Business Plan 2023-2027
This policy was adopted by the Council at its meeting on 29/08/23 under item 23/143d, for review annually.
West Bergholt is a rural parish close to Colchester and wholly within Colchester City Council’s administrative area. The Parish has 3,200 residents and its Council consists of 11 Councillors supported by a full time Clerk and part time Assistant, Hall Administrator, three Handymen and Web Master.
The Council is further supported by three City Councillors and one County Councillor.
The Council is in a fortunate position in that it is the sole Trustee of 5 registered charities involving land and buildings which are highly significant in terms of how services and facilities are managed and made available to the community. These charities relate to:
- West Bergholt Allotments (roughly 150 plots).
- Lorkin Daniell Playing Field for organised sports.
- Orpen Memorial Hall, which acts as the community’s principal village hall complex.
- Poor’s Land, which is another playing field used for organised sports by local football clubs and the 400 pupil strong primary school.
- Village Green, which is a remnant of ancient Heath and helps to preserve the historic “feel” of this part of North Essex.
The full context is explained in the West Bergholt’s Neighbourhood Plan.
West Bergholt Parish Council’s Business Plan seeks to build on the Parish Council’s vision and aims for the Parish and sets out its objectives and priorities for the next three years.
The aim of the Business Plan is to give West Bergholt residents a clear understanding of what the Parish Council does and what it is trying to achieve. It details what the Parish Council seeks to focus on over the next three years. The Business Plan is a live document that will be reviewed annually, used to drive the budget process, plan activities and enable the Parish Council to monitor its progress against its priorities.
Whilst the financial side of the Parish Council’s Business Plan is set out below, the component parts which demonstrate how the Council practices good governance when managing the business and finances of West Bergholt Parish remain consistent and are as follows:
- Resource planning
- Governance arrangements
- Forward planning
- Three-year look ahead on projects
- Responding to community engagement
- Village environment and sustainability
- Revenue and capital forecasts and estimates
In addition, the Parish Council also looks at:
- Risk Management
- Project Management
- Communication after project completion
Each is briefly explained below with links to where this information may be found.
1. Resource Planning
To run a parish council and 5 charities takes significant resource planning of both Councillors and staff. To ensure priorities and work are set appropriately, not only are full council meetings important, but timetabled meetings between staff and Councillors are essential.
At a ‘high’ level, Senior Management team meetings take place regularly involving the Chair of Parish Council (PC), Vice Chair, Responsible Financial Officer (RFO) and Clerk. It was through these meetings that a recommendation was made to the Parish Council to consider the employment of an Assistant to the Parish Clerk, following a review of the latter’s existing workload and proposed future duties as part of the appraisal process. The Assistant is now employed by the Council and both she and the Hall Administrator individually have regular meetings with the Parish Clerk, to look at their workloads and assess if any more training or equipment is required.
Similarly, the Chair of Environment has regular meetings with each of the 3 Handymen which also involves planning projects and associated workloads, amending the Handymen’s Schedule as required.
In the case of the Web Master, targets and priorities are managed at monthly Communications meetings with the Councillor in the role of Publicity Officer, Parish Clerk, and the Assistant. These meetings include discussing priorities and reviewing the hours he has allocated for West Bergholt each month, balancing the busy months with the quieter ones.
Appraisals are undertaken each summer, during the quieter summer recess, to check in with staff and their needs. These appraisals are managed as follows:
- Clerk meets with Chair & Vice Chair of PC
- Assistant meets with Clerk & Chair
- Hall Admin meets with Clerk & Chair of Orpen Hall Management Committee (OHMC)
- 3 Handymen meet, individually, with Vice Chair of PC
One of the main outcomes from the regular meetings and the annual appraisals is the ability to determine, when appropriate, the need for additional support, equipment or training and to budget in advance for any extra requirements.
2. Governance Arrangements
Members of the Parish Council are elected by the community and are governed by the Council’s Standing Orders, Financial Regulations and Code of Conduct, as well as a whole suite of Council Documents, all of which provide a structure for good governance.
Due to the importance of the Trusts to the village and the fact that Parish Councillors simultaneously perform the role of traditional Councillors and undertake the Trustee role, governance arrangements are in place to demonstrate probity, good decision making and transparency in the business planning of trust land and buildings and how this relates to the Parish Council itself. The Parish Councillors soon learn to ‘wear two hats’ so that decisions are made relevant to the role appropriate at the time.
