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Friday 26 February

Our response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has again taken up large parts of the time in my diary alongside a busy agenda of 'normal' Council business.

The week began with a Microsoft Teams call to speak with representatives from Muse Developments on the next phase of development at Northshore. To date the £300million project has delivered around 650,000 square feet of mixed-use development, 4,600 new jobs, 208 homes and the Fusion Hive innovation centre. It was useful to review the progress of the project so far and give some early thoughts to what could be done in future.

The Local Government Association (LGA) held a 'sounding board' call for members on the topics of health and social care. It was a policy development session that was a good opportunity to feed in ideas and colleagues to share experiences from our areas in these fields.

A busy start continued with a briefing relating to my Education, Employment and Skills portfolio which I have Cabinet responsibility for in the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA). We looked ahead to the partnership board's next meeting on 11 March when we will be focussing on skills in particular.

On Tuesday, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick MP led a ministerial webinar for Council Leaders, Chief Executives and Local Resilience Forum Chairs. No doubt you will have all read the proposed timelines for coming out of lockdown that were announced earlier this week so the implications for local authorities was discussed.

I also had one of my regular catch-up meetings alongside Deputy Leader, Councillor Jim Beall, with the Council's Managing Director, Julie Danks. As it was the next day from the Prime Minister's unveiling of the 'roadmap' out of lockdown, there was much for us to consider.

On Wednesday the Leaders from across the Tees Valley held one of our monthly calls as we continue to aim for consistency in our response to the challenges of the pandemic at a local level.

The evening brought around a special meeting of Council to consider approving the Medium Term Financial Plan Update which includes setting both the budget and levels of Council Tax. We are proposing a 1.9 per cent increase in Council Tax and to implement the Social Care Levy over two years. We have a £2.5million budget gap to address which has been opened up by the rising cost of social care for vulnerable adults and children. There is simply no national funding solution in sight so our hand has been forced. The proposals were voted through at the meeting.

Early on Thursday I was part of a meeting with representatives from Middlesbrough Council as talks begin regarding the future of the Transporter Bridge. You may remember recent media coverage where various local leaders have put forward their opinions on what should happen to the bridge in the years to come and this was a discussion at the start of that decision-making process.

Cabinet met yesterday afternoon to consider a packed agenda including our annual auditing by external company Mazars, an update on the support that'll be available for businesses locally after the Brexit transition, a review of private hire and Hackney carriage licensing and the procedure for primary and secondary school admissions.

This morning I've met again virtually with Councillor Beall and Julie Danks for the latest local situation regarding COVID-19 ahead of the Local Outbreak Engagement Group meeting which I host.

Over the weekend I am looking forward to seeing how Middlesbrough fare at home against Cardiff. It was a superb result against Reading last Saturday that put a bit of spark bit into our push for the playoffs but that was undone by a shocking display against Bristol City midweek so I am hopeful of another big positive performance to put us back on the right track.