Regeneration Future “Uncertain” In Council’s Hands Says Watchdog

THURROCK COUNCIL’S  work on regeneration is ‘fair’, but has ‘uncertain prospects for improvement’ according to a new report released today by the independent Audit Commission.

On a scale from zero to three stars the Audit Commission inspection team gave the service a ‘fair’ one–star rating because although the Council has contributed to the economic regeneration of Thurrock, a lot remains to be done.

Audit Commission senior manager Ian Davidson said: “After a slow start, Thurrock Council is now getting to grips with the deep-seated local economic problems facing the borough. It has built a better relationship with key players in local regeneration.

It is making a more visible contribution to growth, helping to attract some key investments. It has played a part in major projects, such as the new port facility and the new Royal Opera House workshop site.

Important local barriers to future growth, such as poor skills and educational achievements, and the lack of an overall planning framework, are now being tackled. But some real challenges lie ahead. To address these successfully, the Council must play a bigger role in enabling and embedding local growth, especially in partnership.’

Strengths include:

1. Thurrock Council has recognised the importance of its role in local regeneration, including in the Thames Gateway.

2. It has helped lay the groundwork for 12 major regeneration projects across the borough, and contributed to other plans to successfully meet local targets for new homes and jobs.

3. It is working with partners to remove local barriers to economic growth, such as low skills, attainment and aspiration.  There are recent signs of some progress from a low base.

4. It has developed a more influential role sub-regionally, successfully leading efforts to secure external investment for programmes that will assist sustainable growth, such as the Low Carbon Economy Programme.

Weaknesses include:

1. The Council has not made the most of its working partnership with the local Development Corporation. Relationships at a strategic level have improved recently, but more needs to be done on the ground, particularly around information sharing and technical input.

2. The Council is not making best use of its own property in support of regeneration.

3. Recent improvements in the Council’s approach to regeneration have still not fully bedded in. The signs are positive, but key strategies have yet to get off the drawing board and there are no effective processes for assessing and managing value for money.

Recommendations include:

1. Defining more clearly what specific benefits the Council and its partners want to achieve for local people through regeneration.

2. Developing a robust approach to the management of costs, assets and performance, including local strategic partners.

3. Planning for a future where government funding is increasingly scarce.

Reacting to the report, Thurrock Council Leader, Cllr John Kent, said: “The inspection looked at the council’s regeneration service up until March this year

“That was then and this is now. There were doubts and concerns at the start of the year and even then the report states the council was moving in the right direction.

“The reality now is that the Royal Opera House production park in Purfleet is due to open before Christmas.

“At the opposite end of the borough the dredging work for the new super-port at London Gateway is halfway towards completion and at the Port of Tilbury there are exciting plans for expansion.

“These are just a few highlights of the millions of pounds that are already pouring into Thurrock, money that will ensure a bright future for the borough and local people.”

Cllr Kent added: “Added to this is an end to the confusion over the development corporation’s future. The transfer of the corporation’s powers to the council is not only a testament to the Government’s confidence in this authority, but a sensible move bringing all the regeneration capacities under one roof.

“This means the council can ensure that local people are equipped to take advantage of the opportunities which are coming our way … as they arise.

“Improving education standards is our priority and with that comes improved aspirations and the skills in place and ready for when they are needed. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen and in a few years’ time we will all be able to look back with pride on the changing face of Thurrock and how we changed people’s lives for the better.”

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