Delivering Wirral's Growth
- Meeting of Cabinet, Thursday, 8th December 2016 6.00 p.m. (Item 66.)
- View the background to item 66.
Councillor Phil Davies, Leader of the Council – Strategic Economic Development, Finance and Devolution, said:
“In 2020 Wirral has to be self-sufficient – the only money we will have to invest in our borough, in the services residents rely on, will be the money we can raise ourselves. This simple fact puts strengthening our economy, supporting businesses to grow and encouraging businesses to move here and create jobs, at the top of our agenda.
We have big ambitions for Wirral and, working with our partners in the Liverpool City Region and throughout the North West, we must maximise the impact of the huge opportunities before us: downtown Birkenhead, New Brighton, Bromborough Business Park, Hoylake Golf Resort and more.
This report proposes the development of a new company to drive these efforts. Building on the success delivered by Liverpool and Manchester over the past decade, this new company would provide Wirral with the ability to promote itself, attract investors and translate their interest into sustainable new businesses, economic growth and jobs for Wirral residents”.
Councillor Phil Davies introduced a report which informed that economic development had become a major local government activity over the past two decades. This was because many cities and boroughs had recognised how important it was to support the growth in jobs in their area and in particular, had looked to attract highly skilled jobs which paid well.
To support this, a range of policies had been adopted in relation to land clearance, retail development, public transport, roads, housing, and marketing. Where councils initially concentrated on creating an environment for businesses to flourish, changes to the UK economy had prompted a more assertive and commercial approach to regeneration.
As government capital grant reduced and access to traditional bank finance became harder for the public sector to raise, councils were exploring opportunities for new ways to lever in investment to support growth, including the use of their own property and land assets, borrowing, pension funds and more flexibility to be active in the bond markets.
The Localism Act 2011 introduced a ‘power of competence’ which further encouraged councils to introduce innovative trading models around development companies in recognition that the private sector and investors wanted to work with councils through specific company structures.
Wirral Council was no different. The implementation of the Council’s new operating model had put the organisation in a position where we were more able to understand and capitalise on the opportunity for growth in the borough: studies had been commissioned to understand how transport and infrastructure could be improved, strategic land acquisitions had been made and proposals were being developed for further land assembly. The Council was regularly being contacted by leading investors and was working towards the launch of a compelling investment proposition to further drive awareness of and interest in Wirral as a place to do business.
Whilst the strategic leadership of the growth agenda would sit within the Council alongside other related statutory functions such as planning, there was a need to create delivery structures which could more easily partner and work with the private sector. Through the Council’s Transformation Programme, work was being undertaken to complete an options appraisal to establish a property company (PropCo). This would be presented to the Cabinet in February 2017. It was anticipated this company would lead the Council’s development activity and secure increased income for the Council which could be used to support service delivery.
The preliminary work undertaken to develop the options appraisal for a property company had identified an urgent need to initiate further activity to:
· More effectively promote Wirral’s growth agenda and potential to investors in a strategic, structure, highly professional and commercial fashion.
· Promote opportunities to existing businesses to secure improved and increased space.
· Ensure inward investment was managed in an integrated and strategic way with our partners.
· Join up Partners, Council, Investors, Businesses and Residents around a single vision for Wirral’s regeneration.
The report recommended that further work be undertaken over the next four weeks with a view to establishing the case for a wholly owned Local Authority company, in addition to the proposed PropCo, to undertake the work detailed in the report. This activity supported the ambitions of the Wirral Plan, in particular the Pledges and priorities described within the Wirral Growth Plan.
RESOLVED: That Cabinet
(1) instructs officers to develop a business case and supporting business plan confirming the viability of the preferred option, to be considered by the Cabinet at its meeting in February 2017;
(2) in the case of a viable arms-length company, instructs Officers to develop a legal framework and governance structure for approval; and
(3) authorises officers to assemble a project team to progress work on the set up of a new structure.