Minutes of the meeting of the Somerset Drainage Boards Consortium Management Committee on Tuesday 3 December 2013 at 1 Church Street Highbridge at 2.15pm

Chairman: P Maltby

  1. Attendance and Apologies – the Chairman apologised for the fact that the meeting time had to be changed from 10.30am to 2.15pm – he had attended a meeting of the Royal Bath & West Society funding group that morning which went very well and he would report later in the meeting.
  1. Items additional to the agenda – none
  1. Declarations of interest – none
  1. Minutes of the previous meeting 3 October 2013 – Having previously been circulated were signed as a true and correct record.
  1. Matters arising – Item 3 – Nick Stevens reported that the Agreement with the North Somerset Levels IDB (NSLIDB) had not yet been signed off as there were 3 small issued to be dealt with. Iain Sturdy is also carrying out work with the NSLIDB and his time sheets will be forwarded to Stephen Gee so that accounts are submitted to the NSLIDB for his costs.  Mervyn Winslade reported that Ailsa Colbourne from the NSLIDB had informed him that things were working out very well.

At a previous meeting a discussion had taken place on whether to write to the Prime Minister regarding the problems experienced in the Somerset area.  Officers and members felt that this should be carried out by the Royal Bath and West Society as it was the Society that had invited MPs.

Item 15 – Nick Stevens advised that the website is now being updated regularly by Danielle Johnson who is uploading minutes, accounts, reports and news.

  1. Draft minutes of the Full Board meeting 31 October 2013 for information only – The Chairman thanked Pam Bradford for attending the meeting and taking the minutes. He felt the meeting went very well.
  1. Chairman’s report – The Chairman reported that he had represented the SDBC at various meetings including the Task Force and the Royal Bath and West Society fund raising initiative.
  1. Finance report – Current financial position, income and expenditure to year end were included– Stephen Gee had circulated the income and expenditure report – appended. There are no significant concerns that the budget will not be achieved and it is likely that there will be a slight surplus.

The balance sheet shows that staff costs have reduced as a result of staff leaving.  The figures were one month out of step, the actual costs include up to October salary which is 7 months, but the budget is showing costs to November which is 8 months.

Attention was drawn to the figures for the pension scheme.  Currently the employer’s contribution is 14.6%; this will increase slightly to 14.9% which is a change of less than £2,000.  This is due to the age profile of the staff at the Boards. The Chairman thanked Stephen Gee for his hard work on the budgets.

  1. Report of Public Accounts Committee of National Assembly for Wales on Caldicot and Wentlooge IDB – Nick Stevens explained that the Caldicot and Wentlooge Board will be absorbed into Natural Resources Wales which is the amalgamation of the Environment Agency Wales, the Forestry Commission Wales and the Countryside Council for Wales which took place in April 2013. Nick Stevens had a copy of the report of the Wales Audit Office and felt that the Boards should consider the recommendations to ensure there are no criticisms which could be levelled at the Consortium Boards. He would report to the Finance & Governance (F&G) Committees of both boards on the matter more fully; however the Clerk and both Board Chairmen had already met to consider the Report of the Public Accounts Committee hearings on the Caldicot and Wentlooge matter and had agreed a number of actions that will be taken to the F&G Committee meetings.  Stephen Gee commented that he was pleased with the level of trust within the Boards however he advised that the internal audit confirms that procedures are carried out correctly.  The internal auditors are South West Audit Partnership and the external auditors are Grant Thornton.  Cllr Chris Williams asked if there was a conflict of interest as Grant Thornton were the external auditors for Sedgemoor DC as well; Stephen Gee would make enquiries.  Jeff Fear commented that there should be an induction process carried out when new members are elected; one new member had recently resigned as he was unaware of the amount of time needed from board members.
  1. Health and Safety Policy Update – Nick Stevens had received all the information and paperwork commissioned from the previous H&S advisor. Phil Ham had also checked it through and it will be passed on to Expenditors and officers.  A new advisor is being sought at present.
  1. Engineering Programme of Works – Update on 2013/2014 – Iain Sturdy circulated an updated 5 year programme and explained the detail. The Favourable Condition planned works on site are in the finishing stages which will result in a scale down of resources.

Peter Struck has now replaced Sophie Jones. Brian Martin will continue to work but only two days per week and will finish at the end of next year.  Nancy Collins has been retained full time to conclude the final details of the favourable conditions projects.  Stephen Gee confirmed that all costs related to the favourable condition works are covered by the grant income which would also cover any redundancy costs.

The Engineer advised that maintenance work on main rivers may start to be withdrawn or reduced, which may leave works which the Boards wish to undertake. A line had been included in the future expenditure for such eventualities. Ray Adlam commented that the terminology had changed within the Agency from “transfer of assets” to “zero maintenance”.  Funds may have to be drawn from other projects to cover the costs but ratepayers cannot be asked to pay any extra.  Iain Sturdy advised that his programme of works is for schemes, but the decision could be made to use some of these funds for carrying out maintenance.

A unified rate is to be introduced in April 2014 which will increase the special levy.  Jessica Healey would like a meeting with appointed members and members of Sedgemoor District Council and officers of the Board to ensure everyone understands the issues involved in the rate setting.

