommend discontinuing the scheme.

The Town Council needs to decide whether or not it wishes to continue to promote this project.

The Finance and General Purposes recommends to the Town Council that:

    1. the scheme does not continue.
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11 Responses to Stapleford Town Council reply to Anna Soubry MP

  1. Dr Allan Dodds says:

    Three cheers for Ms Downie, our Town Clerk and largely unacknowledged champion of the people of Stapleford!

  2. Joan Wade says:

    Anna’s lashing out at Stapleford Town Council follows a similar approach made in respect of Kimberley Town Council last year. It is important that we do not make the mistake of allowing self appointed “residents associations” or “town teams” to undermine the work of those who have been elected by local people

    • Ian Blakeley says:

      So who’s wrong Joan, Stapleford Town Council or our MP? Haven’t both parties been elected?

      • Joan Wade says:

        Ian – I will refrain from commenting on Anna’s election at the present time for obvious reasons but on a more general point – yes – both a local MP and a council are elected. They are however elected to perform different roles. The role of the MP should be to be the voice of the constituency in Westminster. We know, for example, that Broxtowe received one of the worst financial settlements for local government in the country. I would be keen to hear what Anna is doing and saying about matters of this nature rather than her views on hanging baskets. Please do not misunderstand me. I write as someone who very much thinks that there should be hanging baskets in Stapleford. I do however see this as a matter for local people in Stapleford and their elected representatives to decide upon.

      • Ian Blakeley says:

        Joan, I fully agree with you regarding Anna Soubry’s views on Stapleford Town centre. However I do feel that the town council should have better things to spend our money on than hanging baskets.
        As for Anna trying to change the governments mind set and attitude towards Broxtowe finances, I think there’s a better chance of me voting Tory than that happening.

      • Joan Wade says:

        I was subjected to some very unpleasant abuse on social media a while back when I spoke in favour of hanging baskets in Beeston. This abuse came from various outlets including a number of politicians. The problem that these people who oppose hanging baskets fail to take into account is what the baskets earn the local economy in terms of prosperity for local businesses and local jobs. There a good deal of evidence that when it comes to inward investment that investors (who can range from those visiting our shops and restaurants to those investing hundreds of thousands in property) prefer nice well kept towns to down at heal dirty scummy looking places. All it requires for the local economy to recoup the cost of just one hanging basket is for say a small family to decide to shop once in the town or eat a meal in town. The article linked below reminds us what removing hanging baskets mean in terms of increased spending being incurred on dealing with anti-social behaviour, crime, graffiti and health issues.

        http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/11854317/Prune-bureaucracy-not-hanging-baskets.html

      • Ian Blakeley says:

        Many moons ago Joan, when I lived in Gloucester I was acquainted with a strong labour supporter, who was I think a counsellor. His favourite saying if the council had disagreed with a proposal he was supporting was:- “If they did it on a penny rate then it could easily be funded”. Unfortunately he failed to grasp the fact that “a penny rate here, a penny rate there” several times would have probably put up peoples rates (council tax for you youngsters) by £1.00 per week, quite a sum to find then. I’m going back about 40 years I add. So, whilst I found Alan Titmarsh’s article interesting and agreeable I have to back the council on this. However getting individual people to sponsor a basket is a good idea, BUT I’ve not seen anything about it before. Try me next year.

  3. Steve Carr says:

    I spy at least 2 Tory councillors voting to stop the hanging baskets, along with a LibDem. Will Anna be having a word with them?

  4. David Pearson says:

    I would just like to add a couple of things to the Town Clerk’s letter. The hanging baskets cost around £4, 000 per year and in considering whether to continue this scheme we had to consider the effect on the precept. With the closure of Broxtowe Cash Office we faced losing a considerable amount of revenue. If we had continued the scheme we were looking at an increase of at least 15% in our Council Tax precept, as it is we managed to keep this to 5%. I had previously e-mailed Ms. Soubry regarding her newsletter and invited her to meet with me. She has agreed to do this and we are looking at a convenient date.
    Cllr. Dave Pearson
    Leader
    Stapleford Town Council

  5. Ian Blakeley says:

    Just a question. Did anybody consider the legality of closing the Cash Payment Offices in Broxtowe. I thought that money is legal tender and has to be accepted in payment.

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