To consider the report of the Director of Service Delivery, (copy enclosed).
The Committee considered the report of the Director of Service Delivery informing Members about the Welcome Back Fund and seeking agreement of the principles by which the Council would engage with local business groups, lower tier authorities and other relevant stakeholders to ensure maximum local impact and value for money. The report also sought agreement of the principles by which funding would be allocated and defrayed by 31 March 2022.
The Welcome Back Fund (WBF) had come from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to support the safe return to high streets and help build back better from the pandemic. It also built on the Reopening High Streets Safely Fund (RHSS). The scope of the WBF was divided into six strands and these were set out in the report.
The report set out the RHSS and WBF funding that had been allocated by the Council and it was noted that following work undertaken last year the remaining budget was £145,558. The proposed allocation of these remaining monies was set out in the report.
The Chairman put the recommendations as set out in the report. This was duly seconded.
A lengthy debate ensued during which a number of comments were raised and in response to these and other points the following information was provided:
· In respect of the proposed new Specialist post to be funded, Members were advised it was common for part of the scope of Government funding to include it being able to be spent on resource to get the work done. The Strategy, Policy and Communications Manager explained that this role was essential to ensure that the monies were spent. Officers would be looking at how the Council resourced this for the future.
· There was a very tight timescale to achieve the work identified, however an action plan had been drawn up for the new post to action.
· Members were reassured that the Council would be actively engaging with businesses, communities, Town and Parish Councils and other organisations across the District to identify and prioritise needs. It was noted that ways to utilise High Streets differently would be discussed and could include making sure spaces not utilised were used differently.
· In relation to Covid, an outbreak containment management plan was expected from the Government towards the end of July. Although details of this plan were not known, it was acknowledged that there was a need to review how / replace current sign posting, stickering etc. was used in the future.
· The Council’s primary focus was ensuring that the funding was spent in the right way to help and support businesses and develop the High Streets.
· It was confirmed that the fund was District wide and open to all businesses across the District. The Council would be supporting all groups and ensuring that they were made aware of the fund.
· The Strategy, Policy and Communications Manager outlined the amount of funding available to the Council and the proposed use of it.
· In response to concerns raised regarding the management of the proposed new post, the Director of Service Delivery advised the proposed new post would sit within the Service Delivery directorate, reporting to the Specialist Manager, but working closely with the Strategy, Policy and Communications Manager and her team.
In response to a comment regarding the Council having an Economic Development function, the Chairman commented that the Council had to review and identify what its structure etc. was for the next 10 – 15 years to ensure it was sustainable.
Councillor W Stamp proposed an amendment to the recommendation, that a report be brought back to the Strategy & Resources (S&R) and Performance, Governance & Audit (PGA) Committee. Following some discussion it was suggested that the plans be brought to the S&R Committee and that the PGA Committee reviewed the work every four months. It was clarified that the amendment related to recommendation (ii). The proposed amendment was duly seconded and agreed by assent.
(i) That Members note the previous and ongoing work to support our High Streets, visitor economy and business community, and the appointment of the Fixed Term post of Lead Specialist Prosperity
(ii) That Members endorse the Welcome Back Fund Engagement Approach and Principles with reports to the following Committees:
· Performance, Governance and Audit Committee (to receive quarterly reports on the work undertaken);
· Strategy and Resources Committee (to receive reports on the action plan).
(iii) That Members endorse the Welcome Back Prioritisation Principles.
Councillor C Morris left the meeting during this item of business and did not return.