MINUTES OF THE PARISH COUNCIL ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING -  Tuesday 16th May 2017    


At the Annual General Meeting held in Acklington Village Hall at 7.30pm on Tuesday 16th May 2017


Present: Cllrs J Newton (Chair) D Barras, P Besford, E Critchlow, N Gair, S Ingleby, G Orr, A Sharpe and S Thorpe.
The Parish Clerk in attendance – Miss E Brown
County Councillor J Watson

1. Election of Chairman and Vice-Chairman: Cllr Barras proposed Cllr Newton for Chair, this was seconded by Cllr Sharpe and agreed.
Cllr Sharpe proposed Cllr Critchlow for Vice Chair, this was seconded by Cllr Monkhouse and agreed.

2. Acceptance of Office by Chairman and Vice-Chairman: The papers were signed and witnessed by the Proper Officer.

3. Apologies: None.

4. Declarations of interest in items on the Agenda: None.

5. To approve and confirm the minutes of the meeting held on 7 March 2017

6. Standing item – Public Questions

Neil Rogers – Executive Head, JCSC Federation( which includes Acklington C of E First School.)

The Federation was initiated in 2015 before his appointment, Acklington First School opted to join the federation at this time as is was not managing to sustain itself alone.
School funding - every school gets an amount per school and an amount per pupil, therefore the more pupils the more funding the school attracts to pay salaries, rates, bills etc. By ioining the Federation it was believed that the school would attract more pupils to make the school more self-sustainable.

Mr Rogers said there was a maintenance backlog for the school and bringing it up to standard would cost £690,000. He said he had met with parents to discuss ideas of saving/raising money, but ultimately the issue was low pupil numbers and the fabric of the building, which requires significant improvement.
Without increased pupil numbers the school could never be sustainable.

The JCSC Governors decided at a meeting in January of this year that a consultation was required.
Indicative budget figures were provided in November and following discussions with multiple parties it was agreed that consultation was the way to go. Despite initiatives such as free breakfast clubs and after school clubs as incentives to increase pupil numbers the Governing body voted and agreed to the consultation with one abstention due to a conflict of interests. He said JCSC was engaging actively with key stakeholders, parents and community on the consultation. A meeting was to be held on 22nd June to work with the people who are trying to make the school as viable as it can be, to suggest alternative solutions.

The consultation report would take into account all views submitted and would go the Governors in late June where they would make a decision on how to proceed; this would be followed by a 4 week statutory period where written representations can be made and then it would go to County Council cabinet where again written representations can be submitted.

A parent asked what the break even figure would be to keep the school open; Mr Rogers responded that at least 10 more children were required. A parent asked whether a stripped down service, i.e. removing gardeners etc and having a system of volunteers could help. Amy Crawley, JCSC Business Manager, informed that the catering and gardening was not coming out of the Acklington budget at present but all these suggestions should be included in the consultation.

Parents were keen to find any viable alternatives to keep the school open and spoke of their lack of knowledge of the situation in the past 2 years when they could have had the option to provide some support.
It was queried whether the maintenance costs were so imminent that they were required to be completed urgently or could they be staggered over time. There were also a number of housing developments pending for the village which could see pupil numbers increase.

Cllr Watson queried why the Federation took the school on 2 years ago with fewer children than it has now and why wasn’t the school proposed for closure then. A resident who was witness to these discussions as a Governor was told that the classrooms would be replaced, how children would be bussed from Amble to Acklington as part of the benefits of joining the Federation.

It was noted that federating with JCSC was not the only choice of the table at the time of the previous consultation. While there was no doubt that JCSC has provided support to the school it does not appear that all promises have been kept. In 21 months since federation additional children not been found to fill places as the numbers have remained the same. Mr Rogers queried why some residents of Acklington choose not to send their children to the school.

The Church of England was approached for funding which was not forthcoming. The wording of the consultation document was a concern to parents as it implied that the school was a drain on the Federation.
Parents pointed out there was a misleading claim in the consultation document that the educational quality was decreasing when the Ofsted rating is good and the curriculum tool that was purchased for the school is deemed a success by cornerstones and the advisor who set up the scheme.
It was conceded that the social benefits of the school were very positive however this was not a sustainable model to have classes of 5 pupils.

Evidential reports showing school was failing the children were requested by parents as they were not convinced of this.

