Partnership Management Group
Minutes of the meeting held at 2pm on Thursday 26th March 2015
at Community First, Unit C2, Beacon Business Park, Hopton Park, Devizes SN10 2EY
PRESENT, MEMBERS AND ACTING MEMBERS:
Fleur de Rhé-Philipe (FdRP) Wiltshire Council (Chairman)
Brian Clake (BC) Voluntary Sector
Len Turner (LT) Warminster & Villages Community Partnership
Dawn Lyndene (DL) 1 Artillery Brigade-SW-MCI
Robert Underhill (RU) Forestry Sector
David Wildman (DW) Tidworth Community Area
Geraldine Wimble (EGW) Independent (Vice-Chairman)
Andi Witcombe (AW) NFU County Adviser Wiltshire
Graham Wright (GW) Amesbury Community Area
DEPUTIES AND STAFF IN ATTENDANCE:
Alan Truscott (AT) Programme Manager, Plain Action
Lesley Thomas (LJT) Programme Assistant, Plain Action
Kate Forrest (KF) Wiltshire Council
Sarah Penfold (SP) Community First apprentice
Tony Pickernell (TP) Tidworth Community Area
- 11.Welcome and Apologies
- 12.Conflict of Interest
- 13.Minutes of last meeting 29th January 2015
- 14.Matters arising
- 15.General Report (Paper B)
- 16.Financial Report (Paper C)
- 17.Resource Sharing Agreement (Paper D)
- 18.LEADER Training
The Chairman welcomed everyone, and introduced RU to his first meeting, with general introductions made. Apologies were received from Douglas Roseaman (Devizes Community Area) and Catharina Davis (Wessex Association of Chambers of Commerce)
No conflicts of interest were declared.
The Minutes of the meeting held on 29th January 2015, which had been circulated, were approved as a correct record.
There were no matters arising that were not included on the agenda.
Papers B, C and D were included on the agenda to give background. The training presentation had been updated with information received since the previous week, when it was presented to the Vale Action PMG.
3.0 Project Selection / Measures – AT had queried how projects are selected, as there are more criteria now, and had spoken with Ian Hague, Rural Development Team in Defra, Exeter, at length on the day prior to the meeting.
4.0 National Operations Manual – This is a comprehensive document that is expected mid April. The terms of reference will also be a national set, provided by Defra. From the handbook draft, 1,000 comments had been received by Defra, largely querying the fact that the manual needs to be understood by the person in the street, without jargon, and ensure that the vocabulary used is consistent.
5.0 National Q&A – This is an ongoing question and answer database.
6.0 Wiltshire LAGs meetings –The Wilts LAG managers continue to meet approximately every six weeks, sharing their ideas and understanding of information received so far. These LAGs are split between three different Defra regions, but the documents are not received at the same time, despite this having been originally confirmed.
7.2 Defra approval - The Cotswold AONB had won its appeal and received final Defra approval. Following this, Plain Action funding had been confirmed at £1.380m, with 18% of this to be allocated to M&A costs. Programme staff are also assisting the Heart of England LAG based in Cirencester to set up their systems.
8.0 Governance -Terms of reference could not be discussed today; these should be presented as a national set with the operating manual.
At present Plain Action is slightly below budget. Costs of appraisals may rise, however, and . these will need to be independent of the LAG, possibly with standard forms, but certainly with information provided by Defra. Plain Action may join up with other local LAGs to commission appraisals, to keep costs down.
3.0 Management and Administration Funding - It is anticipated that most LAGs will not run for the full six years as they will have spent the money. AT has allowed M&A for the full period.
4.0 Project funding – To be discussed later in the training session.
4.2 - The allocation of funds is subject to the prevailing exchange rate, and the volatility of this is a concern. Should there be a shortfall, in the event that that funding has been committed, Defra has indicated that Wiltshire Council will need to pick this up, as they think best. None of the funding has been drawn down to date, and hopefully the rate will balance out over 6¼ years but it is unlikely that Wiltshire Council would be in a position to top up. A backlog of enquiries has been built up over the transition year, enabling the money to be possibly spent in the first year, but there will be a need to spread this over the years. In the previous Plain Action programme, 80% of projects reached the funding stage. Owing to the fact that the programme cannot start until late summer at the earliest, 7% spend only will be expected in the first year, i.e. basically M&A. Spending for year 2 is, as yet, unknown. Defra’s field officers will be trained on 14th / 15th April, with three days of training expected for programme and accountable body staff. There may not be time to train LAG members before the programme starts.
