Reports of Committee meetings of NELPG Ltd and NELPG Enterprises Ltd
8 February 2016
Present: John Hunt (in the chair), Martin Lloyd, Michael Chyriwsky, John Hall, Paul Hutchinson, Chris Lawson and Richard Wheeler. John Hunt declared an interest as an employee of West Coast Railway Company.
The Secretary reported that he had received, and declined, a gift parcel from a member. With the member’s agreement, the contents would be used as prizes for the regular NELPG raffles, and raise money for the Group.
Of the matters arising, it was reported that work on identifying suitable higher interest accounts and transferring money to them remained outstanding, the out of date defibrillator pads at Deviation Shed had been replaced and the others were in hand, and no comments had been received from West Coast Railway Company (WCRC) about the revisions to the K1 Jacobite agreement that had been submitted on 4 November 2015. A question was raised about the role and timing of the Action Points lists, normally circulated within 24 hours of the Committee meeting. In discussion, it was pointed out that these were not definitive and subject to correction. If appropriate, a delay on a particular action point could be requested, pending a possible change of view. They simply served as an aide memoire but provided a basis on which actions could be initiated. Decisions needed to be actioned: waiting for approval of the minutes before doing so could lead to considerable delay. It was agreed that the Action Point lists should continue to be issued after the meeting on the basis outlined above.
The Monthly Financial Report was noted, with the Wensleydale Railway having cleared the balance of the November invoice and continuing to make weekly payment against the outstanding December invoice. The small sum identified as due for the driver experience days in October was not felt to justify the effort in steaming the J27, and an alternative charging approach to be put to the Railway was agreed. The provisional transfer of 80% profit from Enterprises to the charity for 2015 had been identified at £10,686, subject to confirmation once the accounts were finalised. A bill from WCRC for winter maintenance work on the K1 was still outstanding and needed to enable the correct amount to be accrued in the 2015 accounts. The Treasurer also intended to revise the Deferred Maintenance Fund for each of the locomotives at the end of February for circulation with the AGM papers. This would give members a better indication of the position as most of the winter maintenance expenditure would have been taken into account. The Group’s accounts had been reporting sales stock worth £210 for the last three years. There was no indication as to what it was or where it might be. It was agreed it should be written off: any stock which later came to light could then be sold and the full proceeds be recorded as income.
The main financial item for discussion however, was the initial proposals from the Treasurer for possible changes to membership subscriptions for 2017. He pointed out that the policy had always been that subscriptions should cover the cost of NELPG News: the financial information now available showed that this was no longer the case. Patrons made no contribution to the cost of their copies of News, and they now represented one quarter of our membership. In addition there was no amortisation of life memberships, of which there now 199, so that after the initial payment, there was nothing to cover the costs of News in subsequent years. Hence his proposals to reduce the frequency of publication of News, significantly raise subscriptions, restrict life membership, and allocate a sum per Patron to the General Fund.
Against that, it was acknowledged that members were very generous with additional donations at renewal time, particularly senior members, and that a separate policy had been to keep subscriptions at a low level to encourage such donations. This had been successful - £3,200 for the Q6 in 2015. There were concerns at the scale of possible increases, but phasing them over a number of years was not considered practical because of the continuing need to change Standing Orders. Nor was it felt justified to abolish the separate senior membership category altogether. Concern was also expressed at the prospect of reducing the frequency of News. This was a major means of communicating with members, and one on which we had recently been complimented. The Editor indicated that he was content to continue producing 6 copies per year.
It was pointed out that there had been a comparative survey of the subscription levels for other similar organisations carried out by John Hall in February 2015, and also a Communications Review carried out in 2014, the results of which were on the NELPG website. Both of these should be taken into account in considering possible subscription increases. It was also important to look at possible reductions in costs for News – the circulation of electronic copies, greater use of the website for keeping members up to date, putting some material on the website rather than in News allowing a reduction in size, and looking at ways of reducing production and postage costs with the printer.
It was agreed that a decision on future subscription levels should be deferred to the March meeting to enable these issues to be further explored, and for the views of the Fund Raising Sub Committee to be sought at its meeting on 1 March.
