The past year has, without doubt, been among the most significant in Hull’s recent history.
We have seen real, sustainable improvements over the past year, capped by our spectacularly successful time as UK City of Culture 2017. During this time we welcomed the world to a proud, confident, outward-looking city, transformed by investment in culture, people and place – a positive surprise to many, but not us!
This follows five years in which Hull saw record reductions in unemployment and benefits claimants; record economic investment by the council, public sector and private sector; record visitors to the city’s arts, museums, and leisure facilities; and record numbers of new homes built.
But these figures and events are only part of the story.
Our recent LGA corporate peer challenge produced excellent feedback for the council, calling us ‘a hugely ambitious organisation with an impressive track record of delivering some very significant regeneration projects’.
It recognised the council has a strong sense of place and civic pride in our city, and a clear, consistent focus on jobs and housing. But it also reminded us about the problems we face, including addressing deprivation, creating more well-paid jobs and improving Hull’s position as a connected city.
Of course, we want to shout from the rooftops about working with the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership and our international businesses to deliver the largest enterprise zone in the UK. We also want to promote our part in securing £350m investment from Associated British Ports and Siemens Gamesa to create Europe’s largest wind turbine manufacturing and assembly plant.
We want people to hear about our work with partners to deliver £120m flood protection and improvements (outside of London, Hull has the highest flood risk in the country) and a £353m capital programme that has already brought more than 80 new city centre businesses and an 83% rise in evening visitors to the city centre.
But we know there are lots of people who don’t feel the benefit of all this positive change and investment. So how do we we reach them and improve their lives?
Since I joined local government in 2013 after 20 years in the private sector, the changes in what we do and how we do it have been immense. Many local authorities face extreme financial challenges, and we are acutely aware revenue affects everything we do and that we must be prudent.
The council can’t afford to invest as much as we would like everywhere in the city, so we are focused on investing strategically in the areas that need it most. We also prioritise catalyst investments by the council – some quite large – to spur private sector investment.
We think the approach shows how tough decisions amid hard conditions have led to innovation, protecting our city and its most vulnerable residents while delivering sustained economic renewal.
As one example, the report warned that our biggest challenge is tackling the “doughnut of deprivation” surrounding the city centre – something already on our radar.
Big changes are already under way in these areas, including the £45m regeneration of the River Hull’s east bank, £4.1m over the next three years on improving 2,500 run-down private homes, and spending on parks and roads.
To really tackle some of these wicked issues, the economic success of the city must be felt by our wider population and not just by the majority. It’s a difficult balance, and one that faces local authorities in many parts of the country.
We are also looking beyond the horizon, planning for what Hull might look like in 25 or 30 years. We have some very big goals in relation to our priorities, to economic growth, improving the wellbeing of our residents and in supporting our vulnerable residents – arguably the most important thing we do, and increasingly the largest part.
I think we have come a long way. And while our positive peer challenge is a great achievement for our organisation, staff and partners, we are always focused on doing things better. But this report reaffirms we’re on the right track.
Matt Jukes, chief executive, Hull City Council