It was noted there was a parent governor at the meeting which agreed on the need for consultation on close but they had to abstain.

Mr Rogers said the Federation was advised that due to ‘purdah’ the consultation could not begin until after the council elections, it was felt among parents this was bad advice and they should have been informed in January following the meeting of the Governors.

It was suggested an option could be to de-federate and see how the school progressed.

A retraction of the statement of ‘a drain on the federation’ was requested as it was felt that this was off putting to any parent considering enrolling their children into the school.

Parents asked to see detailed information of the finances, Amy Crawley would endeavour to share what was not classed as confidential ASAP.

Parents said they felt isolated, they would try to get 10 children needed to fill spaces but queried whether they were needed by this September, or next September. Parents would also like permission to invite media to the school to try to encourage enrolments. The possibility of visitors coming into the school would be discussed with Mr Rogers following the meeting.

Parent requested the opportunity to sit around the table with the Business Manager to discuss figures.

Primary Lead of Governing Body Carole Hutchinson stated that the Governors were presented with clear information when the decision to consult was made and a working party meeting had been held, She stressed that closure is not a done deal and all scenarios would be considered. It not just about 10 children but the school needs to grow. It was pointed out that responsibility of the Governing Body is not just to the children of Acklington but the children across the federation.

Cllr Barras asked if the school had joined the wrong Federation, and should it federated with Warkworth? In response it was said that all options should be suggested in consultation responses but Warkworth was considered as an option in a previous consultation but the school was sold on all the opportunities that JCSC could provide.

The timing of the consultation was a concern as any closure would happen mid-way through a school year and this was not an incentive for parents considering enrolling children in the school.

The Parish Council Chair said he hoped that the meeting had been useful but noted an obvious breakdown in communication between parents and governors. The Council would consider this later on the agenda and any queries could be forwarded to JCSC.

Mr Rogers and Amy Crawley were thanked for their attendance and they along with the majority of the public left the meeting.

There were no public questions pertaining to Council business.

7. Matters arising there from

a. Superfast broadband – iNorthumberland confirmed that Acklington was connected to superfast broadband in July 2016 although residents were required to contact an internet service provider in order to access the service. They were aware of an issue one resident was experiencing with upgrading which was being investigated. Cllr Gair said that Mr Mezza had told her that problem was now resolved.
Guyzance was expected to be connected by 2018, it had been highlighted in phase 3 of the rollout which should be complete by September 2018. They advise any residents interested should raise their interest with them. The form to register interest can be found here: http://www.inorthumberland.org.uk/register-your-interest/
Cllr Thorpe informed of a neighbour who was experiencing similar problems with connecting as Mr Mezza had.

b. S106 Agreements – update from Cllr Newton – No update, Cllr Critchlow had already made representations to a local County Councillor asking to have the S106 agreement overturned to the benefit of the local community. Cllr Watson informed that the S106 had already been agreed but they may be a chance with the New Homes Bonus

c. Trees at roadside near the junction to Guyzance Memorial – The Clerk informed that the Tree Officer had not left the authority, as previously thought. Members agreed to continue to pursue this issue which has been ongoing for over 18 months. It was suggested to write to the new Leader of the Council, Peter Jackson, providing a timeline of communications.

d. Capacity of Acklington webpage - Cllr Sharpe informed the Parish Council there was no ceiling on what can be put on the website. It was agreed to pursue setting up a website with NALC and then link it to the website. New photos of Councillors were required along with updated information on Councillors.

e. Public Footpath diversion – Public Footpath No. 5 High Park proposed diversion in the interests of the public due to erosion of land. Comments were required. Members having seen the landslip supported the diversion.

8. Standing item – Report by County Councillor

Cllr Watson informed it was too early to give an update on the change of administration following the council elections but said it has already been decided that County Hall was remaining in Morpeth, although he believed the proposed Ashington site would continue to be developed. Anything contracted would still go ahead but anything else had been out on hold. Cllr Barras asked about the political composition of the authority. Cllr Watson informed that it was one short of overall control but the Conservatives have the majority.
Cllr Watson informed of imminent charges to the Area Committee structure and discussions about the future of ARCH, the council’s development subsidiary.

9. Finance:

a) Financial Summary The balance on account at 1st April 2017 is Treasurers Account; £657.43, Business Account; £5001.34.

b) Payments The following list was put before members and agreed for payment. 
 
