One of the toughest elements of being a very small Parish Council is how you fund capital projects. Now, admittedly, we’re not likely to have huge ones, but with a budget of around £6,000 per annum, much of which is committed to day to day running costs, anything much above £500 needs some thought and, preferably, some anticipation.
When I returned to duty as a Parish councillor in 2016, it dawned on me that, in order to deal with these sorts of things going forward, we’d need a capital reserve, and to make regular contributions towards it. I did persuade my colleagues that this was a good thing but the key questions were “how much?” and “over what period?”. That was made more challenging by a lack of data.
We only really have two key infrastructure items - our village play area and our ten ageing street lights. There is a community lottery which is intended to renew or extend assets that residents may want, but the streetlights shouldn’t really be funded like that.
My logic was based on an estimated cost for each new streetlight of approximately £1,000, or £10,000 in total. They are expected to last for twenty-five years and so I calculated that £400 per annum was a decent ballpark estimate. Yes, it didn’t allow for inflation, and starting from scratch means that we were very much behind the curve, but it was a start.
We’re now in the third year, but there has been some good news. The County Council are replacing 43,000 of their own streetlights with new, energy efficient LED ones, and have offered Parish Councils the opportunity to tag along, thus benefiting from the economies of scale that such a big purchase offers. Indeed, it’s such a good deal that the cost to us is not £10,000 but £4,300, a huge reduction and a much easier sum to find.
I’m recommending to Parish Council that we take up the offer, as it will reduce our energy costs, provide more reliable lighting and contribute to our share of cutting emissions. We can cover 30% of the cost from our capital reserve, and find the rest from a combination of sources - County and District Councillor locality budgets, community funds and our own reserves. And, as we still don’t have a Parish Clerk, there’s an extra £1,000 already in our revenue budget to chip in as necessary.
And, going forward, I can trim the annual contribution to our capital reserve from £400 per annum to, say, £250, which would still give us quite some leeway in terms of funding new streetlights in 2047…
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