To receive a verbal update on the GEGJC meeting held earlier the same
day from the Chair, Cllr Patrick Molyneux.
Please refer to the published forward plan of the GEGJC to suggest any
items you may want to consider at a future meeting of the Scrutiny Committee.
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 meeting:
6.1 The Chair invited Cllr Patrick Molyneux, Chair of the Gloucestershire Economic Growth Joint Committee (GEGJC), to present this item and Members noted the following points:
· GEGJC members had recognised the importance of developing a digital strategy for the County, which was separate to the Cyber Central project but ran alongside it.
· The overall direction of the draft Statement of Common Ground was agreed and the Committee asked the Senior Officer Group to have a more detailed look at the content. A final version would then be shared back with GEGJC for agreement.
· The GCC Covid-19 recovery action plan had now been costed and would be considered at Cabinet on 27 January 2021. It included a funding request of £500k per annum to drive the areas identified for action. The situation remained very fluid with many areas remaining in response mode; however the Committee were satisfied with the progress made so far towards recovery.
· The County’s S151 Officer Group had been considering options for pooling some of the Additional Restrictions Grant (Discretionary scheme), which formed part of central Government’s Covid support package to businesses. The group had since received notification from MHCLT that they could only pull grant applications for one of the proposed ideas (helping SMEs online). The Committee therefore stressed that these discretionary funds needed to be used in the most effective way for the businesses that really needed the support to make it through the pandemic.
· Members approved two SEDF funding requests; one for the City Region Board and the other for Cyber and Digital Growth in Gloucestershire.
· On the forward plan, there was a request for an update on the initial impacts of Brexit in the county.
6.2 Due to the very strong interest of GCC, the district councils and this scrutiny committee in digital connectivity, a member queried whether the development of the digital strategy would be a good piece of work for scrutiny to become involved in.
6.3 It was advised that the action taken away from this morning’s meeting was for the Senior Officer Group to do some further work on identifying what this strategy would look like, there was still quite a bit of work to be done first, but this Committee would definitely be involved at some point in that process.
6.4 It was reinforced that this strategy needed to run alongside but separately to the development of Cyber Central as it went a lot wider than just Cyber. The Govt. digital strategy for example, contained 7 different strands, one of which was about cyber security. There were 6 other strands focused on the wider issues of digital.
6.5 Noting members were due to discuss the governance of the GFirst LEP later in this meeting, it was questioned what the governance arrangements and relationship with scrutiny were for the new City Region Board. Members understood that it had now started to play a role in making significant decisions and spending public money and were therefore keen to be very clear about the transparency and scrutiny of its functions.
6.6 In response, members noted that the City Region Board was a partnership that was established by Leadership Gloucestershire and compromised all the districts, GCC, the LEP, the University and wide range of partners to coordinate activity in terms of growth of the county as a single functioning economic unit. At this stage the Board had only met once so it would potentially be better for scrutiny to become involved when the Board was more established.
6.7 In terms of its decision making powers and access to funding, it was advised that it was a partnership rather than a statutory committee that had power designated to it, which meant it was unable to make any decisions as a collective, and any decisions made needed to come from one of its partners. Likewise with any funding bids, these would need to be sponsored by one of the partners as a formal body, on behalf of the Board. Its aim was to provide a forum in terms of Gloucestershire’s overall economic growth, coordination of activity and contribution to bodies such as Western Gateway.
6.8 Officers suggested that the best way to involve scrutiny at this early stage would be to make the Committee one of the consultees on the developing prospectus, which will govern the work and governance arrangements for the Board going forward.
ACTION: Steve Mawson/Mike Dawson
6.9 The Chair confirmed that this Committee should have an active role in understanding the relationship between the different economic growth bodies in the county (Western Gateway, Leadership Gloucestershire and the City Region Board), how they all work together, coordinated and were governed.
6.10 A question was posed, in relation to the Cyber Central development, that given the current circumstances of most office based companies working from home, should the project be exploring the fundamental question of whether the physical presence of the Cyber Central development in terms of office space etc. had now become outdated.
6.11 Officers recognised this was a very valid point in terms of how our office working had changed due to the pandemic. It was understood however from ongoing local and national data that post-Covid, companies were likely to return to a blended approach of online and in-person working. The hub being developed at Cyber Central offered an opportunity for companies to work and operate from the same space, as well as mixing with others in their sector. Without this development, Gloucestershire as a whole currently had a woeful supply of good quality office space to offer.
6.12 Referencing the development of the Statement of Common Ground, a member noted a comment about the Leadership Board and its involvement in this process. It was questioned how this Committee could scrutinise the work of this Board.
6.13 Members noted that this was an informal group that came together to discuss the Statement. It was made up of the leaders and lead members for planning at all six councils, and simply provided an opportunity to discuss and make amendments to the Statement. The actual adoption of the Statement, once finalised, would need to be done by the individual councils themselves, it was only being coordinated by the GEGJC. It would therefore lead that each councils own scrutiny function would consider the implications of the Statement.
6.14 Again in light of the Covid impacts on businesses, a member questioned how we would be adapting and developing the Growth Hub offer to take account of these changes. Officers advised that the offer continued to evolve all the time. Not only will changes come from the pandemic impacts, but also as the Hubs work with new and different business and trend changes in society. The big opportunity now was for the Hubs to provide that flexible working space previously discussed.
6.15 Members heard that there were a whole host of mechanisms in place to make sure information was being shared across the Hub network, and also back to the governance Boards to ensure the projects were performing how expected. It was highlighted that the Committee were due to consider an item on Growth Hub Governance in March.