The governance arrangements in play are shown below and summarised as:
- Parish Council arrangements for the full Council and its Committees and Sub-Committees.
- Trust arrangements, where Parish Councillors are also Trust representatives.
- Working Groups, where representatives of the community may join Parish Councillors.
Other committees (some temporary working Parties):
Each Committee or Working Party has its own set of Terms of Reference which can be found in the Delegation & Committees section of the website. These terms of reference cover the progression of initiatives and costs/funding so that appropriate decisions are taken by either the Parish Council or the Trust.
The Parish Council’s Standing Orders are clear on how the council considers and approves it’s financial controls and procurement, for example, detailing the tendering process for larger contracts (over £25,000) in line with the Public Contracts Regulations 2015. In addition, the Council’s Financial Regulations govern the conduct of financial management in even greater detail to ensure the safe and efficient safeguarding of public money and ensuring value for money at all times. An example of this is the Council’s expectation that three quotations will always be sought for goods, materials, works & specialist services where the value is between £3000-£24,999 and strive to obtain three estimates when between £3,000 to £500. The lowest quote may not always be chosen, due to other circumstances, but a clear decision-making process is always undertaken.
3. Forward Planning
Forward planning is undertaken each calendar year between October and February. As well as using the West Bergholt Neighbourhood Plan Implementation Plan and the Three Year Plan, as a basis for future plans, each Parish Council Committee, Working Group or Trust prepares its expenditure plans for the coming year and presents these via the Responsible Finance Officer and Clerk who in turn lay them before the full Council.
The Parish Council allocates funding to revenue or capital expenditure as appropriate, as well as ascertaining the precept for the next financial year, taking into account progress with the rolling programme of expenditure, grants it is in receipt of and its reserves/earmarked monies. Procedures for which can be found in the relevant Core & Financial Policies section of the website. The Council will also consider monies on investment and held in Council’s and Trust bank accounts as set out in the Finance part of the website.
4. Three-Year “look ahead” at capital projects
The Parish Council doesn’t refer to “capital projects” preferring simply to use the term “projects” but has a Three-year rolling project Plan, linked to a monthly summary sheet which is used to update Councillors at each PC meeting in terms of how projects and other initiatives are progressing and is part of the Council’s published minutes and agendas. This way both Councillors and the public can see at-a-glance what the three-year plan includes and how projects and initiatives are being implemented.
The three-year plan is itself produced from wider lists of projects and initiatives which the Council wishes to pursue and is drawn from its Neighbourhood Plan (NP) Action & List of Community Ambitions. In this respect it is instructive to understand that the West Bergholt Neighbourhood Plan was not simply development and housing focused but included a comprehensive consideration of all things “place-related”. The Neighbourhood Plan went through 5 public consultation and engagement iterations and by doing so the list of community wants and aspirations have been thoroughly understood and included. The categories in the WB Neighbourhood Plan, which can be found on the website, included the following topic areas:
- Village Society and Community Environment
- Sports and Recreation
- Community Safety
- Highways and Infrastructure
The current three-year plan can be found lower down in this document. In practical terms, the Council’s Annual Action Plan is produced from the three-year plan, as well as from items highlighted during budget discussions and picked from the community-created NP Implementation Action Plan .
The three-year plan is not simply aspirational, as it often triggers the need for grant funding applications to be made and Parish Council and community to form joint Working Parties to ensure input into the development of initiatives and projects. Recent projects include:
- Refurbishment of the Multi Use Games Area
- Expansion and refurbishment of the play area
- Replacement of the hall roof
- Installation of new toilet facilities
- Refurbishment and repurposing of the Social Club
5. Responding to Community Engagement
The Council is very proactive in its community engagement and undertook widespread consultations as part of its Neighbourhood Planning research. The Neighbourhood Plan lists all known parish aspirations, some in generic form, some in more specific terms. Each itemised action is contained in the NP Implementation Action Plan and is progressed via appropriate channels, some may be capital grant application initiatives whilst others require revenue work or simply allocation of Clerk or Councillor time to move forward.
