This week has been all about planning. The start of a new year always provides a great opportunity to consider how we can do things differently and better. As well as my own work for the next few months, I’ve been working with others to make plans too. We had a great management team session reviewing progress against our business plan, and setting priorities for the next three months.
Our February 2020 half term co-commission with Barnsley Civic took a step forward as we shortlisted six companies to interview. We also met up with Kitchen Zoo, one of our lovely Associate Companies, to help work through their goals for the next three years. For me, planning enables you to think things through before you actually have to do them, which invariably means you can do them better.
One thing I didn’t expect to find myself involved in this week was a decision about whether to buy an airport or not. Just before Christmas I was appointed as a board member of the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), the private sector body that influences economic development policy and the initiatives delivered to boost the Tees Valley.
Working as part of the Tees Valley Combined Authority, our LEP is one of the few to have identified culture as a priority within the region’s Strategic Economic Plan. I’m very proud of this, and as someone who works in the cultural sector, it makes the Tees Valley an incredibly exciting and supportive area to work in. The scope of the LEP is wide-ranging, hence the discussion this week being whether or not the Combined Authority should buy Durham Tees Valley Airport.
There has been a lot to learn in the first month, not least absorbing the complexities of financing an airport, but I was pleased to support the proposal. It is not without risks in terms of operation but the potential payback in terms of economic impact is huge. I’m also aware that the risk is mitigated: if it doesn’t work, a substantial portion of the financial investment can be recovered through sale of the land. Not many such investments offer this security.
The other factor is the commerciality of the airport operation. Many have questioned why the Combined Authority thinks that it can make it work when a private company can’t. For me this is simply about how return on investment is measured: the Combined Authority is not a commercial company looking to generate profits for itself, it is a regeneration organisation seeking to stimulate economic growth through strategic investments. Coming from the third sector, I’m more familiar with this wider view of ROI than looking at things in purely commercial terms – and despite the political complexities, it has been reassuring to hear other private sector colleagues around the table support the proposal too.