Maidstone Citizens Advice Bureau
Minutes of the Annual General Meeting held on 13th September 2021
at the Town Hall, Maidstone
Trustees: A total of 7 Trustees were present.
Members: A total of 15 Members were present.
Non-members: A total of 36 non-Members were present.
1. APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE:
A total of 71 apologies were received.
Mr P Hardy, CEO of Citizens Advice Maidstone, welcomed everyone to our 2021 AGM and said that it was “lovely to see everyone – in person!”.
Mr Hardy was particularly pleased to welcome our Honorary Chair, the Worshipful, the Mayor of Maidstone and our two speakers, the Lord Lieutenant of Kent and financial journalist and broadcaster, Mr Paul Lewis.
2. MINUTES OF THE ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING HELD ON 16th SEPTEMBER 2019
It was proposed by the Chairman, Mr Bird and seconded by Mr Hardy that the minutes of the virtual Annual General Meeting held on 19th October 2020 be accepted as a true record and they would be duly signed by Mr Hardy on behalf of Mr Bird.
3. MATTERS ARISING – None
4. REPORT OF THE TRUSTEE BOARD
The Chairman, Mr Bird presented a report on behalf of the Trustee Board.
Mr Bird hoped that all those present had had the opportunity to read our 2020/21 Annual Report online, or had been able to pick up a hard copy.
Mr Bird stated that he did not intend to repeat everything written in the report, however he did want to highlight a few issues:
Over the past 18 months Coronavirus has had an unprecedented and unimaginable impact on all our lives. It has hugely affected the way the Bureau operates. It is therefore a huge credit to our Chief Executive and the Bureau staff that they have adapted so quickly to the changing situation. Consequently, apart from one day at the start of the first lockdown, the Bureau has been kept open for business and able to help our residents. Mr Bird felt that this fact alone merited our appreciation.
During the pandemic and the various lockdowns our communities and our residents have had to deal with many new challenges. More and more people needed to apply for benefits and other support schemes which the Government introduced; many workers have needed a clearer understanding of their employment rights and numerous self-employed persons were severely exposed to the sharp deterioration in the economic environment. Over the past 18 months Citizens Advice Maidstone has assisted hundreds of people who never thought they would need help. Things may have improved recently, but the legacy issues could be with us for a very long time. The problems with personal debt will always be with us.
Mental health issues will also always be with us. There is an increasing awareness of the crucial need to address mental health as part of a holistic approach to supporting people through challenging circumstances. Citizens Advice has an important role to play, but will need more support from partners and stakeholders in order to be effective.
Citizens Advice has always had a strong volunteer service at its heart. Sadly, it was practically impossible for our volunteers to support the service during the lockdowns. But the Board are delighted to see more and more volunteers coming back to the Bureau. You are all so very welcome.
As has been the case for several years, Pension Wise accounts for a significant proportion of the Bureau’s business. The guiders have had to adapt to different ways of working, and have done so very constructively. It is also good to see the advice service in Maidstone Prison continuing.
As always, client satisfaction is the ultimate measure of success. The Board have been very pleased to see the Bureau maintaining its record of excellent feedback from clients.
All in all, we should be very pleased with how the Bureau has coped with the many tribulations of the past 18 months. We are well placed for the future, but we need to sound a note of caution. Government finances at a national and local level are perilous, and funders are becoming increasingly demanding. Some Bureaux are already struggling, some have folded. We all need to work very hard to ensure that Maidstone can continue to benefit from the Citizens Advice service which is so important to so many of its residents.
Regrettably, last year we lost two long-standing and esteemed colleagues of Citizens Advice Maidstone.. They both supported the Bureau for many years as advisors and as members of the Trustee Board. Also, in recent weeks two much loved and highly valued members of our staff have sadly passed away. They will be much missed by their friends at the Bureau and on behalf of the Trustee Board Mr Bird extended deep condolences to their families.
The Board would also like to pay tribute to Mrs Judith Woods, who has recently retired after more years in Citizens Advice than she would care to remember. We are delighted that she has agreed to join the Trustee Board. Unfortunately, Mrs Woods was unable to join us at today’s meeting but Mr Bird hoped that all those in attendance would join him in appreciation of her long service.
There were no questions relating to the report of the Trustee Board.
5. ANNUAL ACCOUNTS AND REPORT OF THE AUDITORS
Honorary Treasurer, Mr John Cobbett, reported that our annual accounts for year ended 31st March 2021 have been produced, however due to delays as a result of staff shortages experienced by our accountants they are yet to be signed.
