Agenda item

Business Rate Pool

a)    To receive an update on the Business Rate Pool;

 

b)    To consider SEDF funding requests in respect of:

 

-       The ‘Made in Gloucestershire’ Initiative; and

 

-       Central Gloucestershire Mass Transit Scheme – development funding.

 

 

Minutes:

Andrew Cummings, Strategic Director of Resources, Stroud District Council, provided the Committee with an update on the Gloucestershire Business Rate Pool.

 

Members were advised that the expected pool gain for 2021/22 was £4.17million, which would lead to an allocation of £833k to the SEDF. It was noted that there was currently £259k of unallocated money remaining in the SEDF, which did not include the expected gain to the SEDF from 2021/22 and 2022/23.

 

It was noted that the final settlement for local government for 2022/23 had confirmed that pooling would continue, and business rates growth would not currently be reset. However, a consultation was expected in the spring as part of the Government’s review of local government finance.

 

The Committee considered two SEDF funding requests.

 

The first SEDF bid was presented by Dev Chakraborty for £150k to launch the ‘Made in Gloucestershire’ Initiative.

 

One member requested that evidence be shared relating to the success of other areas that had launched similar projects. In response, it was explained that feedback on proposals for the initiative in Gloucestershire from local businesses had been positive, and data could be shared with members from the ‘Produced in Northumberland’ initiative.

 

Another member queried whether the initiative could be launched to coincide with the Tour of Britain, which would be travelling through the County. In response, it was explained that there was a two-pronged campaign for the project, with the recruitment of investors commencing after Easter, and a big launch in September, which could potentially coincide with the men’s race in Gloucestershire.

 

There was a further query as to whether the initiative would be duplicating the work of other schemes such as Cotswold Taste. In response, it was asserted that there wouldn’t be any duplication; however the initiative would engage with the Cotswold Taste brand on how they could work alongside each other.

 

Clarification was sought on the membership model for the scheme and how small local producers could be supported to sell to bigger chains. It was understood, in response, that part of the scheme would include working with producers such as by providing dedicated events through the Growth Hub.

 

One member queried whether the working group for the initiative was too top-heavy, and whether any consultation with small businesses had been carried out. In response, it was explained that it was considered important to have a group of ‘heavy-weights’ as part of the working group as they were the ones with the experience. It was also understood that the LEP had presented the initiative to its retail and high street group, as well as its agritech group, and the feedback had been positive and encouraging.

There was a comment as to how affordable membership would be for small businesses, and in response the Committee was advised that membership fees could be based on the number of employees or turnover.

 

There was also a question as to how quickly the initiative would look to involve other products in addition to food and drink. Members noted in response that it was important initially to focus on the launch of food and drink, with consultation on any expansion happening in the second year of the initiative on the back of feedback from businesses involved in the scheme.

 

On being put to a vote it was

 

RESOLVED to

 

Approve funding of £150,000 to launch, promote and project manage the ‘Made in Gloucestershire’ Initiative for 2 years.

 

The second SEDF bid was presented by Simon Excell for £850k of development funding for the Central Gloucestershire Mass Transit Scheme.

 

There were a number of comments in support of the principle of the scheme however concerns were raised about the amount of money being requested from the SEDF.

 

Officers advised that the Committee could agree the decision despite the amount of funding requested being in excess of the money currently in the SEDF. Funding could be agreed by splitting it across a two year period, which would need to be underwritten, or by allocating from the City Region Board fund. Members were advised that should they wish to approve this decision it would not be ultra vires.

 

There was a comment from a member that the scheme would not benefit those on the peripheries of the County, such as in the Forest of Dean.

 

Another member praised the scheme as being ambitious and would provide efficient public transport for the future that would benefit everyone in the County, despite its central location. They appreciated the situation relating to the funding, however argued that there were options around this.

 

A further member spoke of the scheme in the context of the National Bus Strategy, stating that the Mass Transit Scheme was an important component of Gloucestershire’s Bus Service Improvement Plan, which was submitted to the Government in October 2021. They expressed the view that the scheme would have an important part to play in helping to achieve the modal shift from private car use to public transport, and therefore would have a beneficial effect in reducing carbon emissions.

 

Several members reaffirmed their concerns about the amount of funding that was being requested from the SEDF. They queried whether the SEDF should be used to fund highways schemes and what the purpose of the Committee would be if there was no money left in the SEDF to allocate for future bids. They also commented that they had not received an update on progress with the Multi-Modal Model Study which had previously been funded by the SEDF.

 

It was commented that the Committee needed to consider its priorities when considering this decision, as by agreeing to fund this bid, the Committee would then be unable to consider funding for other projects.

 

One member felt that they had not had enough time to fully consider the information and discuss the options relating to this bid. They suggested that the pandemic had resulted in people working from home and travelling less and that this should be encouraged, rather than ‘putting all of our eggs into one basket’ with this central infrastructure project. They also commented on the current lack of funding for basic bus services and the impact this was having, and expressed the view that there was a lack of strategic oversight.

 

Another member suggested that the focus should be on smaller projects which would boost the economy now as the County continued to recover from the pandemic.

 

One member queried the concerns that had been raised by other members, expressing the view that the bid marked  the starting point for improving public transport for the future.

 

Simon Excell summed up the bid and asserted that it wasn’t unreasonable, having considered the advice from officers relating to how the bid could be funded, for the Committee to commit to funding to this vitally important project which would benefit all in the County.

 

The Chair summed up the discussion before the Committee voted on the bid.

 

On being put to the vote, the bid was refused. 

 

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