The Committee agreed the arrangements for the AGM, and considered the draft Trustees Annual Report (TAR). This covered the ground required by the Charity Commission, but concerns were expressed about its length and whether all the pictures and text were essential for members: a shorter version might be more appropriate bearing in mind the likely cost of production and distribution. It was pointed out however, that the aim was to move away from the two separate documents that had been the approach in the past, and it was important that members had the complete TAR for their approval at the AGM, which would then go to both the Charity Commission and Companies House. A further check would be carried out however, to see if any reductions in its length were possible.
Since the draft had been prepared, the Charity Commission had issued revised guidance on charity reserves, including their explanation in Annual Reports. Last year’s TAR stated that the Group had no reserves policy, and, as the Commission guidance indicated that restricted funds, such as DMFs, fell outside the reserves definition, that appeared to remain the case. The question remained though, as to whether we should have a reserves policy, and, if not, whether we should still take the opportunity to explain our approach to building up funds to cover the costs of future maintenance and overhauls. This would demonstrate to external readers, such as potential grant awarding bodies, that we were taking a prudent and proper approach to managing our finances, and not ignoring our long term obligations. It was agreed that advice should be sought from Ribchesters on how we should best present this information.
The Chairman presented proposals for a 50th Anniversary NELPG book. This would be a subscribers limited edition, similar to that done for the NYMR Past and Present last year, by Silver Link Publishing. It would be very much people focussed in telling the story of the Group, would be at no cost to the Group, but the final copy would have to be with the publisher by July to meet a publication date of end October. It was agreed to proceed with this, subject to any comments by the Fund Raising Sub Committee at its meeting on 1 March.
On other 50th anniversary issues, the K1 would now not be going to the KWVR Gala, the Railway Art Exhibition by John Wigston would be at Hartlepool Central Library for one week from 8 August, bookings had started arriving for the Tea Train on 9 April, an invitation to the Warley Model Railway Exhibition in November had been received (it was subsequently decided to decline because it was not felt that we could resource a stand to the standard required at such a distance), and the scope for producing additional sales items (coasters, beer mats, etc) based on the 50th anniversary logo would be pursued.
Discussion of succession planning at this meeting focussed on the importance of finding a successor to John Graham as CME: he could not be expected to continue in that role in perpetuity. The possibility of a shared CME role with other locomotive owners had been explored, but was unlikely to provide an answer in the short term. It was clear that there were no instant solutions, and different approaches were suggested for exploration as part of a general initiative to attract volunteers with engineering skills.
A successful Grosmont site safety briefing had been held, with the participants now going to attend the NYMR footplate awareness course for an NYMR PTS, which was required for all footplate reps. A further site safety briefing was planned. Separately, work continued on the interpretation of risk assessments and the contents of the Locomotive Maintenance Policy. There was a need however, for operating procedures based on the risk assessments. The need for confirmatory signatures from recipients of safety briefings for mainline operations was emphasised. There was also a need to update the skills matrix developed by John Graham.
Whilst there was no doubt the Group strives to operate to high professional standards in all it does, it had to be recognised that if something went wrong, the first call would be for sight of the paperwork to demonstrate our compliance with all statutory and other requirements. Tiresome though it may seem at times, it was agreed as essential that all documentation be completed, maintained and updated as necessary.
The normal locomotive updates were provided, and the latest position is reported in the current issue of NELPG News.
In site of the current problems facing WCRC, preparations for the 2016 Jacobite season had to proceed, and support crew members had been asked for their availability. WCRC had now appointed a new Safety Director, and was reported as having come away from a recent meeting with ORR feeling positive. If however, WCRC lost its safety certificate, then there could be an alternative operator for the Jacobite, or, failing that, there would be work on the NYMR for the K1. Martin Lloyd reported on the PTS renewals and medicals required before this operating season. He would forward the PTS list to the Chairman and would continue to deal with the PTS arrangements.
Under Any Other Business, an offer to assist with and fund the new fire door at Deviation Shed was reported, as was receipt of a letter from Darlington BC, giving notification of a proposal to withdraw discretionary rate relief from charities as part of its four year revenue budget consideration. If adopted, and subject to the outcome of a public consultation, this would take effect from April 2018.
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