The accounts demonstrate an income for the year of c.£860K, which is marginally less than last year and a surplus of c.£66K. Our cash at hand figure is c.£336K
The auditors have also produced their management letter and a Mr Cobbett is confident that our Trustee Board will approve the accounts in due course.
There were no questions from the floor relating to the Annual Accounts and report of the Auditors.
6. APPOINTMENT OF AUDITORS
It was recommended that we continue with our current accountants of long standing, Azets Audit Services Limited (formerly Messrs Wilkins Kennedy and prior to that Day, Smith & Hunter) for the coming year as their rates are relatively modest and the work that they carry out is conducted to a high standard.
There were no dissenters, so it was therefore agreed that we continue to employ the services of Azets Audit Services Limited for the coming year.
7. ANY OTHER BUSINESS
There was no further business.
8. HAND OVER TO HONORARY CHAIR, HER WORSHIP THE MAYOR
The Chair of the Bureau’s Trustee Board, Mr Rob Bird, handed over the Chair of the AGM to Her Worship, the Mayor of Maidstone.
The Mayor hails from Eltham in South East London and attended Kidbrooke Comprehensive School for Girls, Britain’s first purpose-built comprehensive school.
She has lived in Maidstone since 1975, and in Barming since 1985. Her marriage is still going strong after 53 years, two children and four grandchildren.
The Mayor retired from KCC in 2012 after 35 years and stood for election to Maidstone Borough Council in 2008. Her victory made the national newspapers as the only Independent to take a seat from a Conservative. It so happens that the Mayor sees party politics as not so relevant at local level.
Away from politics, her passion has always been music, singing in particular, and she has managed to fit in 35 years and counting with Maidstone Choral Union including being its Chairman.
The Mayor declared that she was happy to continue the tradition of the Mayor of Maidstone serving as Honorary Chair of our AGM and she thanked Citizens Advice for helping to hold the people of Maidstone together.
9. PROPOSED ELECTION AND RE-ELECTION OF TRUSTEES
Those present were reminded that in accordance with our Memorandum and Articles of Association, it is only those who have agreed to become members of the Charity that have the right to vote on issues affecting the Bureau such as the election and re-election of Trustees.
All such Members were given a voting card upon arrival at today’s meeting and were requested to raise their voting cards above their heads at the appropriate time when they wish to register their vote.
The following elections were then conducted:
After already giving over 40 years’ service to Citizens Advice Maidstone, both as a volunteer, during which time she served as a Trustee and a paid member of staff, which included a spell as Deputy Manager, Mrs Judith Woods has agreed that in her absence, her name be once again put forward to be elected as a Trustee.
Mrs Judith Woods was elected unanimously in absentia.
Starting with us as a volunteer advisor in 2019 after retiring from a successful career in industry, Mr David Parrish is currently a key member of our Finance Committee and has now agreed to stand for election to our Trustee Board.
Mr David Parrish was elected unanimously.
Mrs Wendy Foster née Tull has served on our Trustee Board for over a decade during which time she has also acted as Chair of our Service, Development & Innovation Committee. Wendy is a Human Resource professional who possesses a wealth of experience in the field and has once again, agreed to put her name forward for re-election to our Trustee Board.
Mrs Wendy Foster was re-elected unanimously.
That concluded the voting.
10. PRESENTATION OF TRUSTEE BOARD MEMBERS
There being no further written nominations, in accordance with the Bureau's Memorandum and Articles of Association, the Trustee Board Elected Members for the year 2021/22 are: Mr Rob Bird, Mrs Sharon Hawkins, Mr John Cobbett, Mrs Wendy Foster, Mr Ivor Owen,
Mr Andrew Breen, Mr Shubharatan Bonny Malhotra, Mr David Parrish, Mrs Judith Woods and Cllr Mr Paul Harper (co-opted).
11a. INTRODUCTION OF FIRST GUEST SPEAKER
Her Worship, the Mayor of Maidstone, introduced HM Lord-Lieutenant of Kent who succeeded Viscount De L’Isle as HM Lord-Lieutenant of Kent to become the first woman to take on the role.
Since marrying and moving to Kent in 1979 she has been closely involved in the family's 800-acre farm near Sevenoaks.
HM Lord-Lieutenant of Kent has two adult sons and one grandson and started her career in current affairs and non-fiction publishing. She has worked in the voluntary sector for 25 years, primarily with Citizens Advice, both as a volunteer in Sevenoaks as well as working three days-a-week at a bureau in Westway, North Kensington.
HM Lord-Lieutenant of Kent is also a Trustee of the Henry Smith Charity having been the charity’s Kent Visitor for 13 years; a Trustee and then Chair of the Kent Community Foundation, retiring in 2017 after 11 years.
