Report of the Director of Innovation & Growth.
The Committee received a report of the Director of Innovation and Growth providing Members with an update of the Recovery Task Force’s work since November 2020.
A Member noted that the City Vibrancy section referenced culture, retail, tourism and hospitality but not sport. He felt that this was unfortunate given that the City Corporation did have in place an, as yet, unfulfilled Sports Strategy and that sport and exercise was perhaps more important now than ever. He added that this also linked in with improvements to the public realm. Officers reported that a City Workers Survey on leisure needs was currently being undertaken and that the responses to this would be taken into account alongside the forthcoming public engagement programme on these works.
Another Member commented that he was interested to see this paper presented as a blue print and inferred that funds had been set aside for this work but didn’t specify what these were. Officers reported that budget was a key point and also fed into queries around why this work had not been a lot bolder and gone beyond the Corporate Plan. Members were informed that the work had effectively stuck within the framework of the Corporate Plan and looked at what ought to now be speeded up and tackle the unprecedented hit on the economy of the City that the convergence of both the pandemic and Brexit would bring – hence the primary focus being on business. In terms of budget, Officers were therefore looking at what had already been funded or approved and could now be speeded up within existing Departmental budgets. Any new, emerging ideas would be put to Members in due course with budgetary information attached.
Another Member questioned the strategic direction of travel on this and the overall objective which he found difficult to ascertain from the report. He added that it would be key to look at how footfall in the City could be improved in the future and stated that he was disappointed to note that, whilst there was an objective relating to making the City an attractive place in which to invest, work and visit, there was nothing on living in the City. He concluded by stating that he felt that the City Corporation currently had 2-3 important sites that were ready for development /change in use and that some big thinking was therefore needed around this which was not evident from this report. Officers took on board the point that they needed to be clearer about the overall objectives here but reiterated that this was about the direction of the City in future within the existing Corporate Plan. It was underlined that this work was really looking to drive the vibrancy of the offer in the City – everything from culture, hospitality and retail which would apply to all across the board – visitors, residents and workers alike.
A Member agreed with some of the points made by the previous speaker and stated that he felt that this report was missing any notion of what concrete actions might be needed going forward. He also felt that there was a lack of evidence to support the current position in terms of existing SMEs in the City and who we might want them to be in the future/how we might want to change the current mix. Officers highlighted that almost all of the actions detailed – both top down and bottom up – came from within existing strategies and was intended to be very practical in terms of outcomes.
Another Member agreed with the points already made, noting that it was difficult to see how the City could best influence this work. She underlined that residents had been calling out for the City Corporation to grapple with these important issues since the onset of the pandemic and added that she too was disappointed to see no reference to housing within the interim report in terms of how the City might look in the future. Recent months had shown that the local economy in suburban areas had reacted and benefitted in different ways to the City’s. Officers reiterated that this work was very focused on what the City offered to all – including residents who would also be key for the future success of the City.
Another Member spoke to underline that the City had been through testing times in the past albeit perhaps not as severe as at present and that something that had been pursued in the past had been to engaged directly with individual businesses as opposed to grouping them. He questioned whether this same approach could be adopted on this occasion to find out what the intentions of certain businesses were and how the City Corporation could best encourage them to return. Officers assured the Committee that they would be talking directly with businesses and residents and the general public in a very focused way over the next few months and using all future engagements undertaken by Lord Mayor, the Chair of Policy and Resources and the Chair of Planning to ask what it would take to keep them in the City post pandemic and beyond.
A Member commented that this was a very important work in terms of continuing to develop the City. She went on to echo a number of points already made around being heavily focused on rebuilding a business base for the City as opposed to looking at all components of the City including residents. She felt that the report ought to also consider whether the City’s resident base should continue to grow in future as opposed to looking to reinstate what had been. This would also involved looking again at housing, and the Member added that she felt that opportunities were being missed here, particularly around sites such as Bastion House and the Museum of London site should this be vacated.
Officers concluded by highlighting that this was only one of a suite of responses that the City Corporation were taken in response to the pandemic, alongside things such as further support for businesses and, later in the year, a scheduled reopening campaign. This work was focused on the slightly longer term period of 1-5 years and how best the City could bounce back in this time.
A Member stated that he still felt that there should be a clearer vision and much bigger picture into which this could all pitch. Officers welcomed any input that Members might have on this and how this could be made clearer and encouraged all to engage with the process.
Another Member commented that one of the biggest hurdles for people returning to the City was travel. Officers agreed with this point and stated that the way in which people work would undoubtedly change post-pandemic. However, it was also recognised that there were still many reasons for people wanting to work and congregate together and it was important for the City Corporation to look at how best to promote this.
The Chair, on behalf of the Committee, thanked Officers for all of their work on this to date and stated that he looked forward to subsequent update reports.
RESOLVED – That Planning and Transportation Committee members:
· Note the preliminary blueprint of the Recovery Task Force
· Note the plans for engaging with stakeholders.