Shop and Parish Council - A Clarification

  • The May issue of SCAN contains an article by Shopco on the current status of the Shop. Unfortunately two statements about the Parish Council are inaccurate.
    • "they agreed that they would take over ShopCo" - no, the PC agreed to a transfer of responsibility, as stated in the Minutes.
    • "due the demise of the current Parish Council the transfer has been delayed" - On the contrary, the PC is waiting for Shopco. Shopco has not yet submitted to the PC any of the relevant legal documents relating to the transfer of the shop building. Until it does so, there is nothing the PC can do.
  • It is understandable that the two individuals who have been running Shopco should wish to hand over to others, given that they no longer have the time due to other commitments. It is most regrettable that apparently there are no others in the village sufficiently committed to the shop that they are prepared to take their place.
  • As a result, at the November 2014 PC meeting, Shopco asked the PC if it would assume responsibility. Effectively, this was an ultimatum - the only alternative was that Shopco would cease to function and the PC would be left with a portacabin on its land. The PC agreed in principle to the the transfer of responsibility. The details of this transfer were not discussed, as Shopco needed to consult with its shareholders.
  • The PC heard nothing further from Shopco until mid-February, when an email was received which made it clear that Shopco were expecting the PC to take over Shopco itself, rather than transfer the shop building. An exchange of emails between Councillors (there were 5 at that time) indicated that all Councillors were expecting the shop building to be transferred. This item was placed on the March meeting agenda, when the 4 councillors present again confirmed this. After this decision was communicated to Shopco, Shopco agreed to arrange for the transfer of the shop itself. The Parish Council has heard nothing further since then.
  • The Parish Council exists to provide certain local government services to the parish. It has specifc responsibilities that in law it must discharge. It also has powers to provide certain additional services if it chooses to do so. However, its powers are limited - it can't just do anything. It can, for example, lease land that it owns to another organisation for use for a shop at a rent below market value - this is in fact the current situation. It can also own a building and lease that building to a shop proprietor to run a shop in - that is what the PC were expecting would happen. It can not run a shop business directly itself, not that this is being proposed.
  • Shopco were proposing something quite different. Shopco is in fact not a committee but a limited company called Sherington Community Shop Limited, which is owned by its shareholders - those local residents who invested money in it. Shopco were suggesting that the PC should manage this limited company, even though it didn't own the Company and even though it didn't own the Company's assets. How this arrangement could possibly work is not clear. The company is accountable to its shareholders, whereas the PC is accountable to the electorate. The interests of these two groups are quite different. This idea was therefore a non-starter.
  • There has been no "demise" of the PC. It still exists and is still running its ongoing services. It is inquorate. The consequence of the PC being inquorate is that new decisions can not be taken. Business related to previous decisions is continuing. The PC at its meeting in March confirmed that it agreed in principle to accept the transfer of the shop building. The Parish Clerk is therefore empowered to undertake the administrative arrangements relating to this. The Clerk can, for example, refer any documents received from Shopco to the PC's legal representatives for confirmation everything is in order. The only item dependent on a quorate PC is the final signing of the documents if everything is in order. We are not at that stage. The ball is in Shopco's court.
  • The long term future of the shop, i.e. a permanent building, is a key item being addressed in the Neighbourhood Plan. No firm plans had been made by Shopco. There is planning permission for a permanent building on the current site, expiring in 2016, but the current shop proprietor wants the building to including a residential flat. The temporary building would need to be moved to another site whilst it is built, but no plans had been made for this. One landowner offered partial funding, but there were no firm plans for the remainder of the funding. The Site Allocations Plan does offer new possibilities that didn't previously exist and need to be explored. Also the 2011 Localism Act, that introduced Neighbourhood Plans, also gave powers to Parish Councils for granting planning permission for community buildings, which gives further possibilities to be followed up.
  • To avoid any doubt, the recent resignation of the Postmaster has nothing whatsover to do with the Parish Council, or the transfer of the shop building from Shopco to the PC. It is regrettable that the Postmaster chose to resign without consulting with Shopco first.
  • The policy of the current (outgoing) PC is that the shop and post office is a valuable local facility that should continue, if possible, and should be supported.
  • It should be noted that the new incoming PC will need to take its own decision as to whether or not this policy should continue. It cannot be automatically assumed that the new PC will agree - it is not bound by its predcessor.
  Ian Collinge (currently the sole Parish Councillor)
  30 April 2015
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