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Friday 14 January

It's been a busy week, starting with a welcome update on Monday morning from the Fairer Stockton-on-Tees steering group. This ambitious ten-year initiative aims to tackle inequality, in its various forms, across the Borough and is one of the key priorities in the Council Plan. It was good to hear how we are working with partners, like police, health, housing and the voluntary and community sector, to identify our joint priorities and prominent issues regarding inequality and ensure Fairer Stockton-on-Tees is a multi-agency effort.

Then in the afternoon I joined fellow Cabinet members via Microsoft Teams for a Cabinet pre-agenda briefing on items due to be discussed at the full Cabinet meeting on 20 January, including policing in the area and highways management.

Tuesday began with a regular meeting of the North East Procurement Organisation (NEPO) Collaborative Procurement Sub-committee (CPSC). NEPO works in partnership with the twelve North East Local Authorities to secure quality services and goods which are good value for money, and a busy agenda included a collaborative procurement strategy for the next three years. 

In the afternoon I met with Ian Miles, Assistant Director Xentrall Shared Services, for an online catch-up. We discussed emerging issues and challenges facing the services we share with Darlington, like ICT and HR, in a still uncertain 2022 and with no end in sight to the pandemic. Xentrall staff have worked very hard in challenging circumstances to make sure council employees could work remotely during Covid and are currently being asked to do so once again while national work-from-home guidance is in place.

Wednesday saw a Microsoft Teams meeting of the Local Government Authority's City Region Board, which meets regularly to discuss growth, transport infrastructure, skills and wider public service reform. This month's agenda included an update on the Government's Levelling Up agenda as well as green skills and employment.

On Thursday morning I joined the Local Government Authority's virtual annual finance conference for 2022. After a decade of reductions in funding from Central Government and rising demand for services, councils have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The webinar provided an opportunity to raise questions with senior politicians and experts from the finance sector and examine the 2022/23 provisional Local Government Finance Settlement.

Then in the afternoon I met online with the Council's Assistant Directors of Finance,  Tony Montague and Clare Harper, for a useful briefing on our own financial situation coming into 2022.

This was followed by an informal meeting of Cabinet Members ahead of next week's Full Cabinet.

This morning I was joined by Deputy Leader Jim Beall for a regular online catch-up with one of Stockton's MPs to discuss any issues on their patch.

This was immediately followed with a virtual meeting of SIGOMA (Special Interest Groups of Municipal Authorities). SIGOMA is the collective and influential voice of 47 urban authorities in England on local government finance and funding issues, which ensures member authorities remain well-informed on Central Government policy. Pressing issues discussed included the Local Government Finance Settlement and again the Government's Levelling Up agenda.

This weekend I am looking forward to spending some time with my family and seeing how Middlesbrough get on against Reading at the Riverside. Reading currently sit fourth from the bottom so hopefully our fantastic winning streak will continue.