Agenda and minutes

Gloucestershire Economic Growth Scrutiny Committee - Wednesday 16 September 2020 1.30 pm

Contact: Sophie Benfield 

Items
No. Item

1.

Apologies

To note any apologies.

Minutes:

No apologies were received.

2.

Declarations of Interest

Members of the committee are invited to declare any pecuniary or personal interests relating to specific matters on the agenda.

 

Please see note (a) at the end of the agenda.

 

Minutes:

No declarations of interest were received.

3.

Minutes pdf icon PDF 105 KB

To confirm the minutes of the previous meeting on 2 July 2020.

Minutes:

The minutes were approved as a correct record.

4.

Work Plan pdf icon PDF 64 KB

To review the committee work plan and suggest items for consideration at future meetings.

Minutes:

The Committee discussed the following points in relation to its ongoing work plan:

 

·         It was suggested that the Committee may want to consider an update on the Golden Valley project that had been discussed at the mornings Gloucestershire Economic Growth Joint Committee (GEGJC) meeting. Members requested this to be presented at their meeting in October.

·         It was agreed that the Chair, Vice Chair and Cllr Pickering would work together to plan an item on carbon neutral housing, to include modular builds and retrofitting existing housing. This item would be tentatively added to the work plan for November 2020.

·         A member requested that the Committee either had a regular review of the Economic Recovery Plan or at least one in depth update before the end of the year.

·         It was acknowledged that young people were going to be the most economically affected post-Covid, but that the GEGJC should also be considering the impact on the older work force who may need to reskill in order to re-enter the work place after facing redundancy. It was agreed that the Chair of GEGJC would take this away as an action.

 

5.

GLOUCESTERSHIRE ECONOMIC GROWTH JOINT COMMITTEE (GEGJC) UPDATE

To receive a verbal update on the GEGJC meeting held on 28 July 2020 and held earlier the same day from the Chair, Cllr Patrick Molyneux.

 

Scrutiny members are invited to attend the GEGJC meeting in an observer capacity. Please refer to the following link to view the agenda and supporting documents for the GEGJC meetings:

 

28 July 2020: https://glostext.gloucestershire.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=725&MId=9907&Ver=4

 

16 September 2020:

https://glostext.gloucestershire.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=9534

 

Minutes:

5.1       The Chair invited Cllr Patrick Molyneux, Chair of the GEGJC, to present this item and Members noted the following points:

 

·         The update on the Golden Valley project was very interesting and exciting news for the County. Gloucestershire had ranked number one cyber location for the UK and within the Western Gateway. The new facilities would be a key landmark project for the entire county and the South West. This was a really exciting project, giving Gloucestershire a chance to take real leadership in this sector. It was highlighted as a good item for scrutiny to look into in more depth going forward.

·         It was acknowledged that the presentation for this item was not received until late the day before the meeting but assured that scrutiny members received it at the same time as the GEGJC. It was reiterated that members of the Scrutiny Committee are invited to view the morning meeting and that the YouTube recording remains available online after.

·         The recovery process still remained unclear due to the constantly changing situation. It was crucial that Gloucestershire remained fluid in its reaction to recovery.

·         At the meeting in July, the Committee agreed on a ‘three C’s approach’ to economic recovery – Collaboration (working in partnership across the county and not leave any gaps), Communication (what is happening and keeping people updated) and Confidence (that we can come through this and that the county will be strong and successful following the pandemic).

·         The Senior Officer Group had agreed on three key areas to focus on initially – skills, the visitor economy and joint lobbying. The Committee have received good feedback externally that GCC as a public organisation was on the front foot with its recovery planning.

·         It was reinforced that any recovery plan could not be fixed; it needed to remain flexible and responsive due to the unclear and developing situation. There were many key questions that could not be answered at the moment.

5.2       A member stressed that the travel times highlighted in the Golden Valley presentation were by road and not public transport. It was absolutely critical if the whole county were going to feel the benefit of this project that existing public transport travel times were improved and more routes were added to reach everyone. It was also highlighted that some of the travel times from other parts of the country were over ambitious and needed to be revisited.