On a day to day basis, the Council looks at the best value for its residents and will review all budgetary items if the costs appear to be rising and there is an opportunity to consult the public in regard to a different choice. For example, keeping a close eye on the 2022-23 accounts has highlighted increasing costs in both the Village Bulletin magazine production and MUGA/tennis court running costs:
- Village Bulletin – in regard to the production of the quarterly magazine, which is delivered to each household in the parish, recent price increases in the publishing industry have meant that the magazine can no longer pay for itself through its advertising revenue and so a Bulletin Survey both in hard copy & electronic form) was commissioned to find out how residents wanted to proceed. The choice laid before the community was whether they wished to continue with production of a hard copy delivered to every household in the parish and know that the precept would need to pay for that, or if they wanted it to purely be available in electronic form on the website at a reduced cost or as a compromise of both, with less hard copies printed, but left in popular places such as the Co-Op, hairdressers and pharmacy. This is a perfect example of how West Bergholt Parish Council engages with the residents for community decision making.
- MUGA/tennis courts – the increase in payments related to the MUGA was found to be entirely due to the energy crisis and the increased cost of running the floodlights. The MUGA Working Party made up of council members & MUGA users, has been re-established (following a break after the re-surfacing), to ascertain if bookings could be increased to allow it to pay for itself, without relying on additional precept monies.
6. Village Environment and Sustainability
An important role in the Council’s business plan is that of the village environment and its sustainability. In this regard, feedback is received by the Council via the Neighbourhood Plan project, the Annual Parish Meetings and general communications with residents via e-mail and the local village Facebook Hub.
Care of the environment , its sustainability and associated business planning falls largely to the Environment and Highways Committee which meets 10 times annually and all meetings are open to the public.
The Committee undertakes a substantial program of care and maintenance within the village and its environs. These day-to-day works are carried out by a team of village handymen under a scheme of priorities planned by the committee and and shared through a WhatsApp group. Financial considerations form an important part in the business planning aspects of these works. The Committee works in accordance with policies and procedures agreed within the village Business Plan and which are made available to the public via the village website under the heading Environmental Council Documents and include:
- Environmental Strategic Plan 2021-2026
- Heath Management Strategy
- Tree Removal and Replacement Policy
- Memorial Trees and Benches Policy
- Dog walking Code of Conduct
As part of planning for the sustainability of the environment, the objective of the Parish Council is to promote a balance between open spaces and wild-life sanctuaries and to promote a greener and more sustainable village environment. Residents are sign-posted to areas that have been developed to encourage wild-life hbitats and the development of green spaces.
West Bergholt was the first village in Essex to be accepted onto the Essex County Council Highways Devolution pilot scheme. This scheme allowed certain highways related small projects to be undertaken that were deemed important to improving the village environs but were unlikely to be deemed important for ECC Highways to resolve as a priority to be carried out by the village handymen. Typically the handymen would carry out kerb stone replacement and repairs, roadside weed treatments, street furniture repairs and cleaning, winter salt administration, replacement and spreading of salt, overhanging tree branch removal and flood prevention work to help keep the village roads passable during inclement weather.
Appropriate training was given to the handymen in order that they could undertake work in a safe and efficient manner. Whilst ECC Highways provided a small grant towards the cost of devolution, this grant was more than match funded by the Parish Council.
The scheme was brought to a close by ECC in 2022, however financial business planning by the Parish Council continues to ensure important village projects can be undertaken where appropriate, in a timely manner but without any financial support from ECC Highways.
7. Revenue and capital forecasts and estimates
As previously mentioned, the Council does not use the term ‘capital’ in its financing plans. The projects which replace, upgrade or provide new assets are, however, readily available and are found under the term “projects” in the published accounts and monthly summaries. Once projects are completed, they are added to or have their entries amended in the asset register. Projects and expenditure are comprehensively tracked and monitored starting from yearly forecasts for the new financial year.
Long-term capital item replacement, for example, such as the Handymen’s vehicle, ride-on lawn mower and the WB Village Sign have money set aside for their replacement or renovation each year.
The monies in Reserves, budget line-item estimates and future housing numbers are all considered in the long term financial plan overview below. All financial expenditure forecasts, including the annual budget, can be found in the Finance section of the website.
8. Risk management
The Council has and reviews it’s Risk Management Scheme on an annual basis and has arrangements in place for the management of risk. It has appropriate and adequate insurance cover but also always contacts the insurance company when undertaking large projects and factors in addtional cover when required for said projects. Risk assessments are created for Council approval when considereing new activies.
The Council adhers to all of the guidance set in it’s Financial Regulations and Standing Orders and has a thorough system of internal financial controls, with the Responsible Finance Officer inspecting the accounts created by the Clerk on a monthly basis. All banking is undertaken through a two-stage authorisation system to limit risk and the Council undergoes a rigid internal and external auditing each year.
