· To receive information from Cllr.R.G.Jones, Leader of Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council and S.Phillips, Chief Executive, Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council regarding concerns outlined in a report to Neath Port Talbot Council on 24 April, 2019.
· Economic Strategy Board- Chair Ed Tomp
Leader and Chief Executive of Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council
The Joint Scrutiny Committee welcomed the Leader, Councillor R.G.Jones, and Chief Executive, S.Phillips, of Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council, to give an overview of the report recently considered by their Council on the future collaboration on City Deal.
The Committee received reassurances that Neath Port Talbot was committed to productive collaborative working on the City Deal Programme but that this was subject to good governance and acceptable financial risk.
Concern was expressed, by the Leader of Neath Port Talbot that more than two years after the signing of the Deal no monies had been received. It was accepted that this was due, in part, to the events at Swansea University however, projects needed to be delivered in order to bring the jobs and growth in GVA.
· The current position in relation to the appointment of a Managing Director was raised. Members were advised that this vacancy would be advertised as soon as possible but that the Joint Working Agreement (JWA) would require amendment in order to allow for this post. The two processes could, however, be carried out simultaneously. It was expected that the changes to the JWA would be signed off at the end of July.
· The recent press report which said that a Council would be pulling out of the City Deal was raised. The Leader of NPT advised that NPT wanted the City Deal to deliver but outlined NPT’s frustration at the Programme’s lack of momentum.
He confirmed that the Authority would be reviewing its projects, in line with the flexibilities provision in the JWA, in order to ensure projects/programmes remained fit for purpose projects. It was pointed out that three of the four projects that NPT had initially put forward involved Swansea University. The Council did not wish to be associated with any reputational damage that might arise by association.
· Examples of NPT’s commitment to collaboration were provided - the Joint Venture Agreement recently entered into with Powys for a rail testing track and the joint working of the Public Services Boards of Swansea and Neath Port Talbot to tackle drug related deaths and to disrupt County Lines.
· NPT’s approach to ERW was also raised. It was suggested that this demonstrated a culture of not wanting to collaborate. In response the Leader of NPT advised that NPT felt that its schools were not receiving the services expected and there were also concerns at the substantial increase in contributions being sought by the managing director. The Council was actively seeking to resolve these concerns but is not prepared to tolerate a continuation of the status quo.
· S.Phillips confirmed that the report considered by NPT Council had been factually accurate and that, if there was no progress, there was a case for abandoning the City Deal.
· Concern was again expressed by the NPT representatives that no monies had been received for either the Homes as Power Stations (HAPs), the Swansea Waterfront or the Yr Egin projects. In relation to the Steel Science Factory NPT was still awaiting the release of the parcel of land owned by Welsh Government. On the latter, until this matter is resolved, the business case could not be finalised.
· S.Phillips advised that he had recently asked that a robust budget be presented to the next meeting.
· It was noted that Rhodri Griffiths was the first point of contact at Welsh Government for all 11 projects, however he had no staff or budget to undertake the work. Welsh Government needed to commit resources to City Deal in order for it to deliver. It was suggested that delays in delivering City Deal activities was not confines to the Swansea Bay City Deal but was also a situation that persisted across Wales.
· Going forward Cllr.Rob Jones felt that initial meetings with the new Chief Executive at Carmarthen suggested that relationships would be strengthened and this would assist in implementing the recommendations of the reviews.
· When asked what he saw as the way forward, Steve Phillips advised that the sign off of the current projects, robust budget monitoring and completed business cases being submitted by the autumn.
· Cllr.Rob Jones expressed frustration at the slow pace of the programme together with his concerns around the financial risks. He advised that NPT had taken a prudent approach having only spent £22k to date. The pilot project within the HAPs project had been delivered using private investment. He stressed that he was not prepared to put NPT into a financially exposed position.
Following the above discussion Cllr.Rob Jones and Steve Phillips reiterated NPT’s commitment to City Deal and thanked the Committee for the invitation to today’s meeting.
Chair of the Economic Strategy Board – E.Tomp
The Scrutiny Committee welcomed Mr.Ed.Tomp, the Chair of the Economic Strategy Board (ESB), to the meeting to discuss the implications of the suspensions at Swansea University on the commitment of the members of the Economic Strategy Board to the City Deal Programme.
Mr. Tomp confirmed that the ESB had met with all the constituent local authorities and was equally frustrated at the lack of progress being made. He emphasised that the ESB also supported the changes required as a result of the reviews, but highlighted that Government structures were causing some of the delays.
It was of concern however that the meetings of the ESB had never been quorate. The governance around this and other issues would therefore need to be reviewed as they were seen as unworkable.
The ESB felt that both the UK and Welsh Governments needed to approve the first tranche of projects as soon as possible to restore the confidence of local authorities, the public and those associated with the Programme. In addition the ESB was of the view that the distribution of the money should be spread over a five year period and not 15 as it stands at present in order to accelerate the projects.
The ESB had asked that government officers provide support in order to improve the quality of the five case business models and that these be completed and submitted as soon as practical. The response to the request had been positive and there had been an offer for someone to attend the ESB.
Mr.Tomp confirmed the commitment of the members of the ESB in relation to the City Deal Programme, and that business confidence had improved.
The Committee then thanked Mr.Tomp for his attendance at today’s meeting.