To consider the report of the Cabinet Member for Culture and Leisure providing an update on progress made against the Cultural Strategy for the period January 2021 to June 2021 and informing Members of the intention to submit expressions of interest to the Cultural Development Fund and UK City of Culture 2025.
16.1 The Chair noted that the purpose of the report was to provide an update on the City Council’s Cultural Strategy and to confirm the intention to submit expressions of interest to the Cultural Development Fund and the UK City of Culture 2025. The Chair noted that a press release had been issued which confirmed that the expressions of interest were going ahead.
16.2 Cabinet Member for Culture and Leisure, Councillor Morgan, introduced the report and clarified that the submission of expressions of interest for UK City of Culture was being led by the Gloucester Culture Trust with input from Gloucester City Council. Councillor Morgan expressed the view that even if the Trust proved unsuccessful in reaching the final 6 longlisted cities, there would be significant value in making expressions of interest for the UK City of Culture bid. Councillor Morgan clarified that the Government had introduced a new expressions of interest stage which he felt had made the process simpler and less expensive. Councillor Morgan paid tribute to the hard work of officers who had dealt with significant challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. He also acknowledged the hard work undertaken by Councillor Organ who assisted with the organisation of the Retro Festival.
16.3 In relation to the Kings Square redevelopment, Councillor Morgan confirmed that the project was on track, however he noted that the pandemic had affected progress. In relation to the update on the City Council’s Cultural Strategy, Councillor Morgan confirmed that the details were set out in Appendix A.
16.4 The Chair thanked Councillor Morgan for the report. Referring to the narrative in the report at 3.2 concerning the new Cultural Investment Funds, the Chair asked for an update on discussions between the City and County Councils regarding a potential application for a Libraries Improvement Fund Grant.
16.5 The Head of Culture confirmed that he was in contact with the Head of Library Services at Gloucestershire County Council and assistance had been offered to Gloucester Library to submit a bid for an Improvement Grant. The Head of Cultural Services understood that there may have been capacity issues preventing the Library from submitting a bid despite the offer of help from the local authorities. The Head of Culture confirmed that the deadline for the Libraries Improvement Fund was 5th July, and this was the same deadline for the Museum Estate and Development Fund (MEND). He noted that priorities for investment in Gloucester Museum and the Brunswick building had been identified and that an application had been submitted for a £375k grant. The Head of Culture expressed his view that the City Council had done well to submit this application, but £18m had been made available nationally so this was a competitive fund.
16.6 In response to a further question from the Chair relating to the latest position of the Guildhall, Councillor Morgan confirmed that the Council was looking to put together a bid to help improve the facility. He noted that engagement work with residents was underway. The Head of Culture confirmed that a full Guildhall development plan would be brought forward later in the year, and the Cultural Development Fund bid would include £2.5m to be invested in the Guildhall. He emphasised that the City Council was at the expressions of interest stage, however if successful, further detailed plans would be developed.
16.7 Councillor Hilton noted that he was surprised to receive a press release that afternoon confirming that Cabinet Members, the Leader of Gloucestershire County Council and the Vice Chair of Gloucester Culture Trust were supportive of a bid for UK City of Culture 2025. He noted his disappointment that the views of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee had not been sought beforehand.
16.8 Councillor Morgan confirmed that the deadline for expressions of interest was the 19th July 2021 and was included in the report at 8.1.
16.9 Councillor Hilton referred to the statement in the narrative at 3.5 that Gloucester was strongly positioned to take up the opportunity and asked for Councillor Morgan’s comments as to how.
16.10 Councillor Morgan clarified the difference between making expressions of interest and a full City of Culture bid. He explained that the Government had issued guidelines four weeks ago in relation to the new expressions of interest stage. He also noted that the new guidance confirmed that the City of Culture process had been widened to include smaller cities and felt that this showed that Government had understood that the process needed to be more accessible. Councillor Morgan explained that there was a tight timeframe between receiving the updated guidance and submitting the expressions of interest and there was a need to act quickly. Councillor Morgan confirmed that a low level of detail was required at the expressions of interest stage and that it would be considered by a panel which would then make recommendations to the Culture Minister. He further clarified that Gloucester Culture Trust had taken on the burden of submission with no additional costs to the City Council at the moment.
16.11 In response to an additional question from Councillor Hilton on how Coventry had benefitted from the UK City of Culture title, Councillor Morgan confirmed that Coventry City Council had recently invited cities which were thinking of making expressions of interest to Coventry to see the benefits of City of Culture success and to provide an opportunity to put any questions to the panel. Councillor Morgan noted that the past year had been extremely difficult for the cultural sector due to the Covid-19 pandemic but was confident that if Gloucester made expressions of interest and any future submissions to bid for UK City of Culture if successful in reaching the longlist, it would make a transformative difference to the city. The Head of Culture added that due to the impact of Covid-19 restrictions, Coventry could not hold events until May 2021 however he felt that the city had experienced transformation regardless, with a particularly extraordinary transformation of public spaces.
