Councillor Emily Smith, Chair of the Oxfordshire Growth Board and Leader of the Vale of White Horse District Council has been invited to attend this meeting to give an update.
Councillor Emily Smith, Chair of the Oxfordshire Growth Board, attended the meeting and gave an update on Growth Board activity with a particular focus upon the Oxford to Cambridge Arc and the Arc Leadership Group Executive. This included:
· The appointment of three elected local authority members of the Growth Board to the Oxford to Cambridge Arc Leadership Group Executive (Councillors Smith, Hudspeth and Wood, substitute Councillor Brown).
· The Group Executive had, to date, held two meetings with civil servants from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Topics discussed had included: the importance of the Oxford to Cambridge Arc to the national economy, the draft Oxford to Cambridge Arc economic prospectus, the effects of Covid-19 on the economy and unemployment in the Arc and the potential regional response to the impacts of the pandemic.
· The draft Oxford to Cambridge Economic Prospectus was intended to set out how the Arc might respond to HM Government’s objectives around economic growth, net zero carbon and levelling up. It also laid out what the Arc would need from Whitehall in return.
· It was felt that HM Government was positively engaging with the Arc and that it did have real influence at national level.
· As Chair of the Oxfordshire Growth Board, Councillor Smith had raised the need within the arc to achieve negative carbon emissions. This would mean going further than any current zero carbon ambitions and would involve the prioritisation of rail over road infrastructure
· There was a need for more effective communication in relation to the Oxford to Cambridge Arc. A greater focus, for example, should be placed on the fact that the Arc was a much wider than simply physical transport links. Further, there was also the need to improve understanding and transparency about the Arc’s governance arrangements.
· The recruitment of a full-time Oxford to Cambridge Arc Director.
The Panel welcomed the appointment of only elected local authority leaders to the Arc Leadership Group Executive. They had previously recommended this to the Growth Board in order to maintain democratic accountability. It was noted that the Terms of Reference for the Group Executive and the number of representatives per area had been set collectively by the Arc.
With regards to addressing the challenges of climate change, members emphasised the need to develop appropriate green technology skills and experience in those working for and advising the Arc. Members questioned whether such skills currently existed with the Arc or whether there were plans to recruit to such posts.
Officers stated that the Arc was currently at a relatively early stage in its development. The current focus was upon securing funding to provide a basis for the consideration of the next steps (e.g. recruitment) of the Arc’s evolution. As a region, there was a wealth of expertise potentially available – for example, within the university sector. The challenge going forwards is, therefore, to effectively harness and utilise this knowledge.
In discussion, members welcomed the apparent general preference towards the provision of rail rather than road infrastructure within the Arc. They did, however, acknowledge Councillor Smith’s comments that there remained a range of opinions across the Arc on the issue of the Expressway.
The importance of both developing technical skills amongst the workforce and supporting local businesses to move from research and design to bringing products to market was raised by the Panel. It was felt be members that these were areas in which the UK had a poor record in comparison to many of its peers.
The Panel thanked Councillor Smith for attending the meeting. It was agreed that the job description for the Oxford to Cambridge Arc Director role would be shared with members for their information.