Agenda and Minutes

  

   
   

A

   
   

             Vale Action

Partnership Management Group

 

Minutes of the meeting held at 2pm on Thursday 19th March 2015

at Community First, Unit C2, Beacon Business Park, Hopton Park, Devizes SN10 2EY

 

PRESENT, MEMBERS AND ACTING MEMBERS:

Geraldine McKibbin                        (GM)               Voluntary Sector (Chair)

Catharina Davis                   (CD)                Wessex Association of Chambers of Commerce

Phil McMullen                      (PM)                Melksham

Andi Witcombe                     (AW)               NFU County Adviser, Wiltshire

Peter Wragg                          (PW)               Visit Wiltshire / LEP

DEPUTIES AND STAFF IN ATTENDANCE:

Alan Truscott                                    (AT)                 Programme Manager, Vale Action

Lesley Thomas                     (LJT)               Programme Assistant, Vale Action

Steve Marriot                         (SM)                West of England LEADER partnership

  1. 12.Welcome and Apologies
  2. 13.Conflict of Interest
  3. 14.Minutes of Last Meeting (Paper A)
  4. 15.Matters Arising
  5. 16.General report (Paper B)
  6. 17.Financial Report (Paper C)
  7. 18.Resource Sharing Agreement (Paper D)
  8. 19.LEADER Training
  9. 20.Any Other Business

Apologies were received from Oliver Payne (Community Area Royal Wootton Bassett), Holly Traynor (TEN – The Rural Enterprise Network) and Kate Forrest (Wiltshire Council)

GM welcomed everyone to the meeting, and expressed that the PMG appreciated AT and LT's knowledge of running Plain Action. Although he was unable to attend today, at short notice, Robert Underhill would be joining the PMG to represent the forestry sector. Robert is a forester with the Duchy of Lancaster, having retired from being Head Forester with the Radnor Estate. SM was in attendance as a representative from the West of England LEADER, a new LAG, to gain some first-hand information as to how the programme works.

The declaration was circulated for signature.

These were signed as a true record of the meeting held on 22nd January 2015.

There were no matters arising.

3.0 Project Selection / Measures - There was some information coming through from Defra, but in a random order. The project selection document had arrived.   A T confirmed that the LAG would be locally driven, but its six key priorities would be set by the government.

4.0 National Operations Manual - The national operations manual was expected by the end of March; the draft handbook for applicants having already been received. General opinion was that the form is a very unwieldy document that had been put together by a committee, including great expertise from those responsible for agriculture, with the actual application form constructed by a different team.

5.0 National Q&A - A national set of Q&As had been put together following information received so far, and AT's queries have been included in this. As circumstances change, contradictory changes are coming through.

6.0 Wiltshire LAGs meetings - The Wilts LAG managers continue to meet 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 promised. The LEADER Exchange Group will restart and problems such as this will be referred to them.

7.2 Defra approval - The Cotswold AONB had won its appeal and received final Defra approval. Following this, Vale Action funding had been confirmed at £1.372m, with 18% of this to be allocated to M&A costs.

8.0 Governance -Terms of reference could not be discussed today; these should be presented as a national set with the operating manual. AT confirmed that the forestry commission had just launched a simpler scheme for funding but it was not known if this had been discussed in conjunction with the LEADER programme. CD hoped there would be a more unified approach with the new programme, as there had been considerable confusion previously. After the initial confusion expected for the next few months, it is hoped that procedures will settle down.

3.0 Management and Administration Funding

3.1 All spending has to be justified. Overheads are particularly difficult to break down now that apportionment has to be shown.

3.3 To allow the programme to run its whole length AT's time would be divided to cover other duties at Community First, to keep costs down. This would avoid a gap between this programme and the next.

