A report had been circulated to the Board which provided information regarding the scheduled attendance of Members of the Executive at the Overview and Scrutiny Board.
Todays meeting was attended by the Elected Mayor - Mr David Budd.
The Elected Mayor made the following points in particular:-
A variety of work had been undertaken in the last six months. It was felt that it was easy to concentrate on negative matters, particularly in respect of budget pressures, job losses, etc., but to concentrate on those would not aid progression. It was important to focus on the positive aspects of Middlesbrough in order to attract inward investment. It was stressed that this was not about ignoring problems, but about aiding progression.
Reference was made to some impending large and small scale projects. It was highlighted that, if progressed, projects such as the snow centre would have enormous potential for the town. It was possible that this attraction could garner up to 2 million visitors per annum, which had happened elsewhere. This would provide further opportunity for the establishment of new restaurants and hotels to cater for the additional people visiting the area. It was indicated that the Councils responsibility would be to gain the benefits of such projects for the people of the town, e.g. creation of job opportunities and securement of additional resources.
In terms of the projects and the financials involved, it was explained that the Council would need to act more innovatively in order to support project progression. Reference was made to the recent Holiday Inn Express development and the Councils role in effectively acting as a loan guarantor, which had never been done previously. It was felt that the development would not have proceeded without it, which had been so successful that the possibility of expansion was currently being considered. It was indicated that other hotel chains had expressed interest in pursuing developments within the town. It was possible that in order to ensure adequate flexibility in terms of resource allocation, instead of preparing a five-year capital programme, which once agreed was set, alternative approaches to financial planning may be pursued.
Regarding progression towards Middlesbrough becoming a dementia-friendly town, a promise that the Elected Mayor had made in May 2015, reference was made to dementia cafes, which had formed an integral part of the dementia-friendly progress. A number of businesses had become successfully involved and steady progress was being made.
Community Bank - The purpose of this initiative was to provide household products at more affordable rates and prices. Progression towards establishing the Community Bank was being made; advanced talks with potential providers had taken place. The importance of the Councils role in promoting and supporting this initiative, once it was established, was highlighted to the Board.
Middlesbroughs cultural future - It was felt that this was very important to the town and was not an optional extra; culture and heritage should be developed. It was felt that the town should be looked at as a city, and that aspirations should be raised to expect city scaled events and facilities. It was acknowledged that this would take some time to instil, but was fundamental to the towns development.
SSI - The closure of SSI had been detrimental to the area, with reference being made to the number of job losses that had occurred. It was unclear as to how many people had been successful in obtaining new employment. Reference was made to training courses and support that had been offered to those made redundant, though it was felt that at least a further 6-9 months of support was required.
Regarding the site, it was explained that it would cost somewhere in the region of £8m-£18m per year to maintain it in its current state. There was potential for the site to be used for other purposes, but to clean the site alone would cost in the region of £1-2bn. Work to the site could potentially deplete the entire resource allocation that would be provided to the Combined Authority under the Devolution deal, and it needed to be ensured that this did not happen. The Devolution deal was arranged and signed prior to the closure of SSI.
Combined Authority / Devolution - A Constitution had been created for the Combined Authority, which would come into being on 1 April 2016.
It was anticipated that Devolution would commence one year later; reference was made to the Mayoral Election that would take place in May 2017.
There had been some uncertainty and reservations raised regarding the Devolution deal, with reference being made to the additional £15m per annum resource allocation that would be received. It was yet to be confirmed what the standard amount per annum would be and when this would be made available. Mention was also made of the Regional Growth Fund and the implications of the Devolution deal on this. However, despite these concerns, it was felt that if additional resources were being allocated over time, and the Council had more input in determining how money was spent, then this would be positive. Reference was made to the work being undertaken with neighbouring authorities and the division of resources once Devolution was in place.
Regarding Scrutiny of the Combined Authority, it was explained that this was built into the Constitution and therefore not optional. Three Members from each of the five Local Authorities would be appointed, which would be politically balanced. Consideration was given to the work of Scrutiny and how Middlesbrough differed from other Tees Valley Local Authorities. The Mayor referred to the need to ensure that Scrutiny was used as a major policy and service development tool - as in Middlesbrough - and was not just used to examine decisions. It was felt that services in some areas would need to be joined up between Authorities in order for progress to be made, though further consideration would need to be given towards this. It was indicated that the exact role of Scrutiny would need to be defined, and would be dependent on matters such as the role of the Mayor and the aspirations of the Members.
In response to an enquiry regarding promotion of the town, it was felt that ways were always being developed to assist with this. Reference was made to the Love Middlesbrough magazine, which was felt to have been especially successful. Involvement with local businesses and excellent links with the University had been established in order for symbiotic relationships to be formed. Reference was made to a recent Corporate Peer Review, with feedback being obtained as to how optimistic and clean Middlesbrough was.
In response to an enquiry regarding the criteria for accessing the Community Bank, it was explained that it would operate as a standard Credit Union in addition to offering products, therefore there would be rules and regulations surrounding that. There would not be a need for those accessing the service to be members of the Credit Union in order to purchase products, but it was unlikely that multiple purchases of the same item(s) would be permitted.
A Member made reference to the local media in respect of the promotion of the town and the types of activities conducted via this. It was felt that additional promotion outside of Middlesbrough was required in order to raise the towns profile. It was felt that although negativity had hit the town, more positivity needed to be shown and demonstrated for the good things that the town had achieved, such as job creation in recent months. Reference was made to the potential for participation in events and activities to raise the towns profile nationally. In that context, mention was made of the football Premier League and the potential benefit for the town if Middlesbrough F.C were to be promoted.
In response to an enquiry regarding progress monitoring / scrutiny, reference was made to performance statistics and measures such as: cleanliness; visitor figures; housing, school and crime rates, but it was felt that the principal indicator concerned employment and how all of the aforementioned factors interacted to ensure that the people of the town were able to live as full a lives as possible.
Reference was made to the impending Tour De Yorkshire event; it was felt that this presented an enormous opportunity for the town. There was a lot of preparation work currently being undertaken and it was considered that the event had huge potential for raising the profile of the town, both nationally and internationally.
Mention was made of the Tour De France event that took place in 2015 and the initiatives undertaken by organisations in Yorkshire to get involved in the event. It was indicated that similar opportunities existed for Middlesbrough, for example: land art, cultural events and painted bicycles along the route.
It was indicated that part of the route would pass through Stewart Park; the Friends of Stewart Park had applied for a grant for land art. It was hoped that the Endeavour could be sited in the park, though this would be dependent upon financials. Discussions had also been held with the sports village management team to determine the possibility of utilising exercising machines to pedal the distance that Captain Cook had travelled.
It was felt that there was opportunity for everyone to get involved in the upcoming event.
In response to a comment regarding Devolution, it was explained that the Tees Valley Economic Strategy was currently being reviewed. It was hoped that the importance of Middlesbrough town centre and the potential for its future expansion would be included in the Strategy. Reference to other regional centres and comparison to Middlesbrough and the surrounding areas was made.
The Chair thanked the Elected Mayor for his attendance and update.