Statement by Councillor Sue Clarke, Chair of Buckfastleigh Town Council
On 12th December 2022 Buckfastleigh Town Council met with members of the Victoria Park Trust to discuss their perennial grant application for 2023 – 2027 to enable them to meet the rise in energy costs and keep the swimming pool open.
The trustees informed us of some capital grants they were hoping to receive to replace some equipment which will improve their energy efficiency. They also gave details of new fundraising initiatives and a revised estimate of expenditure on energy should the government re-introduce a business energy cap.
The original grant application to the Town Council was for £65,000 per year (including the £21,000 given in previous years) and having re-visited their figures this was reduced to £50,000, but with the suggestion that £6,000 of this could be met from fundraising and donations.
In the months since the application was made, Judith Hart our Town Clerk has reviewed our budget in detail bearing in mind the results of the Parish Poll and the popularity of this much-loved community asset, but also the financial hardship which is affecting so many of our residents. To avoid increasing the council tax and placing an additional burden during such difficult times it was suggested that the difference could be met for 2023-24 by using Town Council underspend and although this is only a short-term solution it allows both the Victoria Park trustees and Town Council time to review expenditure and plan for the future.
The meeting evidenced the hard work that the Victoria Park trustees have been doing in assessing the way they run the pool, seeking expert advice from Swim England and enlisting support from regular users of the pool and other supporters.
At that meeting there was an appeal for an end to the personal attacks and unfounded accusations that have been a feature of the campaign to stop the pool from closing and the insolvency of the Victoria Park charity, who are, after all, a bunch of volunteers who have worked tirelessly to provide a very important and well used facility for our town.
Buckfastleigh Town Council is mindful of the impact of any cost increase on families at this challenging time, and as many of you know, we spend much of our time looking for ways to distribute our budget to organisations in the town through our grants process. We help fund youth provision and the Hello Summer/Autumn/Winter activities, we employ a Town Ranger, we maintain the town defibrillators, we deliver free Christmas meals to anyone who requests them and support community events such as the funding of the carousel at the Christmas Fair. We also had to consider that a Parish Poll result indicated that people were in favour of us using our powers and funding to support the pool.
All councils have a duty to ensure that any underspend is used in the community and our auditor would have many questions if we allowed funds to just accumulate and sit in our account. Much of our current underspend was the result of the Covid shutdowns and money set aside to deal with outcomes from the pandemic that were not required.
Similarly, the Chair of the Victoria Park Trust, Pam Barrett is also the person who works to deliver so many free activities and opportunities through Be Buckfastleigh. Their entire focus is to ensure equality of opportunity, inclusion and to tackle health, social, and economic inequalities in Buckfastleigh. They completely understand the position of hardship of many of our residents and how increasing energy, food and other costs are impacting everyone.
Last week at our Finance meeting we took a hard look at the budget, examined different options, and discussed the new proposal presented by our Town Clerk in detail. Cllr Huw Cox proposed that we accept the revised application and plan to eliminate the need to raise the precept this year. This was seconded by Cllr Ron Fox and passed with a unanimous vote.
At our Town Council meeting held on 21st December 2022 the new budget and precept was ratified by another unanimous vote where the precept will now only be increased by 0.97% which will not raise the council tax for an average Band B property or have any significant effect on higher bands.
We are extremely relieved that we have been able to work in partnership with Victoria Park to find a solution that keeps the pool open without having to raise those funds through increasing council tax cost to residents and grateful for the diligent work of our Clerk on our budget.
Our next Town Council meeting is on Wednesday 19th January 2023 at 7.00pm in the Town Hall and it would be lovely to see more townsfolk attending and interacting with their councillors to better understand the powers we have and how important it is to get involved on behalf of our town.
Can I please suggest that people support the efforts of Swim England: https://www.swimming.org/swimengland/save-our-pools-petition/ to address the crisis in our leisure sector due to the energy costs.
Chair and Mayor of Buckfastleigh Town Council
23 December 2022