Iain Sturdy advised that dredging needs to be considered in the programme of works and that it is probable that all the work on the programme will not be delivered within the 5 years.  Ray Adlam advised that where the dredging trialling was taking place that it should not fall to the landowners to supply funding when part of the works is for conservation and protected habitats.  Iain had recently met with the Agency, CLA and Charlie Ainge regarding the Brue pilot, and it was reported by the Agency that there are no funds available from the Agency.  It is not possible to carry out the trialling and carry out the programme of works at the same time as resources are not available.  Ray Adlam stated that the trialling would not have much effect on water levels as only short lengths of de-silting are being carried out; the whole length will need to be dredged eventually.

Nick Stevens advised that the Agency has procedures for withdrawal of maintenance but they have not yet been made available to the Board.

Martin Watts queried the financial information for the East and West Waste scheme.  The Clerk confirmed that the information shows project costs, not the Board finance. The difference will be made available from EU funding. The figures had been entered incorrectly; the gross cost was £110,000 which would have 50% grant in aid – Iain Sturdy will provide the correct information.

  1. Communicating with ratepayers and members of the public – The Clerk reported that at a recent meeting with the Agency there had been a discussion on the need for co-ordinated and better communications to members of the public, especially in flood events. The Chairman would prefer to use email as a form of communication with members of the Board and the public; this would cut down the amount of paperwork and postage costs. Cllr Chris Williams agreed if this was for straightforward communication, not a meeting pack.  Ed Champion suggested that rate payers were asked if they would prefer to receive information by email.  Details would be sent out with the rate demands.

Nick Stevens suggested that in future, deputies for the Consortium meeting will be sent meeting agenda etc. electronically; if they attend the meeting papers could be provided at the meeting.

  1. Class licensing for badgers disturbance – Nick Stevens provided members with information on the new Natural England system of Class Licences for working near badgers. The licence is for 12 months and is registered to one person who will have named assistants. Phil Brewin could be the registered person and the assistants would be the relevant Expenditors, engineers, inspectors and contractors.  The licences next year would run from 1 January to 31 December.
  1. Accommodation – Bradbury House, Market Street and 1 Church Street – The Axe Brue property sub- committee met recently and confirmed that Paula Cook will continue as Project Manager. A professional advisor is being appointed to undertake the design work for the changes to the outside and to prepare contracts and specification for the work to be carried out.  A blocked downpipe and drain have now been cleared to prevent further damage to the empty building.  The contract for the sale of 1 Church Street has not yet been signed; our solicitor has informed us that the purchaser is now ready to complete.
  1. Staffing – Staff are being redeployed as their work finishes on the favourable condition projects. Giles Oliver is now mainly working for the North Somerset Levels Drainage Board.  Carrie-Anne Porter is still unwell and signed off until 9 December.  Nick Stevens advised that an occupational health physician may need to be consulted to ensure the Board is meeting its obligations.
  1. Issue of governance policy statements – Nick Stevens had a copy of a proposed governance policy document containing policies that are based on ADA model documents. He asked that members read through the document and be prepared to discuss them at the next meeting in January 2014.
  1. Special correspondence and meetings – Members agreed that there is no need to receive a list of all the correspondence sent and received, this could be provided by email and members can print if required; however planning applications will still need to be detailed. Maurice Wall had recently attended a planning seminar where details were discussed of a relaxation in the planning laws concerning agricultural buildings that are considered permitted development.  There could be applications that will not be notified to the Board by the district councils, which could cause problems with buildings that compromise IDB interests and policies.

Tony Bradford and Maurice Wall feel there are too many meetings and asked that this is reviewed.

  1. Any other business – The Chairman reported that he had attended a meeting with Iain Sturdy with the Royal Bath & West Society and other bodies to organise fund raising for the dredging project. The fund raisers are confident that they will raise £3 million. £2.5million privately and £500,000 from the public.  The timing is critical and Alan Lovell would like the work to start next summer.  The funding will come in very slowly at first and larger donations could take 12 months.  Nick Gupta is happy for someone else to take the lead, particularly the drainage board.  The money raised could possibly be used for project management.  The Bath and West’s view is for the board to take the lead as work may be completed more cost effectively.  The Chairman asked members if dredging funds were available, could the IDB carry out the project management.  This could have an impact on the staff resources.

2 pinch point trials have been completed and tenders have been received for the remainder.  The Chairman had written to landowners in the area to ask for their assistance in receiving the material from the river on to their land.  Iain Sturdy is collating the replies.  The pinch point work will give an indication of the problems that could arise for the main dredging project.  The full dredge of the Parrett would be 8km from Northmoor pumping station to Hook Bridge spillway.  A further meeting with the Agency would be required to find a way forward to fund the work.  The Chairman felt that if funds raised were close to the total, that Defra would step in with Grant in Aid.  Iain Sturdy advised that the project costs had come from the Agency and could be lower if prepared by the board.  The costs do not include any future maintenance.

  1. Date of next meetings – SWADA Wednesday 4 December 2013

SDBC Management Committee Tuesday 4 February 2014.