Cabinet Sub-Committee (Council Charities) Minutes

Date:
Tuesday, 8th December, 2015
Time:
11.00am
Place:
Committee Room 1, Council Offices, Gernon Road, Letchworth Garden City
 
 

Attendance Details

Present:
Councillor Bernard Lovewell (Chairman), Councillor P.C.W. Burt and Councillor Julian Cunningham.
In attendance:
Strategic Director of Customer Services, Head of Finance, Performance & Asset Management, Service Manager - Grounds Maintenance, Parks & Countryside Development Manager, Temporary Property Solicitor and Committee & Member Services Manager.
Item Description/Decision
PART I
1 ELECTION OF CHAIRMAN
RESOLVED: That Councillor Bernard Lovewell be elected as Chairman of the Sub-Committee for the remainder of the 2015/16 Civic Year.
2 MINUTES
RESOLVED: That the Minutes of the meeting of the Sub-Committee held on 24 March 2015 be taken as read, approved and signed by the Chairman as a correct record.

In respect of the final paragraph of the preamble to Minute 17, Members stated that they had not had a response regarding the quorum of the Sub-Committee and the possibility of substitutes, and possible revised delegation arrangements allowing the Chairman to make decisions on minor matters. The Committee and Member Services Manager undertook to remind the Acting Corporate Legal Manager and Acting Senior Lawyer of these matters, and request that they inform Sub-Committee Members of progress.
3 NOTIFICATION OF OTHER BUSINESS
There was no notification of other business.
4 CHAIRMAN'S ANNOUNCEMENTS
The Chairman reminded Members that, in line with the Code of Conduct, any Declarations of Interest needed to be declared immediately prior to the item in question.
5 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION
There was no public participation.
6 ANNUAL ACCOUNTS AND RETURNS FOR COUNCIL ADMINISTERED CHARITIES
The Head of Finance, Performance and Asset Management presented a report in respect of the returns required for each of the Charities/Charitable Trusts administered by NHDC, namely Hitchin Town Hall, King George V Playing Fields, Smithson Recreation Ground and the Hertfordshire Yeomanry collection. The following appendices were submitted with the report:

Appendix 1a and 1b - Hitchin Town Hall Trust accounts and Annual Report;
Appendix 2a and 2b - King George V Playing Fields accounts and draft annual return;
Appendix 3 - Smithson Recreation Ground I and E Statement and draft annual return;
Appendix 4 - Hitchin Town Hall: Part 1 Report to Council on 16 July 2015;
Appendix 5 - Hitchin Town Hall: Report and Annexes to Cabinet on 28 July 2015; and
Appendix 6 - Hitchin Town Hall: Report to Council on 3 September 2015.

The Head of Finance, Performance and Asset Management advised that the Sub-Committee was empowered to approve the accounts and annual reports, prior to submission to the Charities Commission, if a return was required. If annual income was over £10,000, this took the form of an annual return, with accruals accounts required if annual income exceeded £25,000. If annual income was below £10,000 then no specific return was necessary, although the registered details must be kept up to date, e.g. income, expenditure, trustees, contact details.

The Head of Finance, Performance and Asset Management stated that the duty to file accounts and the annual report with the Commission applied to all charitable incorporated, i.e. non-company, organisations (irrespective of income) and to all other registered charities whose gross yearly income exceeded £25,000. The financial thresholds were subject to periodic review. The most recent changes had been to the income criterion for audit and the threshold for preparing consolidated (group) accounts under the Charities Act 2011. These changes took effect for financial years ending on or after 31 March 2015 and so applied to the accounts reported for the first time.

In respect of the King George V Playing Fields, the Head of Finance, Performance and Asset Management explained that the most significant income source to this Trust was the NHDC contribution of £46,600, which largely funded ongoing maintenance and administrative costs to NHDC arising from these playing fields. As the income figure exceeded £25,000, an independent review by the Shared Internal Audit Service (SIAS) had been requested.

In relation to the Smithson Recreation Ground, the Sub-Committee noted that the day to day management of the grounds was the responsibility of Leisure and Environmental Services. The Parks and Countryside Manager had compiled the annual returns, which showed that Smithson Recreation Ground only comprised an Income and Expenditure Statement because there was no asset value to make up a Balance Sheet. For 2014/15, the overall operating cost incurred was less than £4,000.

In respect of the Hertfordshire Yeomanry Collection, the Head of Finance, Performance and Asset Management advised that this was the only charity that did not involve land or buildings. It was a collection of military artefacts bequeathed to the Council by way of a Trust Deed dated 6 August 2003. This collection was managed by the Museum Curator. As the funds were less than £10,000 then all the Charities Commission required was a confirmation that nothing had changed with regard to the Collection in the past financial year.