4.0 Project Funding.

4.1 There may be some leeway with this as there are still some funds to be allocated.

4.2 The allocation of funds is subject to the prevailing exchange rate, so the full amount may not be available at the end, or alternatively they could be more funding available. Should there be a shortfall, in the event that that funding has been committed, Defra has indicated the Wiltshire Council will pick this up, although the council does not want this risk. AT is liaising with KF on this, as the cash flow has to be managed for the six years of the programme. The money needs to be spent and possibly committed up to 18 months in advance, and cannot be used as an insurance against fluctuation. AT understood that the funds will be drawn down up front, annually.

LT and AT are employed by Community First, therefore a three-way partnership agreement between Vale Action, Plain Action and Community First will operate. If necessary this can be passed through Community First's solicitors. To ensure a larger contract, project appraisers will possibly be used by all Wiltshire LAGs. Vale Action and Plain Action have no legal entity, but Community First's insurance will cover members' decisions. The members’ role is to manage the LAG. However, it will be Wiltshire Council who would be sued should anything go wrong.   Staffing issues remain the responsibility of Community First, but the strategy (delivery plan), and applications (a competitive process) will be the responsibility of the LAG, and there will probably be no small grants programme. It is expected that the accountable body, i.e. Wiltshire Council, will be raising contracts and not the RPA as shown.

Regarding the role of the appraiser, Defra needs the satisfaction of knowing that a technical appraisal is being done independently. The appraisal will cover sustainability, deliverability, and outcomes, etc. This should give members comfort for decision-making. 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, etc., will need to be provided up front.

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 Vale Action will operate, and the relationship with SWLEP. Defra's computer system will cover all the payments made, but will undoubtedly be delayed in coming online.

Some questions on the KPIs and the possible claw back of funding at the end of the period, following the grant closure, were raised. Also, with the different funding streams being offered, AT explained the proposed liaison with the LEP. AT also explained that purdah starts on 27th March, but in the meantime he is able to work with projects to submit EOIs.

Following discussion, members were of the opinion that the details of possible funding should be circulated as much as possible before any decisions are made on existing potential projects, in order for the procedure to be competitive. AT confirmed that there would be more publicity following Vale Action's launch event, although no printed publicity was allowed and funded: everything would need to be promoted electronically. As yet it is unknown if the hiring of halls would be covered, but radio promotion, and promotion via trade organisations, for example, would be helpful. Amongst all the organisations represented on the PMG, huge databases were available, and there could be a launch week, rather than a formal launch event.

It is envisaged that the average size of a grant would be £30K, with 60%-80% against match funding. This had been the average with Plain Action previously.   However, this will be dependent on the LEP's strategy and intervention rate. The full criteria were still awaited via the operating manual. There had been some indication of 100% funding, with £150K as the maximum amount, but LAG managers had queried this.

Membership was discussed, and the general feeling was that in excess of eight people on the PMG would be too many. However AT confirmed that 18 would be about correct as Defra would expect good sector representation across the board.   Some of the PMG members are' multi hatted', so this may automatically happen, and it was felt that the quality of people was more important than the number of them.

The EOI and application forms were discussed and, as previously mentioned, PMG members felt these were unwieldy, but AT and LT are here to help. AT emphasised that this was not the final version. It was hoped that the content would become clearer but hopefully the sentiments would still hold. Application forms had been promised for April, in time for staff training, and AW wished it to be emphasised that the application forms, as they stand, are ridiculous and extreme, which needs to be fed back to Defra.

There was discussion as to when the programme could realistically start. AT felt that if the forms were ready, and the IT set up, this could be June at the earliest. Members felt strongly that it was important that everybody has the opportunity to apply rather than those just showing expressions of interest so far.

Both groups, i.e. Plain Action and Vale Action, as its sister group for management and administration, would need to apply the same rules, and these would be brought before the ‘sister’ PMG group for ratification. Unfortunately AT is unable to liaise with other Wilts LAGs in the same way, on this issue.

There was no other business.

The meeting closed at 4.15pm.

The next meeting would be held on Thursday, 21st May 2015 at the TEN offices in Wootton Bassett.

Approved as a correct record at the meeting held on 21st May 2015

Signed ………………………………………………………..

Position: Chairman

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