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Agenda item

Leader's Report


The Leader paid tribute to Lord Foster, who passed away a few weeks ago.  Lord Foster would be very much missed for all he did for County Durham and the north-east.


The Leader of the Council wished everyone a belated Happy New Year and thanked all Council staff who provided vital services over the festive period including social care staff, bin crews and road maintenance teams.  Fortunately, the weather had been kind so there had not been too many issues.  A video of one of the council’s bin crews giving a local boy a Christmas present had gone viral and been watched nearly 250,000 times on social media, and Gala’s pantomime, Snow White, was its most successful ever with more than 90% of available tickets being sold.


The Leader referred to #Durham19, the County’s year of culture, which included openings, activities, festivals, events and anniversaries, which started with a performance of Handel’s Messiah on Saturday.  The first event of the third annual Durham Vocal Festival, which ran until 9 February, would feature the world famous Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment performing in the Cathedral.  Planning was already underway for the ever-popular Bishop Auckland Food Festival in April, which would now be joined by a new Food Festival in Seaham in June.


Later in the year, highlights would include the tenth anniversary edition of Lumiere in November, which would bring back a number of installations as well as new installations.  By that time the completion of The Auckland Project’s cultural regeneration projects, including reopening of Auckland Castle in the spring and the opening of the new Spanish Art Gallery would have taken place, as well as the Norman Cornish Centenary celebrations.  In June and July the international Cricket World Cup would take place at Chester le Street with teams from England, New Zealand, South Africa, and the West Indies taking part.


Additionally, increasingly popular annual events such as Brass, the Miners Gala, the Durham Book Festival, Durham run and cycling’s Tour Series were to take place.


#Durham19 was for everyone, not just to attract visitors and the Leader hoped that all AAPs would be involved in the programme and that by the end of 2019 every County Durham resident had had a chance to take part.


The Leader then turned to inward investment and raising the profile of the County.  The work of the Council, Business Durham and partners had already attracted 40 multi-national investors into the County over the past three years.


The focus on inward investment activity continued with the Council’s new ‘Durham: Powered by the People’ initiative which was launched in December.  The new initiative supported the County’s drive for inward investment, jobs and growth and used one of the great strengths of the County, its people, at its heart.


To support the initiative, and with the help of business, the Council had developed a brochure of success stories and a series of short films, a promotional film and a series of 10 case study films of different businesses from across the County.


Powered by People would feature as part of a regional business leader’s summit at the end of January.  The summit would cover the role of the North East in the UK economy, partnership working and a panel discussion on the future of Durham in the context of the local industrial strategy.


The theme of people also featured as part of a special Times supplement at the end of December.  The supplement included a mix of business, technology, education and culture stories, which all showcased the county as a place to live, work, visit and do business.  The Council was sponsoring a new quarterly business magazine for Durham produced by The Journal called D.  The first issue of the magazine would coincide with the regional business summit and would include business news and features for and about Durham.  There was also an article in this week’s Municipal Journal about the Council’s continued focus on regeneration, and the impact this had had, including a case study on Lumiere.


A new £10m railway station at Horden had been approved, with initial work due to start in the next few weeks and it expected to be open to passengers in spring 2020.  The new station would significantly improve transport links in the east of the County, provide a boost to the economy and widen employment opportunities for local residents.  Meanwhile, work on the £6m flood prevention scheme for Chester le Street would start before the end of the month following approval from government of £2.79m ERDF funding which added to the already committed funds from the Council and the Environment Agency.  As well as reducing the flood risk, the scheme would help reinvigorate the central market place area.


The Council was currently consulting on a new vision for the County Durham Partnership.  The vision built upon the success of the Partnership’s ‘Altogether Better’ themes and set out key ambitions for the future.  Members of the public, businesses and partner organisations had commented on the proposed ambitions for the county up to 2030.  The consultation closed on Monday and findings were being worked into a draft new vision for the County that would form the basis of a final stage of consultation at the end of February.


The latest consultation on the County Durham Plan would start shortly and last for six weeks.  The draft plan would then go to Cabinet ahead of being submitted to the Government for independent examination.  Everyone was encouraged to have their say on the plan as well as on the council’s housing and homeless strategies that the Council would be consulting on in the coming weeks.


Next month decisions would be taken on the 2019/20 budget and in the meantime the Council would continue to lobby for fair funding for County Durham and the North East.  Members would be aware of the huge pressures on children’s services in particular and while some one-off funding had been announced by the government this would be nowhere enough to meet the demands being faced.  Councils and schools needed sustainable funding to meet these demands in the long-term.


The Council continued to lobby the government regarding potential changes to public health funding which could see Durham County Council lose £19m of funding from 2020.  The BBC Sunday Politics Show on 13 January ran a public health feature about these proposed changes to funding with health visitors, service users, NHS partners as well as the Leader interviewed as part of the piece.


The Council would continue to campaign for a better deal for all local authorities in the region, working with the Association of North East Councils, particularly in advance of the crucial Government fair funding review which was expected later in the year.


The Leader reminded Members of upcoming dates to note.  Holocaust Memorial Day would take place on 27 January and events during that week would include an exhibition at Bishop Auckland Town Hall, a service at Durham Cathedral and at St Anne’s Church, Bishop Auckland including a speech from holocaust survivor Eva Clark.


Chinese New Year took place on 6 February and a variety of activities and Lion Dance performances were planned in Durham City on 9 February.


The Council’s Operation Spruce Up programme had celebrated its second birthday.  In that time, 24 towns and villages had been visited to make them cleaner and greener.  The campaign had also won a prestigious Keep Britain Tidy award.  The annual Big Spring Clean would launch on 19 February and run for 7 weeks.  Last year there were 272 litter picks with over 4,000 taking part.


This month the Councils fostering campaign would focus on fostering teenagers and sibling groups.  Teens were the biggest age group in need of a foster carer.  The campaign also focussed on potential foster carers who were prepared to offer a permanent home to a looked after child until the age where they could become independent.  At December’s Cabinet meeting it was agreed that Durham would bid to be the host council for the new regional adoption agency that would cover Cumbria, Durham and Sunderland local authority areas.  Since then, and following consultation, the name for the new agency had been agreed as ‘Adopt Coast to Coast’.  Recruitment of the senior communications officer to support the new agency started last week.


The Joining the Dots cancer support service would launch tomorrow and the service, in partnership with MacMillan, offered a range of services to cancer sufferers and their families.


Lastly, the Leader informed Council that it was Time to Talk day on 7 February, which encouraged everyone to talk about mental health.  As a Time to Change employer, the Council would be supporting this awareness day with reminders of the importance of having conversations around mental health.


Democratic Services
Durham County Council
County Hall
County Durham
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