Date Cheque No Creditor Reason     Amount
16.05.17 000451 Clerk - E. Brown Wages/expenses £35.00
16.05.17 000452 HMRC PAYE £27.60
16.05.17 000453 NALC Subscription £119.80

c) Receipts

Date Debtor Reason Amount
09.04.17 Lloyds Interest £0.29
11.04.17 NCC Precept £0.21

d) Annual Return – The exercise of public rights commences on 5th June 2017 for a period of 30 days to include the first 10 working days of July and will end on 14 July 2017. The submission deadline for the return of the annual return and supporting documentation is 10th July 2017.

10. Planning:

a. To report on any planning decisions: None.

b. Planning matters pending: None.

c.To consider any planning matters:

17/01108/FUL Change of use and conversion of barn to one dwelling and provision of solar array – Land North of Brainshaugh Cottage, Acklington – Members had no objections to this application.

11. Requested Agenda Items

11.1: Consideration of fencing for play area – This item had been deferred to the new Council. Cllr Besford suggested approaching Sodexo to see if this is something that could be done in their workshops. Cllr Barras informed of the need for the fencing to meet RoSPA requirements. It was suggested that HMP Northumberland could be made aware of the RoSPA specification when this was queried. The Clerk would make enquiries.

11.2: Request to delegate any urgent repairs identified in the Playground inspection to the Clerk in consultation with the Chair and Vice Chair – inspection due June 2017 – The Clerk would query when the inspection was due to take place in June. Cllrs raised concerns about the planting which enquired cutting back and the tyre on the zip wire.

11.3: Procedure for Co-option of Councillor – The Clerk had prepared the notice of vacancy for display in the noticeboards and a decision on co-opting would be made at the July meeting of the Council.

12. Correspondence Received

12.1: Consultation documents - Acklington C of E First School – Cllr Gair declared an interest having a child attending the school.

Following discussion, the following position was agreed as the Parish Council’s response:

We strongly object to the proposed closure and believe the consultation deadline should be significantly extended or postponed to allow more time for options to be developed and explored which would secure the future of the school.

We understand there were issues with the timing of the consultation due to the ‘purdah’ period relating to the Local Council elections, although we remain to be convinced this was a valid reason for holding back the start of the consultation.

Under the current timetable the school would close part way through a school year. This would deter parents from enrolling new children in the school in September.

Within the community there is a strong feeling on past, present and future uses of the school and a lack of understanding of other options available and lack of time to do anything constructive.

The Governors must recognise the importance of the school to the local community and the importance of children being taught within their community, rather than being dispersed to other schools around the area.

Exploration of alternative models such as the 1 Teacher , 1 Teaching Assistant should be included in any reports considering the future of the school.

The working party set up by the Governing body does not appear to have involved the local community.

Postponement of the consultation deadline is essential while other options are pursued and the bigger picture is made clearer regarding future housing developments in the local area which could lead to additional children for the school.

Can the New Homes Bonus be used to boost funding for the school to give it more time to increase pupil numbers?
 
The consultation document is written in a way that implies closure is a done deal and the school will not be viable. This is very disappointing for what is claimed to be an open consultation aimed at engaging all stakeholders prior to a decision being taken in fair and objective manner.

There has clearly been a poor level of communication between the Governors and parents.

No effective marketing had been carried out locally to encourage enrolments in the school since it joined the Federation and whilst acknowledging the support the school has received there is a general feeling that the school was mis-sold on the opportunities available by joining the federation.

More detail is also required on what provision would be made for the children should the closure go ahead.
It was noted that parents have not been supplied with the financial information available to the Governors. This has put them at an unfair disadvantage.

In summary, the Parish Council believes the consultation timescales are too short and do not allow sufficient time for other options to be explored which would avert closure. We also feel that parents and the wider community have not been adequately involved in the process. We therefore believe the consultation process needs to be extended or stopped to allow sufficient time for all options to be properly considered with full engagement with parents and wider community.

12.2: Secretary of State for Justice – A response had been received thanking the Parish Council for the letter of 6 March to the Rt. Hon. Elizabeth Truss MP regarding the broadcast of the BBC Panorama ‘Behind Bars’ programme on 13 February:

 ‘I am responding as a member of HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), and would like to thank you for contacting us with your views on the operation of HMP Northumberland.

