(Link to Council Priorities: Economic Development)
The Portfolio Holder for Resources introduced the report and reminded Members that the Elmbridge Civic Improvement Fund (ECIF) had been established in 2009 to provide investment to make the Borough’s high streets and town centres more attractive shopping destinations. The Fund had been created with £1 million from the Local Authority Business Growth Incentive (LABGI) scheme.
In addition to town-wide projects which had improved the streetscape of the Borough’s high streets, more than £880,000 had been awarded to local businesses for specific projects such as shop front improvements.
With regard to the Elmbridge Start Up Fund, Members noted that this had also provided a vital source of funding for new businesses, delivering more than £40,000 to help start-ups during their crucial first year of trading.
In order to improve the Elmbridge Civic Improvement Fund going forward, the Portfolio Holder advised Members of the following proposed changes to the criteria and processes:
· as there had been no grants awarded for the learning and training project type, this element be removed from the criteria;
· in order to encourage collective action by retailers to enhance sustainability in the Borough’s town centres, the following be added to the community improvement project element and any such environmental grant be capped at £2,000:
‘Projects by a group of retailers that improve environmental sustainability of the town centre or high street’; and
· in order to streamline the grant approval process, the threshold for approval by the Leader of the Council and the Chairman of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee be increased to grants above £7,500.
With regard to the future development of the Fund, given the changing technological and consumer trends which were now affecting independent retailers, it was proposed that a new Elmbridge Digital High Street Fund be created which would give retailers the tools to compete in the online marketplace. It was anticipated that this would complement and not challenge their physical position in the high street.
The Portfolio Holder reported that in order to increase the longevity of ECIF and to enable the creation of the new digital grant scheme, it was proposed that a further £150,000 be transferred from LABGI to ECIF. This would also allow ECIF and its schemes to be extended to 31 March 2021.
(a) learning and training projects be removed from the Elmbridge Civic Improvement Fund criteria;
(b) a new Elmbridge Digital High Street Fund be created;
(c) environmental projects be added to the existing Elmbridge Civic Improvement Fund community improvement project type;
(d) £150,000 be transferred from the Local Authority Business Growth Incentive scheme (LABGI) to the Elmbridge Civic Improvement Fund;
(e) the Elmbridge Civic Improvement Fund be extended for a further two years until 31 March 2021; and
(f) the threshold for approval by the Leader of the Council and Chairman of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee be increased for those grants above £7,500.