Three policemen, extra CCTV and a campaign against giving money to beggars in the town centre have been scrapped from £1m plans for Middlesbrough.
But they have been replaced with plans including 10 more wardens across the town, keeping street lights on and funding for services like cutting grass, sweeping streets and emptying bins. Middlesbrough Council is rethinking its priorities and trying to spend less of its money, save £1m and use more grants as a new Labour-led administration grapples with a predicted £11.5m overspend, a £14.2m budget gap and “critically low” reserves.
Independent Andy Preston was mayor of the town last year when £1.1m was pledged to halt decline and “turbocharge” work in the town centre. Measures were announced including stationing three police officers and 12 enforcement officers in the town centre – four new recruits and eight existing wardens given more powers – all costing £620,000.
These plans have now been halted or altered under a new direction from Labour mayor Chris Cooke, which focuses on wardens right across the town rather than focused on the town centre. Instead the council will also recruit another 10 wardens to work in the town and estates to reduce anti-social behaviour and reassure the public – bringing the total to 21 – until September 2024 or March 2025.
The plans also had to be changed because of a funding mix-up which threw projects into uncertainty. The authority still plans to spend about the same amount of money, just over £1m, but some of it will come from different sources and will be spent on different projects.
The shake-up means more projects announced by the previous administration are to be discontinued – £100,000 on an arts and culture programme, £128,000 on caretaking staff, £40,000 on an annual town centre deep clean, £15,000 on more CCTV, £15,000 on a campaign urging people not to give cash to beggars, a £20,000 small grants programme for businesses to deal with the causes of anti-social behaviour and £10,000 on discounts and promotions.
Now the council plans a series of one-year projects – £142,000 on town centre services like Area Care which includes emptying bins, grass cutting and street sweeping, £100,000 on an economic growth team, a £10,000 “retail crime partnership” for 100 town centre businesses, and £74,000 to keep street lighting on. Projects agreed previously like spending £50,000 on developing the Orange Pip and other markets and £30,000 on youth support will go ahead as planned.
The money was to come from two Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) pots – £520,000 from the shared prosperity fund and £600,000 from the indigenous growth fund. However the council since found out it could not use the indigenous growth fund grant the way it had “assumed”.
The council has now received a £486,000 “thank you payment” from the Home Office, plus £48,000 will come from the Towns Fund, and more from the government’s Levelling Up Fund. And a £435,000 grant from the Home Office and Office for the Police and Crime Commissioner will pay for the 10 new wardens.
A council report says the revised plan “ensures that there is an adequate provision in respect of providing a community safety function in the short term.
“It also deals with some of the saving issues… and a change in the policy direction of the new mayor and executive. Whilst supporting the town centre, it allows for all wards in Middlesbrough (along with the funding of wardens through the PCC) to have available wardens when required and therefore helping to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour across the town.”