 

5.3       In response, the Chair confirmed the point about the travel times was picked up in the GEGJC meeting and agreed we needed to be absolutely accurate with this information in the project marketing, overselling it could potentially have the opposite effect.

 

5.4       It was questioned whether, in light of this project, Gloucestershire should have the ambition to create a world class university by improving the existing University of Gloucestershire. It was advised that there was hope that the project would have a positive effect on the University, potentially seeing it become one of the country’s centres of  ...  view the full minutes text for item 5.

6.

Business Rates Pool

To consider the report at Item 7 (a) of the Gloucestershire Economic Growth Joint Committee papers from earlier the same day:https://glostext.gloucestershire.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?MId=9534

 

 

 

Minutes:

6.1       The Chair invited Andrew Cummings, Strategic Director of Resources at Stroud District Council, to present the report. The Committee noted the following points:

 

·         The report reflected how the Business Rates Pool performed last financial year (2019/20), how the pandemic was affecting it in the current year and what the future for business rates pooling looked like in the coming years.

·         The Pool worked by pooling all the growth that the different councils had, above the base line that was set by Government for business rate collection, together and applying the relevant formulas. This resulted in the levy that needed to be paid to Government being a lot less than if all the billing authorities paid their rates separately.

·         In the last financial year, across Gloucestershire, the total pool growth above the baseline was £19.4 million and by applying the accounting mechanisms, the gain from pooling (i.e. the money saved locally that would have had to be paid back to central government) was £4.85 million. This was then shared between GCC, the Strategic Economic Fund and the district councils.

·         Looking forward to the next years forecasting, one of the impacts of Covid was back in March 2020 when the Government announced financial relief policies, it gave retail, leisure and hospitality sectors (with no limit on the size of the business) a 100% reduction in business rates for this financial year. For Gloucestershire, this meant there was a £107m reduction of business rates being billed.

·         Last year (2019/20) the amount billed was £228m, this year (2020/21) it had been forecast to be around £121m, which was clearly a very significant reduction.

·         The good news for the Pool was that central Government had agreed to reimburse the loss to local authorities. In a way this had removed some risk from the Pool as it was now covered directly from central Government for the year.

·         The main impact Covid may have on the reimbursement was that if a business ceased trading and therefore leave their premises, authorities would not receive repaid rates for that premise.

·         The most recent monitoring figures produced suggested that there will still be a Pool gain this year of £4.5m which was very similar to last year.

·         The future of the Pool in future years will depend on what central government decides to do nationally. For some time now, they have discussed plans to redistribute growth around the country.

·         At the GEGJC meeting this morning, it was agreed that the section 151 officers for each council would begin to consider whether Pooling should continue in Gloucestershire going forward.

·         Steve Mawson, Executive Director of Corporate Resources, highlighted to the Committee that considering where we thought we might be financially when Covid hit, this was a very positive position and forecast for the Pool. It was advised that it would be a shame to lose pooling but we do have to consider the options.

·         The issue was, the base line had not kept up with the growth, there was still a  ...  view the full minutes text for item 6.

7.

Broadband pdf icon PDF 121 KB

To consider the attached report.

Minutes:

7.1       The Chair opened the item by reminding the Committee that there was a substantial discussion with Mobile UK in November 2019 regarding mobile connectivity in the county. An update via Mobile UK’s website would be provided after the meeting via email, as much of their recent activity has had to focus on their Covid response, rather than moving forward on some of their projects. This item would therefore solely focus on broadband connectivity.

 

7.2       Cllr Patrick Molyneux, Cabinet Member Cabinet Member for Economy, Education and Skills, was invited to present the report. The Committee were advised that as the Fastershire team were unable to attend today’s meeting; some questions may need to be taken away for a written response if they were particularly technical.

 

7.3       The report was taken as read and the following points were highlighted:

 

·         The Fastershire Strategy was refreshed in 2019 and would now cover until 2022.

