High hopes for Advance Northumberland after development company replaces Arch

Coun Nick Oliver, cabinet member for corporate services.Coun Nick Oliver, cabinet member for corporate services.
Coun Nick Oliver, cabinet member for corporate services.
A range of new controls have been drawn up for Northumberland County Council’s development company in a bid to avoid the issues seen under its controversial predecessor, Arch.

The concerns around governance and spending at Arch, which has now been scrapped, have been well publicised in the time since the Conservative administration took over at County Hall in May 2017 and have included serious allegations of wrongdoing.

The transition to the replacement regeneration company, Advance Northumberland, took place formally last November, with the council’s leadership saying it would be a ‘a fresh start and a new direction’.

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Now, a new operating agreement between the county council and Advance is set to be agreed by the authority’s cabinet.

At a meeting of the authority’s corporate services committee, Coun Nick Oliver, the cabinet member for corporate services, said: “The operating agreement will be in place to ensure better governance and a clearer, more transparent relationship between the council and its economic development arm, Advance Northumberland, so that some of the things that have been reported to this and other committees in the past cannot happen again.”

He explained that there are two key aspects of the operating agreement – reserved matters, to set out the detail of what the council has final approval on, and the mechanism for the council lending money to the company.

New procedures for loans to Arch, as it still was then, were agreed last October, but additional changes are now suggested, including the creation of a loans review group to consider lending offers to the company.

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It is also proposed that the two rely on an exemption known as Teckal, which means that the council will be able to directly award some contracts to Advance without the need for full procurement, given that the local authority is the 100% shareholder.

This relationship would also mean Advance is able to take services from the council and puts a cap on the activity the company can do outside those direct contracts.

Outside the meeting, Coun Oliver said: “Advance Northumberland continues to go from strength to strength, with several developments under way or being progressed in recent months.”