We took advantage of the Local Government Association’s Peer Challenge offer to send a team of senior officers and councillors from other local authorities to come here, see what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.
I’m proud to say that their report offers high praise for the progress we have made as a city and a council over the past five years, recognising huge strides made on regeneration, building self-confidence and developing strong relationships with our partners.
Of course, this comes as the city builds on the success of a fantastic 2017. Last year, our status as UK City of Culture saw the whole country sit up and take note of Hull’s attractiveness as a place and as a driver of culture and economic growth across the North.
It helped lead to one of the biggest capital investment programmes the authority has ever made, improving our public realm and many great facilities, such as the Hull New Theatre, the Ferens Art Gallery and the Bonus Arena, our incredible new music and conference venue.
This acted as a major catalyst for the council to bring Hull together, our peers rightly note, leading to a visible difference in a city which now looks and feels confident.
But I actually think Hull has always been a very proud, resilient place. The character of the place hasn’t changed, but I think we are being more vocal about our city and everything it has to offer and people are seeing it because we are giving them the opportunities and the desire to come and see us. That’s what’s changed.
I don’t think there has been a fundamental shift in the way the city thinks of itself either, but we have presented ourselves much more visibly to the world outside and to our residents and businesses. We have a great platform to do that from, and now we are using this impetus as a foundation on which to take the city even further forward.
The report further recognises the key role the city is playing in devolution. Hull is a strong proponent of Yorkshire devolution and is the sub-regional lead in the establishment of the Transport for the North Board to oversee the implementation of the Strategic Transport Plan.
We have been very consistent on this and Hull was the only authority in Yorkshire to propose a Yorkshire devolution settlement from the outset and we’re really pleased that there is now substantial support for this across our region.
We also play a very prominent part in local and regional economic growth delivery, particularly in our vision for a City Deal for Hull. Our Prospectus to Invest submission to the Government sets out our vision for 15-year agreement which would deliver much more local control over areas.
These include employment and skills training, maximising our hugely successful Enterprise Zones and a series of multi-million pound projects, including the £50m Yorkshire Cruise Terminal and the £45m improvement of areas along our terrific river frontage, extending on from our vibrant Fruit Market, which is itself benefitting from an £80m investment from the council with our JV development partners Wykeland Group and Beal Homes.
The importance of partnership work is only going to increase. Of course, partnerships are important for any local authority but, particularly in Hull and with the financial challenges we face, those partnerships are absolutely vital as council resources have decreased. We can’t lose sight of the fact that our recent success and high ambitions have all been achieved against the loss of nearly 55 per cent of our funding since 2010.
I think we have come a long way. Over the past five years, Hull has seen record levels of investment and employment, a boom in the building of new homes and the highest GVA growth in Yorkshire. We have also transformed our services to provide support to our residents in different ways.
We have re-established our role as a city that drives economic growth across the region and the next stage of our journey will see us tackle the areas of potential improvement highlighted in the report.
We want to get people to come and live in our city, work in our city, invest in our city, study in our city and visit our city. We also want the people who live and work here already to be proud and confident.
Despite the tremendous improvements we have seen in the city and the council during this period, we are always focused on doing things better. We have huge ambitions for our place and our people we recognise that, working together, we have much still to do.
Matt Jukes is chief executive of Hull City Council.