·         The aspirations for the project had taken on a much sharper context now given the impacts of Covid.

·         The Strategy was split into 5 phases. Phase 1 had now delivered 98% of Gloucestershire with super fast broadband, the remaining percentage were in the much harder to reach areas.

·         To final phases of the 2019-22 Strategy were aimed at reaching that final 2/3% of the County through alternative methods such as the Fastershire Community Grant scheme, to make it more attractive for suppliers to come in and target these areas.

·         On the whole, this had been a very successful project and it was hoped by 2022 that the final few percent would be covered.

7.4       A member highlighted that on the ground, the Gigaclear roll out was not happening as fast and as it was supposed to. There were still areas in their division that were being left without a suitable connection.

 

7.5       It was advised that timescales on these projects were difficult as contractors would not completely understand the scale of the project until it was started and Gigaclear had faced a few issues which were sometimes out of their control. There had been examples of parish councils delaying on signing the required Wayleave (a contractual license to grant operators the right to install) or difficulty in getting enough local business demand to make up the grant and bring contractors into the area.

 

7.6       A member had also noticed as issue of highways accidently hitting the broadband boxes as they were painted green and camouflaged into the road verges.

 

ACTION: Raise point with the Fastershire team

 

7.7       It was stressed that getting the connection did not appear to the end of resident’s broadband issues. Even when houses were connected up, many were still experiencing significant connection issues when trying to use their super fast connection.

 

7.8       In response, it was advised that connection issues could be due to a lot of reasons such as the environment in the home or the distance from the cabinet providing the connection. GCC, for example, experiences connection issues due to its server being  ...  view the full minutes text for item 7.

8.

GFirst LEP pdf icon PDF 141 KB

To receive a report on the latest project pipeline information and the Quarter 1 (2020/21) performance data.

Additional documents:

Minutes:

8.1       The Chair invited Mally Findlater, Programme Manager for the GFirst LEP, to present the reports.

 

8.2       Members noted that the first report was on the Quarter 1 performance data for the final year of the Local Growth Fund projects. This reflected that the LEP were working closely with the accountable body and were on track to deliver the programme on time and on budget. Some of the outputs were delayed due to Covid and economic issues but overall the programme was working well.

 

8.3       A member queried whether the LEP were aware of how much unfulfilled demand there currently was for employment land. It was advised that each time a project comes forward that would deliver employment land/business units, the LEP would ask the question – what is the demand in that area.

 

8.4       It was a very difficult question to answer in the early stages of a project, there was sometimes a view of ‘build it and they will come’ but the LEP use past experience, speak with agents and the Inward Investment Team look at queries that they receive to try and gain an understanding. It would be impossible to exactly quantify the demand but they try their best to answer this as well as possible for each relevant project.

 

8.5       The second paper outlined the progress for the Getting Building Fund. Members noted that this fund was announced by government and the LEP has eight days to turn around a project list to bid for the funding. They used the existing Capital Investment Pipeline and the existing ‘long list’ of projects held by the LEP in response to open calls earlier in the year. They contacted the projects (who fit the criteria for the fund) to see if they were able to deliver within the extremely challenging timeframe (18 months).

 

8.6       It was stressed at this point that the LEP heavily relied on the district and county councils to continue engaging and maintaining the Capital Investment Pipeline with projects that could release economic growth, especially for circumstances like this. The very short turnaround on bidding for this fund could not have been met without that existing pipeline of projects.

 

8.7       The LEP now had a robust list of good projects but were waiting on the Government to release the grant conditions so the funds could start to flow into the projects.

 

8.8       A member raised a query as to why there were no successful projects in Stroud and whether there was any learning the district could take away for future bids. It was advised it had nothing to do with locality; it was just unfortunate that none of the Stroud projects fitted the particular criteria that Government were asking for. The LEP were very happy to feedback to individual projects that were not successful if that would be helpful.

 

8.9       To give some more context around the process for selecting projects, Members noted that the presentation at their meeting in September 2019, outlined the Assurance Framework  ...  view the full minutes text for item 8.