Council leader Philip Jackson has ordered an external independent review to investigate the “unacceptable process” set in train regarding the recent controversial consultation over the future of two nurseries and a day care facility in North East Lincolnshire.
Cllr Jackson used the opportunity of delivering his Leader’s Speech at yesterday’s meeting of Full Council to “address head on” the topic.
He told the chamber: “It’s been four months since my last Leader’s statement and there has been a huge amount happening across North East Lincolnshire. Firstly, I want to address head on an issue which has understandably caused great controversy and concern over the past month. Two weeks ago, the Cabinet announced an immediate end to the consultation around the future of Great Coates and Scartho nurseries, and the Reynolds Day Care facilities. The settings will therefore remain open as normal, with parents encouraged to enrol for the new term in September.
“Instead, the council will now take time to work with staff, governors, and parents. Together they will fully assess the situation, taking account of the hundreds of views already gathered. These include positive approaches from organisations already working in local childcare, as well as parents, governors, and residents.
“Over the past week, Cllr Cracknell, Cllr Shreeve and I, along with relevant officers, have held three meetings with representatives of the three settings and ward councillors, and have set in train a process to work towards ensuring these nurseries become sustainable from both an occupancy and financial viewpoint.
“Let me be clear, the way in which this process was set in train was totally unacceptable, with the Cabinet unaware that letters had been sent to parents and staff starting a consultation around potential closures of the three settings. Therefore, as leader of the council, I have instigated an independent external review as to how this situation arose, and to ensure lessons are learned.
“While on the theme of children, I want to turn to Children’s Services. Following Ofsted’s last monitoring visit, we received positive feedback from inspectors in respect of the integrated front door and other related matters but there remains a long way to go. Our Improvement Plan has two clear areas of priority – to improve outcomes for children and to build a stable and resilient workforce in children’s social care. We continue to work effectively with both Lincolnshire County Council, as our sector led improvement partner, and our commissioner.
“Managing demand, workforce and financial challenges in children’s social care are not unique to this authority; that was clear from the recent LGA conference in Bournemouth. Many other areas are experiencing similar challenges, regardless of their Ofsted rating.
“However, our financial challenges are particularly acute, and it is imperative that we do more to control and reduce expenditure in children’s services and that money spent delivers positive outcomes for our children and families.”
Turning to health and care integration, Cllr Jackson outlined the continuing work with the Humber and North Yorkshire Integrated Care Board to support the further development of ‘our place’ based integrated health and care arrangements in North East Lincolnshire. “Our recent Corporate Peer Challenge referred to our national best practice in this field and it is important that we build on that,” he said. “Our good performance, for example, in key areas such as hospital discharge is a result of our well-established integrated model – one team, one set of resources and some strong working relationships across a complex sector.
“Now to more positive developments around levelling up, business, industry, and regeneration. We are now fully engaged with the Government regarding a possible Greater Lincolnshire devolution deal. Officers and Government officials are working through issues such as governance as well as the scope and structure of a devolution deal – covering areas such as skills, innovation, infrastructure, transportation, and net zero. This work will continue over the summer and no major decisions will be taken without formal Cabinet consideration and Full Council involvement.
“However, it is essential that collaboration around the Humber continues where it is in our mutual interest. The Humber Freeport, officially up and running since earlier this month, is an example of private and public sector partners working successfully together around the Estuary. Freeports have been established at eight strategic locations within England, with the clear objective to be a catalyst for growth through delivering national hubs for global trade and investment, nurturing innovation, and driving regeneration and the creation of skilled jobs, enhanced infrastructure, and increased connectivity.
“Humber Freeport aims do all of these things and more. To steer Humber Freeport’s strategic direction, three clear workstreams have been established – decarbonisation, skills and innovation.
“The Humber is the pre-eminent cluster for energy in Northwest Europe and is uniquely positioned to create a roadmap for whole-region decarbonisation and drive the UK’s transition to a net zero economy. Our decarbonisation workstream will maximise opportunities across the UK’s Energy Estuary, supporting clean growth and attracting further investment in low carbon energy and technology.
“Without a skilled workforce equipped with the required expertise, the net zero transition will not succeed. Freeport status aims to generate more than 7000 mostly skilled jobs, not only in green energy, but in sectors ranging from logistics and chemicals to advanced manufacturing. The skills workstream will help ensure our region has the right people, with the right expertise, to drive economic growth.
“And finally, to innovation. Freeport status will create a hotbed for new, emerging technologies, driving transformational change and underpinning future success. The Freeport aims to attract hundreds of millions of pounds of inward investment in the Humber. The three tax sites in Hull, Goole and Immingham and the customs zone in Grimsby will create a highly attractive environment for investment, trade and industry.
“In addition, North East Lincolnshire will receive millions of pounds of seed corn capital funding from the Government as part for the Freeport deal, that will be available for business investment. We will, of course, also benefit from additional business rate income.