The allegations made in the BBC Panorama programme have been investigated by both Sodexo and HMPPS. Whilst the allegations are serious, there has been no evidence of any breach of contract by Sodexo. However, we are not complacent and, as a result, the HMPPS contract management team will be focussing contract compliance activities across a number of the areas that have been highlighted over the next 12 months.

I would like to assure you that private providers continue to play an important role in the prison estate and I can assure you that performance is closely monitored and we will not hesitate to take action where standards fall short. Privately managed prison contracts set out a strict performance framework, consisting of prescriptive performance targets. Failure to meet performance targets results in performance points and, potentially, financial remedies being applied against the provider. It is important to recognise, however, that privately managed prison providers achieve the majority of their contractual targets.

Additionally, privately-managed prisons are subject to the same external inspection procedures as those in the public sector. Prisons are inspected at least once every five years by HM Inspectorate of Prisons, and usually more frequently. In common with public-sector prisons, privately-managed prisons face regular scrutiny by their local Independent Monitoring Board, as well as by NOMS Internal Audit and Assurance to ensure that the prison is meeting its responsibility to deliver a safe and secure prison.

In the White Paper published last November, the Secretary of State clearly set out that levels of violence and self-harm in our prisons are too high, which is why we are investing an extra £100m annually to support reform in the prison estate. As we implement the changes set out in the White Paper, we will ensure that these will work for private prisons wherever possible. We will also continue to engage with providers of private prisons on how the new approaches to working with prisoners could be implemented alongside other actions they might already be taking to improve safety.

The overall aim of the commitments set out in the White Paper outlines far reaching reforms for a generation in our prisons, both publicly and privately managed. Reforms that will transform how our prisons are run and give prisoners the skills they need to become law-abiding citizens when they are released.

In relation to your very kind offer of a meeting, I would advise you to contact the Director of HMP Northumberland, Tony Simpson, in the first instance, to address your concerns further. Mr Simpson can be contacted on Tony.Simpson@sodexojusticeservices.com.

Once again I would like to thank you for taking the time to contact us about these matters.

Yours sincerely,

Wayne Connerty
HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS)’

It was noted that Tony Simpson had left as Governor of the Prison.

12.3: Northumberland Local Plan Core Strategy – This had been submitted to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

12.4: The Pensions Regulator – The Pension Provider was agreed to be NEST although the Clerk was not entitled to auto enrolment.

12.5: Correspondence from Highways England - An update on the announcement of the Preferred Route for the A1 in Northumberland road improvement programme.
Last year a Public Consultation was held on the options for improving the A1 in Northumberland. A high number of responses to the consultation were received, which closed on 23 December 2016. Currently all the feedback received is being reviewed and the options assessment work completed o determine the preferred route. Highways England is still planning to announce the preferred route later this year and will contact Parish Councils to provide more details in due course.
Reassurance was given that they are continuing to progress the scheme in line with their Delivery Plan commitments to start construction of the improvements North of Ellingham in 2018, followed by the A1 dualling upgrade in 2020, subject to completion of the normal statutory planning procedures and value for money assessments.
They are currently making contact with all potentially affected residents and stakeholders to keep them up to date. It is important that all feedback received is considered and feeds into the assessment and decision on the preferred route.

12.6: Northumberland Day -This was noted for information and passed to ACT.

12.7: Village of the year – This was noted for information and passed to ACT.

12.8: NCC - Proposed 20mph Speed Limit - Acklington Drive and Churchill Way, Acklington -Members welcomed the proposal to introduce a 20mph speed limit.

13. Information Items:

13.1: NALC Enews 2 May 2017
13.2: NALC Enews 9 May 2017
13.3: Good Councillors Guide publications
13.4: Temporary Traffic Regulation Order as follows: 112013 TTRO C102 Acklngton Jcn to Guyzance Lee Jcn Unavoidable changes to TTRO 112023
The bridge will be closed all day for the entirety of the week commencing 24/04/2017. The remainder of the closure will stay the same.
13.5: CAN – Getabout project

14. Items for next agenda

15. Date and time of next meeting:

Next meeting: TUESDAY 4 JULY 2017 at 7.30 pm in Acklington Village Hall

The meeting closed at 10.10pm.