To consider the report of the Metro Mayor and the Director of Commercial Development and Investment.
The Overview and Scrutiny Committee considered the report of the Metro Mayor and the Director of Commercial Development and Investment which informed the Committee that following the COVID-19 pandemic, the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority had drafted an Economic Recovery Plan on behalf of its members and dozens of key stakeholders and following agreement had submitted it for consideration by government.
The final version of the plan ‘Building Back Better’ had been circulated to members of the Committee in advance of the meeting.
Mark Bousfield, Director of Commercial Development and Investment gave a verbal presentation which covered four main parts:-
· An update on the context of the Economic Recovery Plan;
· The engagement undertaken in the preparation and drafting of the Plan;
· The Drafting of the Plan and the themes contained within it; and
· Use of the Plan
Mark Bousfield, Director of Commercial Development and Investment highlighted:
· The Economic and Government context of the plan;
· The specific engagement undertaken with various groups, stakeholders, business networks, Local Authorities and the formal links with the Merseyside Resilience Forum’s recovery cell;
· The four themes of the Plan:
v Business eco-system;
v People focussed recovery;
v Place; and
v Green recovery.
· The use of the Plan for focus discussions with Government on what the City Region needed and how it could contribute to the recovery;
· The Plan being the best path for recovery for the City Region; and
· The Plan being a ‘living’ document in response to the ever-changing situation.
Members of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee were given the opportunity to raise questions or comments.
Councillor Tricia O’Brien welcomed the Plan. She referred to her position as Chair of the Liverpool City Council Planning Committee and her role in supporting the re-use of retail areas in the City Centre. She referred to consideration of planning applications and asked if the Combined Authority would look at developing a policy which could feed into local Planning decisions in order to revive the economic activity and culture in the City Centre.
Mark Bousfield, Director of Commercial Development and Investment stated that he was not an expert in planning and he was aware that the Government were doing their own planning review. He added that he did not think that a new policy would make a difference, given the timescale for recovery. The focus was more on projects and programmes needing to be funded quickly, rather than on policy development.
The meeting was made aware that the Metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram was now in attendance and was able to respond to questions and comments on the Plan.
Councillor Derek Long commented that the Government had very recently indicated a turn toward expenditure constraint and reduction and there was a feeling of fear as to how this would impact the economy.
Councillor Long also asked if an Executive Summary could be provided for stakeholders and Government.
Councillor Long referred to the City Region as a combination of economies. He mentioned that consideration should be given to anchor industries and activities, e.g. Pilkingtons, who were important components of the City Region Economy. He asked what was in place to support anchor industries to go forward and what measures were being used to incorporate and monitor the differential impacts of the economy.
The Metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram, referred to the question from Councillor O’Brien and stated that planning was an issue for the Local Authority and the Combined Authority’s ability to intervene in local planning decisions was restricted. He referred to the forthcoming announcement on progress with the City Region Spatial Development Strategy. He added that the Liverpool City Region was the only area outside of London to have certain powers.
The Metro Mayor went on to respond to Councillor Long’s comments and agreed regarding the retraction of state of support. He referring to the issue of transport and the need for Government to intervene where a commercial model was not sustainable.
The Metro Mayor added that following the recent fiscal event, he was hopeful that there would be continuation of funding for large scale infrastructure development. He added that the Combined Authority had already been working on a pipeline of projects which were ‘oven ready’. The Combined Authority were continually working with Government and tailoring what could be deliver locally and also aligning any projects with the Liverpool City Region Skills Strategy.
The Metro Mayor referred to Councillor Long’s comment about differentials. He stated that the Combine Authority were looking for initiatives and funding opportunities that put the Region at an advantage compared to other areas. Plans were being developed to support businesses.
Mark Bousfield, Director of Commercial Development and Investment added that the Combined Authority was working with Local Authorities and assisting with engagement with Government on emergence from lockdown and financial needs. He indicated that as well as having a City Region overview of the economic impact, a local breakdown can be provided to each Local Authority to enable partnership working to formulate a local recovery plan.
Councillor Dr John Pugh congratulated the Authors of the Plan. He stated that he was interested in the role of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee in scrutinising actions contained in the Plan to enable the process to be as transparent as possible. He asked if it was possible for a breakdown of the elements of each scheme to demonstrate any commitment being entered into by the Combined Authority on each project. He suggested that a table at showing what the City Region was going to spend money on would be helpful and the inclusion of any partnership funding. He added that this was an important piece of work for the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
Councillor Pugh also referred to the two types of requests for help and was concerned that by not differentiating closely enough, it could confuse Civil Servants and create a cause for delay in relation to urgent priorities.
Councillor Pugh stated that there wasn’t a great deal said about changes in patterns of working and the implications for City Centre office development which still needed to be addressed.
The Metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram responded to Councillor Pugh and agreed that a table could be drawn up which demonstrated the financial aspects and the potential liabilities for the Combined Authority. He also agreed with Councillor Pugh on the importance of the role of Scrutiny in this process and felt that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee was the most important Committee of all. He stated that the role played by Scrutiny was fundamental in helping to convince Government that we have our house in order.
The Mayor also commented that it was not just about office space, it was also simple things like connectivity, access to the internet and there were really ambitious plans around that. The Combined Authority were working on the digital inclusion/exclusion agenda and were looking to work with organisations to tackle the issue, particularly around access to IT equipment. The Mayor then referred to the impact on people working from home. Some were not using the correct ergonomic equipment which could be storing up physical issues for the future. He also mentioned the unknown impact of mental health and wellbeing, particularly people who had been isolated.