“Still on the theme of business investment, three Grimsby firms recently benefitted from more than £5 million of UK Seafood Fund Infrastructure Scheme grant monies from DEFRA, a huge vote of confidence for our thriving seafood sector. Fastnet Fish was awarded £1.2 million to increase cold store capability in their existing facility by 150%, by installing racking units which will maximise product throughput, without incurring additional energy costs. The project aims to substantially reduce electricity usage by installing renewable energy mechanisms to reduce carbon emissions and create environmentally sustainable energy solutions. New England Seafood International received £3.8 million to deliver a state-of-the-art processing facility in Grimsby. The project includes the purchase of processing equipment, the extension and refurbishment of their current building and installation of a refrigeration plant. The project will increase output by 162% over four years and create 263 jobs, whilst reducing road miles and energy consumption. Seafish Processing Limited was awarded £315,000 to expand its processing facility. The project will include the refurbishment of their current building to install a new cold store, blast chiller and fish-debone and separator station. It will increase the processing and production capacity by 40%, increase export capability and reduce carbon emissions.”
Cllr Jackson continued: “It is almost a year since this Council took the brave decision to purchase Freshney Place, Lincolnshire’s largest covered shopping centre, to ensure that it remained a key part of the regeneration of Grimsby town centre. Earlier this month, the Freshney Place Cabinet Sub-Committee received a performance report from Queensberry Real Estate, which is currently managing Freshney Place on behalf of the council. This demonstrated increasing footfall, an increased centre occupancy rate, new lettings bettering the business plan, and the successful collection of pre-purchase arrears, effectively bonus money, together with the proposed NHS Community Diagnostic Centre in Baxtergate being a real positive that fully aligns to the aims of diversifying the town centre while at the same time making health services more available to our wider community. There is also a potential exciting new letting; part of a national retail chain which will occupy the old WH Smith’s unit.
“In the autumn, work on the ground will start on the repurposing of the western end of Freshney Place to deliver the new multiscreen cinema, leisure facilities and market and food hall. Clearly there is still much to do in Freshney Place, but the first year has been very positive. It has not been the burden on the council tax payer that some predicted; in fact, quite the opposite!
“Just a stone’s throw away from Freshney Place, the planning application has been validated to redevelop the long-abandoned St James House into a vibrant business hub named The Hive. One of the six Towns Fund projects, this ambitious scheme will help breathe new life into the heart of Grimsby town centre, providing local and small businesses with state-of-the-art office accommodation and business event space and will significantly contribute to the town’s regeneration. The Hive will feature a range of modern amenities, including more than 20 flexible offices, a contemporary café, and a spacious events hall. Additionally, the premises will be the new home for the 300-plusy members of the unique Business Hive Club. It will boast a members’ lounge, and well-equipped meeting rooms, offering the perfect setting for businesses to network, collaborate, and grow. The redevelopment of St James House is expected to be completed by the end of 2024 but will be carried out in a phased approach, with floors being released for letting as soon as possible.
“Another Towns Fund project, the refurbishment of Riverhead Square to provide an improved public meeting and events space, is progressing apace. A third Towns Fund project is the redevelopment of brownfield land on Alexandra Dock. This was identified for green urban housing in Grimsby’s Town Centre Masterplan, which is supported by Homes England, and is cited as an ideal location given the water nearby and the other town centre improvements that are underway. Preliminary Market Consultation is currently underway to find a development partner to bring forward this regeneration project.
“Finally, for Grimsby town centre, work has now begun on Grimsby’s much-anticipated Horizon Youth Zone, as construction staff moved on to the Garth Lane site in June. The Horizon state-of-the-art youth centre is expected to open in early 2025 in the Grade II-listed West Haven Maltings buildings, which have been a derelict eyesore for many years. It will provide thousands of young people with opportunities to engage in activities, and access support from skilled youth workers. It will be a great facility for our young people and the town centre.
“So, many exciting projects progressing in Grimsby town centre but don’t worry, Cleethorpes has not been forgotten! Planning work continues for the delivery of the three Cleethorpes Masterplan projects for which £18.4 million of Levelling Up Funding was received earlier this year – Sea Road, Cleethorpes Market Place and Pier Gardens.
“Turning now to our LGA Corporate Peer Challenge, mentioned earlier, which took place in March. To be clear, this was not an inspection but a way to gain an external perspective and advice from experienced local government peers on five key strands of our activities. The report was broadly positive and offered ten recommendations for areas of improvement, none of which came as a surprise. The report and its recommendations were very positively received by Cabinet, and an associated action plan agreed. Progress will be monitored.
“Earlier this month was the 500th day of the appalling Ukraine war and I have promised to keep members updated on North East Lincolnshire’s involvement in the Ukrainian Refugee Scheme. Currently we have 77 guests with 32 sponsors; 19 guests have left area or country independently. Two guests have been rematched to another local authority and three rematched into our local authority. We are imminently expecting another two or three arrivals. There are now 13 households privately renting and we are awaiting another four or five moving into a new development. Furniture is being provided by from local suppliers and stores. Many thanks to all residents and business who have stepped up to the plate.”