By Stuart Arnold LDRS
Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen says a £16.5m investment in the creative, leisure and visitor sectors in the region is the biggest covid-19 recovery plan his combined authority has approved to date.
The cash to be spent over the next five years will be used to strengthen businesses and help them to grow, support festivals and events and further boost the Tees Valley’s profile as a visitor destination.
The investment programme has been developed by a taskforce, set up earlier this year by Mayor Houchen in response to the pandemic.
Mr Houchen said: “As well as protecting people’s health, one of my top priorities during this coronavirus pandemic has been to protect people’s jobs, businesses and livelihoods.
“We did that in the short-term by moving quickly with funding to help our pubs, restaurants, hotels and other public-facing businesses open back up as soon as possible after the first lockdown, but now we need to look to the longer term and make sure these valuable sectors are fit for the future.
“This £16.5m programme is tightly focused to help bring more brilliant events to our region and shore up our businesses, helping them grow in the long term.
“This will not only create jobs and drive growth, but make Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool an even better place to live and visit.”
The mayor said the cultural sector had been “vastly underfunded” in places like Teesside.
He added: “This will give us a huge boost to our visitor economy and culture sector and could not be timed more importantly than it is now.
“This is the biggest and most significant covid recovery plan that we have approved to date.”
Cllr Shane Moore, combined authority cabinet lead on culture and tourism, said: “We have great creators, festivals, companies and education establishments working in culture, leisure and hospitality that we can’t afford to lose.
“Now more than ever we need to give people things to look forward to, as well as support those businesses that keep our high streets and communities interesting and local people in jobs.
“We’ve listened to the people that know their sectors the best and with this new scheme we can push ahead to get them out of the other side of this pandemic stronger than before.”
Cllr Moore said the work that had been done with cultural partners over the investment programme “added a sense of credibility back to the authority”.
Annabel Turpin, the chief executive of Stockton Arc, who chairs the taskforce, said: “This is a real boost for the sector during challenging times and shows that by working collaboratively we can make an even more valuable contribution to our local economy.
“Our creative and visitor economies in the Tees Valley are tightly linked so it’s fantastic that this new programme recognises and celebrates that.
“I’m delighted that TVCA involved businesses and organisations from the cultural and creative sector in shaping future strategy.
“It is a very tough time for these sectors at the moment and we think this will make a real impact.”
Expressions of interest will be invited for funding with successful submissions invited to submit a business case.
A panel will then decide on the outcome of any proposals.
More than 29,000 jobs are linked to the digital and creative and culture and leisure sectors in the Tees Valley.
A survey earlier this year of creative, culture, tourism and hospitality businesses found that 44 per cent feared they would go bust because of the coronavirus outbreak, compared to 28 per cent of businesses across all sectors.