16.12 Councillor Hilton expressed his view that the Overview and Scrutiny Committee needed further information on next steps and asked whether the Committee could be provided with a timetable to this effect. Referring to the statement that neighbouring district councils were supportive of Gloucester making a City of Culture bid, Councillor Hilton noted that Cheltenham already had a well-established culture scene and asked for assurances that the city would benefit from the bid as well as other districts.
16.13 Councillor Morgan referred to the title of the bid ‘Gloucester for Gloucestershire’ and confirmed that it would be Gloucester Culture Trust who would lead and drive the focus of the bid.
16.14 The Head of Culture clarified that the £40k funding to deliver a more detailed bid if successful at the expressions of interest stage was not automatic and that longlisted cities would need to demonstrate how they planned to use the funding to form a full bid. The Head of Culture confirmed his understanding was that the district councils were supportive, but reiterated that the project was being led by Gloucester Culture Trust and that local authorities would not see pressure falling on their officers.
16.15 The Chair raised concerns about the lack of involvement from cross-party Members in the expressions of interest so far. He noted that there were no Members aside from Councillor Morgan on the Culture Trust Board and asked for clarification on whether the Board could expand to include more Councillors. The Chair also expressed his view that regular updates should have been provided to the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
16.16 Councillor Morgan noted his agreement with the Chair and stated that projects always work better with cross-party support. He apologised that the Cabinet was not in a position to discuss the matter with groups in any great detail prior to the expressions of interest stage, due to the proximity of the deadline. Councillor Morgan confirmed that if the City were to reach the longlist stage, the Trust would reach out to Members and noted that the administration had a good track record of consulting with other groups. In relation to the Chair’s suggestion of other Members sitting on the Culture Trust Board, Councillor Morgan noted that Gloucester Culture Trust was a charity and that appointing one Member of the City Council was determined by the charity’s constitution.
16.17 In response to a further question from the Chair, Councillor Morgan confirmed that a new Chief Executive of the Culture Trust was due to take up their post in August 2021 and noted that the flow of information was likely to improve thereafter. Councillor Morgan stated that he was available to answer any questions from Members in the meantime.
16.18 Councillor Pullen noted that when a bid for UK City of Culture was initially considered, a commitment was given that any bid would not go ahead without cross-party support. He reflected on previous statements from the former Culture Trust Chief Executive that without cross-party support, the bid was unlikely to succeed and asked whether this position had changed. Councillor Pullen also asked for evidence confirming that the district councils were supportive of the project.
16.19 Councillor Morgan commented that the situation had changed following the introduction of an expressions of interest stage which required much less detailed initial submissions. He confirmed that discussions had taken place with district council leaders and some had noted their support. Councillor Morgan confirmed that if successful at the expression of interest stage, further opportunities would be given to district councils to confirm their support.
16.20 In response to a question from Councillor Pullen on the intention of the Culture Trust to consult with the public, Councillor Morgan confirmed that the decision to submit expressions of interest was a decision for the Culture Trust with support from the City Council, however public consultation would be vital for a future bid if the city was longlisted after the expressions of interest.
16.21 In relation to the Cultural Development Fund bid, Councillor Wilson referred to the statement in the narrative at 3.3 that funding between £2m and £5m may be applied for with evidence of match funding of a minimum of 15%. He asked whether the City Council would need to find this match funding ahead of the 19th July deadline. The Head of Culture confirmed that officers were still in the process of identifying the match funding however investment from the Guildhall was under consideration. He confirmed that further information would be available closer to the deadline.
16.22 Councillor Durdey thanked Councillor Morgan for the report and noted that he was proud that the city was being put forward for a possible City of Culture bid. He asked whether the Trust had any intention to highlight the City’s environmental credentials within the bid. Councillor Morgan confirmed that green credentials would be vital if the City were to reach the longlist stage, and that this would certainly be highlighted alongside other considerations such as the City Council’s digital and equalities strategies.
16.23 Councillor Lewis noted his support for the project and expressed his view that Members should also support the bid as it would be a prime opportunity for the city to showcase itself. Councillor Lewis confirmed his agreement that cross-party support would be very important if the city reached the longlist stage but noted that the Culture Trust were in the best position to lead on the project with their expertise.
16.24 Councillor Padilla asked how the Trust planned to promote cultural events outside of the city centre. He also commented that Gloucester was a culturally diverse city and asked Councillor Morgan to clarify whether there were any plans to reach out to ethnic minority communities during the City of Culture process. Councillor Morgan confirmed that there would be an all Gloucester approach and confirmed that the City Council would be reaching out to communities in due course.
16.25 Councillor Organ noted his support for the UK City of Culture project and emphasised the need for a positive approach.
16.26 In response to a question from Councillor Kubaszczyk on the South West Museum Development, the Head of Culture confirmed that the City Council had been approached and that discussions were ongoing.
16.27 The Chair reminded Members that the role of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee was to be a critical friend to Cabinet and to scrutinise potential decisions impacting the city.
RESOLVED that the Overview & Scrutiny Committee RECOMMENDS that:
(1) Enquiries are made of the other Gloucestershire districts as to their level of interest in being part of a bid for City of Culture 2025 and;
(2) The Overview and Scrutiny is consulted at all stages of the bid process should Gloucester be on the longlist following consideration of the Expression of Interest.