Is it time to move on from the “usual suspects who dominate local boards”?

Lincoln was selected as one of 100 places that would have the opportunity to bid for funding of up to £25 million as part of the government’s £3.6 billion Towns Fund.  But Lincoln’s MP Karl McCartney is concerned that what should be a “business led” Town Deal Board that develops the plan for investment is overshadowed by public and third sector organisations.

In November 2019 capacity funding of £173,029 was made available to City of Lincoln Council with one of the key objectives to convene a Town Deal Board.  This Board becoming the vehicle for creating a vision, strategy and ultimately a plan to put forward for funding.  It is the creation and diversity of the Town Deal Board that Karl McCartney MP feels the City of Lincoln Council has got completely wrong.

Current Lincoln MP Karl McCartney Photo: Steve Smailes for CityX

On Monday of this week following raising the question to Simon Clarke MP in the House of Commons as to whether Town Fund Boards should be “populated by the usual suspects…or seek a fusion of new ideas and new faces?”

Simon Clarke MP replied “We’re always up for new ideas and town deal boards should be business led and representative of their community.

We provided guidance on the membership and made it clear we expect to see a business chair and the local MP on the Board.”

Karl McCartney said, “Responding to my recent question in the Chamber, the Minister (Simon Clarke MP) confirmed that the guidance on Town Boards is clear: Boards should be “…business led and representative of their community”.

“My initial response when I saw who the City Council Leader had ‘appointed’ before Christmas was incredulity at the lack of business representatives on this Board, and despite my putting forward 17 very good names and representatives of all sizes of business at the earliest opportunity, my protestations have had limited success so far.

“There are far too many LEP reps and/or vested interests on the Board and despite both this latest clear guidance from the Minister and the directions from the Department, and heavy representation of micro-businesses in Lincolnshire…

…the Town Deal Board comprises almost entirely of public servants, third sector leaders and local representatives of the biggest businesses.

“It is also chaired by one of our Universities’ Vice Chancellors – who I personally like and have no problem with at all – but we are not following the guidelines as directed and that does not bode well when it comes to accessing the Government funding available.  I am very pleased that James Kirby has joined the Board and was unanimously elected as the Deputy Chairman at the last meeting.

“We should be widening the business representation to be as inclusive as possible in my mind.”

Percentage Of Businesses By Employees
Source: MIntUK Business Database, Bureau Van Dijk

According to the Lincolnshire Research Observatory 92% of Lincolnshire businesses are classed as micro-businesses containing 0-9 employees; with 85% having 4 or less employees.  CityX requested a list of the current 22 board members of which the Chair is Vice Chancellor of the University, Professor Mary Stuart CBE.

Of the appointed board members only 1 business is a micro-business meaning just a single seat representing 92% of businesses.

Additionally a Vice Chancellor of a higher education institution might not immediately appear to fit the remit of a ‘business chair’ as suggested by Simon Clarke MP.

Professor Mary Stuart CBE, Vice Chancellor of the University of Lincoln and Chair of the Town Deal Board said: “The Town Deal Board has representation from local businesses and investors, developers, both large and small employers, anchor institutions, local government, and community organisations.

“We have welcomed a diverse make-up of the Board which has helped to provide a good cross section of the Lincoln community which in turn will shape, drive and deliver our shared aspirations, vision and outcomes for the city.

“The opportunities to influence what goes into the Town Investment Plan and the first phase of the Town Fund bid are not limited to Board membership; indeed the role of the delivery board and the stakeholder groups and delivery teams around that, have a more in-depth opportunity to meaningfully contribute. The consultation process of course provides further opportunity.

“We welcome views from all members of our community as part of stakeholder engagement events that we have planned as well as our consultation events. As the Town Investment plan develops, different skills and sectors may need to be brought onto the Board or delivery groups, and we will explore this as the plan evolves.”