Both Vale Action and Plain Action will share the same programme manager, assistant and office space. LJT and AT are employed by Community First, therefore a three-way partnership agreement between Vale Action, Plain Action and Community First will operate, and was explained in the paper. This may need to be a stand-alone document. Wiltshire Council will be responsible for four LAGs – previously there were four separate agreements with Defra on this, but this time round there would be one agreement for all these LAGs. M&A claims will need to be submitted two weeks after quarter end, and then to the RPA two weeks later as one claim for all four LAGs. Wiltshire Council has a partnership agreements with both Community First and Defra, and the sharing agreement should be part of this. Full details should be revealed in the operating manual, and KF advised caution as the documentation from Wiltshire Council should be awaited on this, with issues to be sorted locally before liaison with Defra.
AT gave a presentation on LEADER training. (A copy of the presentation will be sent out with the minutes.). The session was designed to give members an overview of LEADER funding, how Plain Action and Vale Action will operate, and the relationship with SWLEP. Each PMG (i.e. for Plain Action and Vale Action) will be able to see the other’s finances. Local and national priorities are very similar.
AT explained the structure of the LAG for RU’s benefit. The main interest in the consultative group so far has been from former projects but, in any case, the PMG is not in favour of a very large consultative group. Defra may not send a representative to PMG meetings as frequently as before, but wants to see new projects first hand.
There was discussion on the following, all of which has been presented by Defra very much in draft form. KF urged caution, avoiding too much attention to detail at present, as things may change :
- The definition of “public” funding. KF felt this would refer to State Aid regulation, and the fact that equipment cannot be purchased to use on contract work.
- Projects with short-term interventions (such as Circular Arts funded under the previous programme) would not be allowed.
- The environmental criteria are very important. There will be guidance on using secondhand equipment, but use of this will have to be justified.
- The small grants process is still not known, but would definitely need a different application form to the one received. The Launch Day has been postponed, and a big launch may not be favoured, in view of the fact this may not be eligible for reimbursement. There is a need to advertise the funding as widely as possible, and amongst all the organisations represented on the PMG, huge databases were available. FdRP saw this as a way of reaching potential projects and a wider forum, and AT reported that Vale Action felt that they could reach around 7,000 people in this way. There could be a launch week, rather than a formal launch event, with a call for projects via email. KF confirmed that an open forum may suffice and, although printing is not allowed, this could be covered under ‘eligibility’.
- Defra has confirmed that they will want to look at any project showing interest, i.e. at the expression of interest stage, prior to the application itself. SBI numbers, VAT declarations, RPA numbers, etc., will need to be provided up front. AT has been keeping all 29 enquirers so far informed of requirements advised by Defra to date. FdRP voiced a strong objection to mandatory RPA registration.
- LT requested that anything rejected by the RDT will be reported back to the PMG, to make them aware of what projects are emerging. As yet AT is also unsure of how the appeals process will work.
- GW was keen to see a change in the way that projects were paid. AT expected training on claims and variation after August. The programme is very much about the creation of new jobs and has a complicated administrative process.
- DW queried if there was an opportunity for projects to use agents to complete the applications. KF confirmed this cost would not be reimbursable, in a similar way that planning fees are not.
- As the process seems very daunting at present, it was suggested that applicants could be shown a Powerpoint presentation to aid them, and certainly given a simpler guide. AW hoped that Defra would recognise the complications, as these had been highlighted by the farming community.
- Over all, capital rather than revenue projects would be favoured.
- The application form indicates the possibility of 100% funding, but this is more likely to be 40% except on very few measures.
- KF confirmed that Wiltshire Council has agreed to be the accountable body, and that compliance staff will not have the capacity to look at claims other than with a light touch. Programme staff have been awarded 18% M&A costs and will be responsible for the compliance role. Therefore admin needs to be streamlined as much as possible. The RPA envisages that claims will be paid within 14 days once received, and that there will be a total of 4-8 weeks from its first submission. AT suggests using two potential projects, one involving a self-employed person needing help with the technology and bureaucracy of the system, and one very highly IT literate project leader, to test the efficiency of the system.
- There will be a priority scoring system to ensure that projects are fairly selected.
- 19.Any Other Business
There was no other business. The meeting closed at 4pm.
The next meeting will be on Thursday 28th May 2015 in the conference room at Larkhill Community Centre.
Approved as a correct record at the meeting held on 28th May 2015.