The Committee supported the recommendations concerning the various annual returns and, in respect of the King George V Playing Fields Accounts, agreed that these be independently examined for 2014/15, and that provided no issues of concern are raised following completion of the examination, the Chairman of the Sub-Committee, in consultation with the Head of Finance, Performance and Asset Management, be authorised to approve them, so that the returns can be submitted prior to the January 2016 deadline.

In response to a question regarding the Hitchin Town Hall Gymnasium and Workmans Hall Trust, the Head of Finance, Performance and Asset Management conformed that once the current redevelopment works were completed and the building re-opened, a revaluation of the property would take place.

With regard to the current situation concerning Hitchin Town Hall, the Strategic Director of Customer Services reminded Members that the proposal made by Hitchin Town Hall Limited to vary the Development Agreement had not been accepted by the Council at its meeting held on 16 July 2015. Since then, a number of public statements had been made by Hitchin Town Hall Limited regarding the project, its funding had been withdrawn by the Social Investment Business (SIB), and it had been advised by the Charities Commission to terminate its operations by going into liquidation. The Council was therefore currently negotiating with Hitchin Town Hall Limited and the various parties affected in respect of the Development Agreement.

The Strategic Director of Customer Services explained that the Council had authorised officers to formally terminate the Development Agreement (once circumstances warranted that course of action), and to formally operate the Town Hall for a period of 3 years to establish an operational model, based entirely on the model submitted by Hitchin Town Hall Limited.

The Strategic Director of Customer Services stated that, following the 3 year period, the Council would re-consider how the Town Hall might be managed, and whether it wished to engage with another community organisation, to contract out the service, or to continue to operate the building itself. At that time there would be a greater degree of certainty about income generation and an ability to assess value for money.

The Strategic Director of Customer Services advised that the relationship between the Trust and the Development Agreement had been acknowledged. The Trust was a party to the Development Agreement, in the sense that there was an agreement between the Council and Trust to operate the site and land in the Trust’s ownership on its behalf by providing a Museum in that area, thereby meeting the Trust’s obligations.

The Strategic Director of Customer Services commented that the Development Agreement envisaged Hitchin Town Hall Limited running the Town Hall. However, it was currently thought that the Council would, when circumstances warranted it, assume the responsibilities of Hitchin Town Hall Limited for a 3 year period, with the Development Agreement being amended accordingly.

The Sub-Committee noted the progress report on Hitchin Town Hall.

RESOLVED:

(1) That the information required by the Charities Commission for the Hitchin Town Hall, King George V Playing Fields, Smithson Recreation Ground and Hertfordshire Yeomanry Collection charities, as set out in the report, be approved so that the returns can be submitted prior to the January 2016 deadline;

(2) That the requirement for those charities with a gross income of more than £25,000 in a financial year to have their accounts independently examined be noted, and that, as this applies to the King George V Playing Fields, officers be instructed that this be undertaken for those accounts for 2014/15, and that provided no issues of concern are raised following completion of the examination, the Chairman of the Sub-Committee, in consultation with the Head of Finance, Performance and Asset Management, be authorised to approve them, so that the returns can be submitted prior to the January 2016 deadline; and

(3) That the reports to Council and Cabinet regarding Hitchin Town Hall, part of which constitutes the Hitchin Town Hall Gymnasium and Workmans Hall Trust, be noted.

REASON FOR DECISION: To facilitate the submission of approved returns to the Charity Commission.
7 PROPOSED IMPROVEMENTS TO SMITHSON’S RECREATION GROUND AND KING GEORGE V PLAYING FIELDS, HITCHIN
The Sub-Committee considered a report of the Parks and Countryside Development Manager in respect of proposed improvements to Smithson’s Recreation Ground and King George V Playing Fields, Hitchin. The following appendix was submitted with the report:

Appendix A - Proposals for Smithson’s Recreation Ground.

The Parks and Countryside Manager advised that he had been appointed as Lead Officer for the Trust in respect of these matters, and the Service Manager - Grounds Maintenance had been appointed as the Lead Officer for the Council.

The Parks and Countryside Manager stated that the Council’s Green Space management Strategy, adopted in September 2013, had included Action Plans for improvements to Smithson’s Recreation Ground and King George V Playing Fields

In respect of Smithson Recreation Ground, the Parks and Countryside Manager explained that, for 2015/16, the Council’s Green Space Action Plans listed £30,000 of improvements to the Recreation Ground. Funding for the works had been secured by the Council in the Capital Programme, using £21,000 of Section 106 contributions to assist in the funding of the project. There were no direct financial implications for the Trust. Groundwork Hertfordshire was currently working with NHDC officers, involving local groups and apprentices that work on the site, to develop plans for a new pathway, improved planting and signage, as detailed in the design proposals set out in Appendix A to the report.

In terms of process, the Parks and Countryside Manager advised that initial site visits were undertaken with Groundwork Hertfordshire, drafts proposals were drawn up, and these were sent out for consultation with the local community. The consultation exercise had generated a considerable amount of interest in the proposals.