She was also chair of the panel to appoint the current Dean of Rochester Cathedral and remains an active supporter of the Cathedral.
11b. PRESENTATION BY FIRST GUEST SPEAKER
HM Lord-Lieutenant of Kent first became aware of Citizens Advice when she was writing a book.
She then saw an advert in the Sevenoaks Gazette for a volunteer advisor at her local Bureau, which she applied for and remained in the post for 12 happy years.
HM Lord-Lieutenant of Kent subsequently joined Kensington & Chelsea CAB as a specialist debt advisor where she volunteers to this day.
When she started, they were still writing their case notes by hand and were not allowed to take information sources in to the interview room. They were also encouraged to write up their case notes immediately after talking to their client
It was soon evident to HM Lord-Lieutenant of Kent that working for Citizens Advice was more than just a job and no other advice agency covered the breadth of subjects we do.
Despite Kensington & Chelsea being undoubtedly one of the richest boroughs in the country, they also house some of the poorest people and HM Lord-Lieutenant of Kent then described an anonymised case study which highlighted some of the problems they face.
Citizens Advice was first established the day after the outbreak of World War Two and echoing that speed of response, Kensington & Chelsea had established a help desk in the local community centre within hours of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster.
Charitable donations in the region of £29 million came in following the fire and there was pressure on all local not for profit agencies to ensure that money was distributed quickly and equitably.
Quick and easy access to benefits for those in need as a result of the tragedy, many of whom had never claimed benefits before and therefore were totally unfamiliar with the system, was crucial and HM Lord-Lieutenant of Kent and her colleagues worked closely with the DWP to facilitate this. A key support worker was also allocated to everyone affected by the tragedy.
Another major area of advice centred around re-housing those left homeless and a wider review of the government’s re-housing policy is ongoing.
In conclusion, in addition to the advice and support offered by Citizens Advice to all those who seek our assistance, the statistical data we collate is also vitally important as it enables us to demonstrate to funders the overwhelmingly positive effect that our Service has on people’s lives today as well as their futures.
Whilst the advice given to clients when HM Lord-Lieutenant of Kent first joined Citizens Advice back in the 1990s was undoubtedly just as helpful, the difference now is that we are far better able to evidence the scope and extent of that help.
The Mayor thanked HM Lord-Lieutenant of Kent for her presentation.
12. PRESENTATION OF BUREAU CHAIRMAN’S REPORT
This was Mr Bird’s last report as Chair of the Citizens Advice Maidstone Trustee Board as, under Citizens Advice rules, he is obliged to step down after today’s AGM having been in post for 6 years.
It has given him great pleasure to witness, first hand, the amazing work of the Bureau over the past 6 years. We have a wonderful group of staff, both paid employees and volunteers, who continually demonstrate their determination to help clients through life’s many challenges. It comes as no surprise that the Bureau has consistently received superlative positive feedback from clients. We should be very proud of all our staff.
In particular, Mr Bird recorded his appreciation for two exceptional Chief Executives. Bonny Malhotra led the Bureau with great distinction for 21 years before retiring in 2019 and Mr Bird is delighted that he has returned to support the Bureau as a Trustee. Paul Hardy stepped into his shoes seamlessly and has deftly steered the Bureau through the unparalleled challenges of the pandemic with great fortitude. It has been a great honour and pleasure for Mr Bird to work with them both.
It has also been a privilege for him to work with members of a Trustee Board who are all committed to ensuring that Maidstone has a first-class Citizens Advice service and he is very grateful for the support and contribution of each Board Member and the staff representatives over the past 6 years. Sadly, Mr Malcolm Ford is stepping down from the Board today because of personal circumstances and Mr Bird extended his gratitude to Mr Ford for the valuable contribution he has made to the Bureau over many years and wished him and his wife well for the future.
As mentioned earlier, the Board are delighted that Mrs Judith Woods has agreed to bring her unparalleled experience of working for Citizens Advice to the Trustee Board and Mr Bird is also extremely pleased that we will be joined by Mr David Parrish who will bring his valuable business acumen to the Board.
The past year and a half have been dominated by the pandemic. Citizens Advice Maidstone has kept open for business through the adaptability and resourcefulness of our Bureau employees, with most staff working from home.
During the past 18 months, most of our client advice has been provided over the phone or digitally through email and webchat. In many respects, the lockdown has brought forward the modernisation of our service delivery to reflect the changing needs of our clients.