During large projects the Council always adheres to the tendering system laid out in its Standing Orders, using only approved Contractors from governments Contracts Finder website. The Council also uses project management companies where necessary to run these larger projects to ensure they are run as efficiently as possible by those with the correct skills to complete them.
9. Project management
As well as using project management companies for large projects, a small core team of relevant Councillors, the Clerk and the RFO meet regularly with them and the contractors to ensure the budgets and timetables remain on track and to feed back to Council or Trust as a whole at regular meetings.
10. Communication after project completion
The Council always celebrates the success of project completion by sharing information with residents as much as possible, using news articles on website, social media and articles in the Village Bulletin magazine, for those who prefer to read a hard copy and enabling the Council to reach as many members of the parish as possible.
All projects and accomplishments are added to the annual Achievements display presented at Annual Parish Meeting in April and summarised in the Annual Report, available on the website and in hard copy.
All of this planning and good governance is put into practice on an annual basis when the Parish Council looks at its current financial situation and agrees its priorities for the next financial year: Please see the 2023-24 financial plan overleaf:
At the Parish Council meeting of the 25th January 2023, it was agreed by the full council to approve the earmarked reserves 2023-24, budget/precept 2023-24 and the new Three-Year Plan, all of which are detailed below:
Earmarked Reserves for 2023-24
In order to look at the budget requirements for the next year, it was necessary to see what money was already available in the Council’s reserves and unfinished projects from 2022-23. Several minor transfers of funds (virements) were required, which mainly involved renaming certain lines:
|RESERVES – PREVIOUSLY||RESERVES – PROPOSED||AMOUNT|
|Ringfenced Admin Assistant||To be renamed||Ringfenced Office Equipment||£ 4,000|
|Earmarked New Playground||To be renamed||Earmarked Inclusive Play Equipment||£ 255|
|Ringfenced Environmental Projects||To be renamed||Ringfenced Environment Committee Projects||£ 2,665|
This resulted in the Reserves Policy for 2023-24, specifically the table below, which clarifies the money available for outstanding projects:
|Earmarked MUGA 2013-22 + 22-23 (747.46 + 86.89)||834.35|
|Earmarked inclusive play equipment||377.00|
|Earmarked Community Hub/Parish Office project||18,583.00|
|Ringfenced 2021 Historical honour board||1,500.00|
|Ringfenced CBC Locality Budget grant (feasibility study)||400.00|
|Ringfenced Special Constable||2,000.00|
|Ringfenced office equipment||4,000.00|
|Ringfenced Orpen Memorial Hall projects||4,990.92|
|Ringfenced External WC/Solar Panels/SC Refurb project||1,566.40|
|Ringfenced Neigh Plan implementation projects||3,506.99|
|Ringfenced Environment Committee projects||1,865.00|
|Ringfenced village sign/beacon||623.63|
|Ringfenced for long term capital item replacement||5,000.00|
|General Reserves (3 months running, no projects)||28,966.75|
Due to the current climate of increased prices, it was agreed by the Council that it would not be possible to have no change in the precept amount this year, therefore, the new WBPC Three-Year Plan for projects & grants was agreed as below, although, as always, all projects will be match funded by grants and section 106 monies where possible:
Three Year Plan
Year 1: 2023-24
|Community Hub/Parish Office project||£15,000|
|Neighbourhood Plan implementation projects inc. acquisition & establishment of William Sims Sports Field||£4,000|
Year 2: 2024-25
|Neighbourhood Plan implementation projects||£8,000|
|Orpen Memorial Hall upgrade project||£4,000|
|Climate Change Initiative||£3,000|
Year 3: 2025-26
|Neighbourhood Plan implementation projects||£ 8,000|
|Orpen Memorial Hall upgrade project||£ 4,000|
|Climate Change Initiative||£ 3,000|
Budget & Precept 2023-24
This resulted in a general increase of 4.7% in the precept being added to the Council Tax to account for the increase in costs. Meaning the 2022-23 representative Band D Council Tax figure of £80.59 increased by £3.82 per annum (32p per month) to £84.41 for 2023-24.
Taking into account the updated tax base of 1372.70 the precept will rise from £108,757 to £115,867 in 2023-24. Please see the Long-Term Financial Plan Overview overleaf.