'Hull City Council must be a driver for change and opportunity'
Perceptions can often be difficult things to change – take the external image of Hull. Millions of pounds have been spent over the past decade or so trying to persuade people outside the city that it's no longer a fishing port and hasn't been that way for the best part of 25 years.
Despite such a huge outlay of money, whether it has worked or not is still very much open to debate.
Similar perceptions have surrounded Hull City Council's relationship with the city's business sector for just as long.
Trust on both sides has ebbed and flowed like the tides over the years, not helped by several changes of political control at the Guildhall and a seemingly never-ending merry-go-round of senior officers coming and going.
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It's an issue that council leader Steve Brady is seeking to get to grips with.
Now into his second year at the helm of the authority, the Labour politician has established a reputation for straight-talking by cutting through the usual local government jargon.
Blessed with an accent as broad as the Humber, he's typically open and honest about the how some in the business community currently view the council.
"How we work with our partners is absolutely crucial, whether it's business, the health service or the voluntary sector.
"What I've picked up, certainly what is coming from the business community, is that we as a council have to be driver for change and opportunity in this city and, at the moment, I don't think we are."
He gives the example of a recent meeting with a Hull business looking to create an extra 50 jobs but being stifled by red tape over the acquisition of adjacent land.
The site in question was previously owned by the regional development agency Yorkshire Forward and is now under the Homes and Communities Agency.
"The land is no use to anyone, it's not going to be developed by anyone else yet. The guy I saw is getting the runaround, going from one place to the other, trying to get something to happen," said Cllr Brady.
"It's publicly owned land in Hull and, as a council, we should be more proactive in situations like this to help businesses move on and expand.
"Going out and meeting the private sector, I know they're not totally convinced.
"They have got to be convinced we can unlock opportunities for this city."
Huge funding cuts and an exodus of about 1,000 staff last year have made life more difficult for the council to carry out dramatic physical interventions.
The days of the council footing the bill for the KC Stadium seem a long time ago.
Cllr Brady is realistic about the financial position the council finds itself in.
"Over a period of three years, the total loss to the council in annual government grants has been in the region of £50m.
"In addition to that, inflationary pressures account for another £41m. The increases we have all seen in rail fares and gas and electricity prices also apply to the council.
"Over the next two years, we anticipate losing another £13m in funding from the Government.
"Against that background, our priority is is to maintain our frontline services but to do that we must have a much more imaginative approach.
"I can't magically produce the money out of thin air, so we have all to look at how we can run this council more efficiently.
"That also applies to the decision-making process.
"There are too many blockages around the system and that can lead to frustrations, whether it's the man in the street or a business trying to get an issue resolved."
He's fully aware some in the business community instinctively distrust any Labour administration at the Guildhall.
But he's also happy to point to a number of pro-business decisions made by his group since ending six years of Liberal Democrat rule at the council last year.
They include a £5m allocation to the Green Port Hull initiative aimed at sealing the deal with Siemens over the German engineering giant's proposed wind turbine factory at Alexandra Dock, support for an overhaul of the Humber Bridge Board, which was one dominated by Labour councillors from Hull and firm backing for the new Humber Local Enterprise Partnership.
Support for the latter has recently been underlined by a decision to second corporate director Pauline Davis to the LEP to work on Hull's bid for City Deal status. Cllr Brady said the move followed a request from LEP chairman Lord Haskins for more staffing support for the fledgling partnership between the region's four local councils and business leaders on both sides of the estuary.
"The LEP is just finding its feet at the moment.
"Lord Haskins didn't feel it had enough strength in depth in terms of staffing support, so we immediately offered him full-time support.
"I know Lord Haskins has had his frustrations with the LEP but that is only natural in the early days of any organisation.
"What I also know is that he is a very influential figure in the right circles in London and I believe the LEP will play an increasingly important role over the next 12 months as it finds it feet."
Securing City Deal status will unlock substantial extra government funding for Hull.
The attraction is that it will come with few Whitehall strings attached.
Instead, the LEP will be expected to determine how the money is spent.
Cllr Brady knows it's currently the only funding game in town worth playing.
"We need to go for it because if we don't, someone else will.
"The opportunities for the Humber region are huge and the city council needs to be leading on that."