Subco Views on Funding by Sherington Parish Council

We (Subco) were asked to review and report upon the potential sources of funding required to convert the White Hart “Barn” into a fit for purpose shop able to meet the needs of the village. (“The Project”)

Our first phases of work were;

  • To validate the initial analysis of the Parish Council which identified that The Project met the overall aims of the village community. We have reported separately upon this point with Councillor Meldrum providing his analysis and a separate report from me which focused upon compliance with the Sherington Neighbourhood Plan. You now have both of those reports.
  • The Chair asked if I would ensure that the owner and manager of The White Hart were aware of the level of commitment required to meet the proposed 3-year contract with the financial commitments which would be entirely down to them once the shop was opened. That work has been completed and I have reported back to the Chair with a positive response from both of the individuals.
  • To complete an overview of the Compliance aspects of The Project. Our initial view was that there needed to be Transparency around the opportunity for any other interested party to “express an interest” in being considered for the contract. We placed a poster, inviting responses, in the usual places and after a 14-day application window, the process has closed. There was only 1 application and that was from Keith Shepherd and Giles Fern, representing the White Hart. Their submission has been forwarded to the Chair of the Parish Council. Subco believes that it is a submission which surpasses our base level requirements and goes a long way in meeting many of the “wishes” expressed in the Sherington Neighbourhood Plan for “extended” services and the creation of a village “hub”. We commend all parties to read the submission.
  • We have, concurrently, being considering the question as to funding and in particular the involvement of the Parish Council in this matter. We have reviewed previous Parish Council minutes relating to this aspect and we have also had the considerable support and expertise of Councillor Meldrum to assist us. Our findings are of a technical nature as much as placing firm numbers and that is because, at this stage, the actual building and fit-out costs are not fully known. The ability to firm-up on the costs will not be realized until the architect has completed his technical drawings and we can obtain some pricing estimates from the experts. However, we are operating to an estimated range and the recognized sources of funding are from;
  • Parish Council (See below)
  • Milton Keynes Council S106 (Inward Investment)
  • Private Donations from a Benefactor
  • Crowdfunding

Parish Council Funding

There have been questions raised with regard to the Parish Council even contemplating financial involvement and Subco take the same view as expressed by The Local Government Minister when he said.

“The village shop, pub or post office is often the beating heart of a community. So, when one is threatened with closure, often for a reason as simple as the shop owner or pub landlord retiring, I would expect the local parish council to pull out all the stops to keep it going.

Some have done this brilliantly, but many have watched local amenities close when the power to save them was within their grasp. This is not about propping up failing businesses; it is often about providing temporary financial assistance or putting new community-run facilities in place, so vital services that people rely on are maintained.

So, if an important local business is struggling, I would urge the parish council to sit down with their community and explore every option to keep it running for the benefit of local people.”

As stated earlier in this report, we have reviewed all aspects of the Parish Council involvement and actions to date. WE would wholeheartedly endorse the view that the Parish Council is fully reflecting the views of the residents in taking a direct involvement in  taking all possible actions to deliver a key element of the Sherington Neighbourhood Plan, which as we have previously highlighted is a document and a plan signed off by the Parish Council, the residents of Sherington and the Milton Keynes Council. We have therefore endorsed the approach to funding and then considered the actual sources of funding.

Subco have reviewed the following areas of potential Parish Council funding;

  1. S137 Restrictions. Subco support the view that S137 (4) (a) of The Local Government Act 1972 (the 1972 Act) allows for the Parish Council to allocate the “appropriate sum” (£8.32 per elector for 2020-21, and £8.41 per elector for 2021-22) to The Project.
  2. The Department for Communities and Local Government (2017) issued “The Good Councillor’s Guide To Finance and Transparency” document and contained therein is reference to have “earmarked reserves” which are to be allocated for specific purposes. It refers to reserves been used to “. renovate a building” and it does not refer to private or public ownership. Our view is that the Parish Council has always had specific monies, mainly received from the shop rental, which have been seen “allocated” as been available to maintain or upgrade the “shop” concept. These are monies derived from non-precept means and in our opinion all such monies can be allocated by the Parish Council to the current proposed shop contract and required building conversion.
  3. There is a possibility of other funding, but we see no obvious link for the Parish Council to follow.

In the case of a) and b) we recommend that the Parish Clerk is tasked with supplying and verifying the actual amounts and that the Parish Councillors then sign off the agreed allocation of these funds.

The manner in which the funds can be paid over is the subject of another paper which will follow once the Parish Council have decided on the allocation of the contract.

I trust that this document provides a clear update and that our recommendations are sufficient.

Kevin Durkan

Subco