Nonetheless, we have been acutely aware that there are clients who would prefer face-to-face meetings, or for whom this is more appropriate. As circumstances permit, we are gradually bringing back a limited face-to-face service, by appointment only. However, we are constrained by the available space at Bower Terrace as the Borough Council is no longer in a position to provide us with office space in the Town Hall.
Unfortunately, for much of the past 18 months it was not feasible for our volunteer staff to provide advice services from home. However, we are very pleased that so many volunteers have been keen to maintain contact with the Bureau. It has been good to see many of them return to Bower Terrace in the past couple of months and we look forward to see many more coming back as soon as safety considerations permit.
We have been in pandemic conditions for a year and a half. It feels like much longer. Notwithstanding the successful vaccination programme, Covid remains a pernicious and serious threat. Although, thankfully, the risks of severe illness appear to have been much reduced, it is clear that we will need to be cautious for some time to come.
The future is still very uncertain, but it is clear that the legacy of Covid and the impact on our communities will be with us for a very long while. The Bureau will need to continue to operate under challenging and, at times, difficult circumstances for some time to come. We have shown that we have adapted in the past. We can be confident that Citizens Advice Maidstone has the ability and the determination to adapt to future challenges, whatever they may be.
Mr Bird thanked everyone for their support for Citizens Advice Maidstone and wished them well for the future.
13. PRESENTATION OF CHIEF EXECUTIVE’S REPORT
Mr Hardy congratulated Mr Bird on his six years of dedicated service as Chair of the Trustee Board and thanked him for his kind words.
He too did not wish to reiterate what was written in his contribution to our 2020/21 Annual Report but he did feel that the fact that our Service has only been unavailable to the public on one of its duty days since the start of the pandemic, did bear repeating.
It is also his firm belief that none of our clients have suffered any form of let or hindrance as a result.
Mr Hardy went on to thank everyone connected with Citizens Advice Maidstone for the loyalty, dedication and support that they have shown to him, all those who work here and our clients particularly over the last eighteen months.
Their efforts have helped to make what has been at times, a very challenging job much easier
14a. INTRODUCTION OF SECOND GUEST SPEAKER
Her Worship, the Mayor of Maidstone introduced journalist and broadcaster, Mr Paul Lewis.
Mr Lewis was educated at Maidstone Grammar School before graduating in psychology from the University of Stirling and subsequently spent a number of years as a Borough Councillor in Maidstone.
Mr Lewis has won numerous awards for his financial and broadcast journalism and also regularly contributes to a number of periodicals and has written several books on the subjects of money, savings and investments.
Mr Lewis has three grown up children and his interests outside of work include Victorian literature (particularly Wilkie Collins), buildings, technology, art, furniture, cosmology, history and wine.
14b. PRESENTATION BY SECOND GUEST SPEAKER
Mr Lewis spent much of his childhood and early working life in Maidstone – prior to attending the University of Stirling, he and subsequently his children, attended Maidstone Grammar School for Boys. He then went on to represent the Shepway district of Maidstone as Borough Councillor.
He has since gone on to work as a financial journalist and broadcaster.
Mr Lewis praised the work of Citizens Advice and said that the only complaint that he had ever heard both privately and professionally about the Service that we deliver is that clients can sometimes experience a delay when trying to contact us by telephone.
The remainder of Mr Lewis’ speech was engaging, informative and wide ranging, demonstrating a high degree of intellectual rigour and reminded us that we should never be afraid to hold those in power to account or question authority, as it is rarely advisable to take things at face value.
15. VOTE OF THANKS
Both HM Lord-Lieutenant of Kent and Mr Paul Lewis were thanked for taking time out of their busy schedules to join us at our AGM.
Her Worship the Mayor of Maidstone, was also thanked for presiding over the meeting and all three were presented with a small token of the Bureau’s appreciation.
16. CLOSING REMARKS BY HONORARY CHAIR
The Mayor had attended the Bureau in Bower Terrace during the morning of the Friday before today’s AGM, where she was struck by the warmth, friendship, camaraderie and desire to serve of all those who she met.
Following her visit, the Mayor then went on to hand out the prizes in the afternoon at Maidstone Grammar School for Boys’ Speech Day and she sincerely hoped that none of those present would be in need of Citizens Advice’s services any time soon as all of us, no matter who we are, can experience problems in life, which can sometimes seem insurmountable.
In summation, the Mayor praised the work of all those involved with Citizens Advice Maidstone and thanked them all on behalf of the citizens of the Borough.
Lastly, she thanked all those in attendance for joining us at Citizens Advice Maidstone’s 2021 AGM.
There being no further business, the meeting was closed at 4pm.