- Meeting of Growth, Infrastructure & Housing Select Committee, Thursday, 25th March, 2021 10.00 am (Item 3.)
To receive an update from cabinet members on Covid-19 and local economic recovery in Buckinghamshire.
Martin Tett, Leader of Buckinghamshire Council
Steve Bowles, Cabinet Member for Town Centre Regeneration
Lisa Michelson, Service Director Economic Growth and Regeneration
Members received an update from the Leader of the Council, Martin Tett, and the Cabinet Member for Town Centre Regeneration, Steve Bowles, on Covid-19 and local
economic recovery in Buckinghamshire. Although the country was still in lockdown, the Government had revealed its four-step roadmap back to a more normal life. This had included children and students returning to face-to-face education in schools and colleges. The report outlined the current situation for businesses and those unemployed in Buckinghamshire. Businesses continued to face cash flow pressure and reduced turnover. However, there was evidence that businesses were adapting during the three lockdowns and had become more resilient. Financial support grants for businesses remained in place to compensate for loss of business due to the third lockdown. The Council continued to administer these grants, which included the latest Government grant announced on 22 February, and its own Bucks Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG) to support businesses unable to apply for Government grants. It was estimated that the Council had distributed 94% of funds delegated by the Government and it was hoped that Government funds would be released to allow another round of ARG grants.
The Government’s recent Budget 2021 included an extension of the furlough scheme and the UK wide Self Employment Income Support scheme until September 2021. The ‘Build Back Better: our plan for growth’ publication had also been presented by the Government and the report highlighted some of the main headlines. Eight new freeports would be opened in England with the nearest ones to Buckinghamshire being in East Midlands and Thames.
Local authorities would assist with the reopening of high streets through various measures such as temporary pavement licences being extended for a further 12 months and relaxation of planning rules to allow pubs and restaurants to operate as takeaways. The Council had been allocated £481.5k from last year’s ‘Reopening High Streets Safely Fund’ which had specific spend criteria. Outstanding funds needed to be spent by 30 June 2021. A work programme was in place to support the reopening of Buckinghamshire high streets and a ‘Welcome Back’ campaign had been developed.
During the subsequent discussion, Members made the following key points:
· There was a need to evaluate the negative impact Covid had had on inequalities within Buckinghamshire. Another important aspect was assessing Covid’s impact on education.
· The Council’s ranking of 8th out of 265 local authorities for ARG distribution was based on percentage of funding distributed.
· The Council planned to address litter across Buckinghamshire and had a schedule of events planned to coincide with the phasing of lockdown easing between April – June.
· Town centres had benefited from being allowed to have pavement licenses as they had created a more vibrant atmosphere that enticed footfall. The high street would look different post-Covid and the Council needed to consider further ways to attract footfall through methods other than retail such as leisure and heritage.
· The Council was conducting an audit of all its properties to consider any suitable alternative uses. There were Customer Access Points in libraries for residents that had been set-up after Buckinghamshire became a unitary authority however the pandemic had temporarily closed the majority of these.
· The Community Boards had funding to work with local communities and high streets. The Council had allocated funds for the Boards to consider climate change and economic regeneration in their areas.
The Chairman thanked the Cabinet Members for their attendance and the update.