The Sub-Committee noted that the consultation period was about to expire. The next stage would involve a meeting with Groundwork Hertfordshire to finalise the design based on the consultation results. At present, nothing was set in stone and there was a broad scope for the site in terms of improvements to the planting and access through the Recreation Ground. The finalised proposals would be submitted to the Parks and Countryside Manager, as Lead Officer for the Trust, and only if he was content with them would the project proceed.

In response to a question from the Chairman, the Parks and Countryside Manager confirmed that the Childrens’ Play Area in the Recreation Ground was outside the scope of the project.

The Strategic Director of Customer Services explained that the Childrens’ Play Area was primary focus of activity in the Recreation Ground. Some of the feedback received through the consultation had indicated that a footpath going diagonally through the site may not be well-received, as the open space part of the site was used as an informal games/kickabout area.

The Strategic Director of Customer Services commented that another perceived problem raised by the consultation was that the scheme would encourage pedestrians to walk through the Recreation ground, thereby increasing the risk to young children. However, research evidence had suggested that public parks that had a regular throughput of pedestrians were fundamentally safer. The Strategic Director of Customer Services appreciated parents’ concerns, but was of the view that they were not particularly well-founded. Nevertheless, it was clear that the current design of the scheme, which showed a footpath running diagonally across the open space part of the site, could limit the usefulness of that space as an informal games/kickabout area. This appeared to be the major area of feedback to be taken into account by Groundwork Hertfordshire when the consultation period expired.

A Sub-Committee Member referred to the list of proposals for the scheme set out in Appendix A, particularly “improved access and circulation around the site for those using the area as a pedestrian cut through”. He asked that the specific wording of the Trust’s covenant be clarified, as it could be implied that the Sub-Committee was supporting a change to its obligations and objectives by permitting a footpath through the site. The Temporary Property Solicitor undertook to provide Sub-Committee Members with the specific wording of the Trust’s covenant.

The Sub-Committee concluded that it was not in a position, in view of the legal uncertainties, to come to a decision upon the matter. It was therefore agreed that consideration of the proposed improvements to Smithson’s Recreation Ground be deferred, pending a site visit and a further report being brought back to the Sub-Committee once the consultation period had expired and a design for the improvements had been put forward.

In respect of King George V Playing Fields, the Parks and Countryside Manager stated that, for 2016/17, the Council’s Green Space Action Plans listed £60,000 of improvements to the Playing Fields for repairs to the car park, signage, improvements to the main entrance and restoration of electricity to the garages. This had been put forward in the Capital Programme for 2016/17 and would be considered by Cabinet and Council as part of the Budget process.

The Sub-Committee agreed that, subject to their inclusion in the 2016/17 Capital Programme, the proposed improvements to King George V Playing Fields be undertaken by the Council.

RESOLVED:

(1) That consideration of the proposed improvements to Smithson’s Recreation Ground, as set out in Appendix A to the report, be deferred, pending a site visit and a further report being brought back to the Sub-Committee once the consultation period has expired and a design for the improvements has been put forward; and

(2) That it be agreed that the proposed improvements to King George V Playing Fields, as set out at Paragraph 7.2.1 in the report, be undertaken by the Council (subject to inclusion in the 2016/17 Capital Programme).

REASON FOR DECISION: To allow the Council to provide improved facilities in accordance with the Council’s adopted Green Space Management Strategy.
8 EXCLUSION OF PRESS AND PUBLIC
RESOLVED: That under Section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972, the public and press be excluded from the meeting for the following item of business on the grounds that it involves the likely disclosure of exempt information as defined in Paragraph 3 of Part 1 of Schedule 12A of the said Act (as amended).
PART II
9 HITCHIN TOWN HALL - CONSIDERATION OF PART II REPORT TO COUNCIL: 16 JULY 2015
  • Report
  • |
    Appendix 1 - Part II Report to Council on 16 July 2015
  • |
    Appendix 2 - Part II Addendum Report to Council on 16 July 2015
  • |
    Appendix 1 to Appendix 2
  • |
    Appendix 2 to Appendix 2
The Sub-Committee considered a report of the Head of Revenues, Benefits and IT in respect of the Part II report regarding Hitchin Town Hall submitted to Council on 16 July 2015. The following appendices were submitted with the report:

Appendix 1 - Part II Report to Council on 16 July 2015; and
Appendix 2 - Part II Addendum Report and appendices to Council on 16 July 2015.

The Strategic Director of Customer Services answered a number of questions raised by Members of the Sub-Committee.

The Temporary Property Solicitor undertook to respond to Members in respect of issues relating to potential implications for the Trust as a consequence of the continued delay to the building re-opening as a District Museum and Community Facility.

RESOLVED: That the report be noted.

REASON FOR DECISION: To ensure that Members of the Sub-Committee are kept advised of matters relating to the Hitchin Town Hall development which may have implications for the Trust.
Published on Wednesday, 23rd December, 2015
12.12pm