Mark Bousfield, Director of Commercial Development and Investment stated that he could share the information in a table requested by Councillor Pugh as this was already prepared. He stated that the Plan was a submission to Government, not a request for approval. He added that similar to the SIF process, each project would need to go through the same scrutiny from this point on. It wasn’t envisaged that the Government would fund every scheme. In relation to public sector funding needs and in particular Local Authority funding shortfall, this was not included in the Plan but was subject to different but parallel discussions by the Metro Mayor with Government.
In relation to working patterns, Mark Bousfield indicated that they took the view that there would be changes but didn’t want to pre-empt so practically all of the plan was capable of proceeding without full knowledge of how working patterns will change.
Councillor Dr John Pugh indicated that if it was left for Government to opt for what project they wanted to fund first, we may not get the best solution for the City Region.
Mark Bousfield, Director of Commercial Development and Investment stated it was a careful balance for Officers in discussions with Government, led by the Metro Mayor.
The Metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram indicated that the plan was not developed in isolation. Mark Bousfield and his team had toiled over the midnight oil to produce in a way that it would be well received by Government and hit the right buttons. There was also a lot of work going on developing relationships with Government and getting to have discussions at the right level. The Mayor added that this was a crucial element of his role alongside Officers in the Organisation. He stated that when you get time for discussions with Senior Ministers you focus on priorities in order to attract funding streams. He added that the City Region had been particularly successful in attracting infrastructure funding.
Councillor Sam Marshall stated that it was a great report. She noted that the cost of the Plan was £1.4 billion in total and the green recovery element was £285 million. She commented that Government had offered £350 million nationally in relation to green recovery. She added that it was great to see the Region’s plan for recovery combined in one place and the will to be bold and ambitious. She congratulated everyone involved. She referred to mental health and wellbeing and also the figure of 70,000 being unable to work increasing significantly. She also asked if there was a focus on social value and was there a global approach to asking companies involved in bidding for projects what they have done to protect jobs/terms and conditions etc. She would like to see awards going to companies that had kept a good moral tone.
Councillor Marshall also mentioned funding streams, Local Enterprise Partnership or Local Industrial Strategy Task and Finish groups. She wondered if this would be a separate breakout topic or if it could be included in the Scrutiny work plan for next year.
The Metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram reported that the Liverpool City Region lead in the whole country as a Combined Authority in relation to the Social agenda. He was hopeful that early next year the City Region would be either the first or one of the first to have a Fair Employment Charter. Once approved, organisation and businesses to sign up to the Charter. Within that would be a number of stipulations for them to adhere to. He agreed with Councillor Marshall that post furlough deadlines would be a significant issue. Universal Credit applicants were at record levels.
Mark Bousfield, Director of Commercial Development and Investment mentioned the work being undertaken by Kath O’Dwyer, the new Chief Executive of St Helens Council which was very focussed on mental health in the workplace and encouraging businesses to undertake more positive engagement with their workforce on mental health and wellbeing.
Councillor Tricia O’Brien mentioned the Metro Mayors comments on planning and concurred that decisions rested at the moment with Local Planning Authorities. She felt that it was interrelated in that anything helping culture in Liverpool City Centre was impacting on the rest of the City Region. She asked if the City Council should have support in local planning decisions from the Combined Authority and if it was possible to develop a mechanism to support private sector planning initiatives.
The Metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram indicated that this was a sensitive area and the current process worked well by getting agreement stage by stage.
Councillor Christine Howard stated that she was glad to hear that separate initiatives would be taken separately through Scrutiny. She hadn’t been able to read the document in full but asked if there was any contingency included in the Plan regarding the possibility of Liverpool or any part of the City Region being put into ‘local lockdown’.
The Metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram stated that any projects that may be supported through this Plan, would follow the same process for consideration by the Combined Authority and the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. The ‘local lockdown’ issue was complex and vexed and the Government had not yet clarified the process to trigger a ‘local lockdown’. Following a press conference with the Mayor of Greater Manchester Combined Authority, the Government were requested to provide access to detailed local data in order that the messaging could be specifically targeted at the right audience. He added that it was for Local Authority and their Director of Public Health to decide on lockdowns, with the City Region having a more strategic role, particularly in relation to transport. The Combined Authority also links into Local Resilience Forum and they are constantly monitoring the situation.
The Vice-Chair, Councillor Andy Corkhill asked about the potential impact that a border with Brexit could have on the Port at Birkenhead and Liverpool. He referred to the issue in the South of the Country with massive delays and large HGV parks and asked if that would be an issue on the City Region and what contingencies were in place.
The Metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram indicated that the issue fell under National Emergency Powers. Conversations were taking place and he had been campaigning for additional infrastructure capacity for rail. He stressed the importance of Northern Powerhouse Rail and the High Speed 2 line. He stated that there wasn’t space in the immediate areas of the Ports for huge numbers of HGVs and it would be for Local Authorities to work with each other to identify where the best geographical location would be. He added that there would be an ‘artificial border’ and the Government were starting to re-focus on Brexit. The City Region would be facing significant difficulties and challenges with huge numbers of jobs being determined on the type of deal agreed with the European Union.
Councillor Dr John Pugh asked for a point of clarification. As some of the schemes could require further Scrutiny, he wanted to be clear that the Committee were not giving wholesale approval for everything, but support in principle.
The Vice-Chair, Councillor Andy Corkhill took the opportunity to thank the Metro Mayor, Steve Rotheram and Mark Bousfield, Director of Commercial Development and Investment for their work on the Plan. He also paid tribute to Councillors and Officers in the City Region who had adapted their work in order to serve the Community over the past months and he felt that the Region was stronger for their efforts.
(i) That the approved Plan in principle be noted;
(ii) that the need to regularly update the plan to reflect government’s own recovery planning and the evolving course of the pandemic, be noted;
(iii) that the work already underway to progress actions within the plan, be endorsed; and
(iv) that it be noted that schemes within the Plan may be subject to further consideration by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.